ARTICLE

Luxuriously fragrant baklava

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Do you think of baklava as a sweet that is tricky to make or time-consuming? I know many people have asked me questions along those lines in recent days. It's easy. Really. And here's a particularly refined version I made recently.

Nut pastries involving layers of filo pastry and ground nut are eaten all the way from the Balkans through the Middle East, the Maghreb, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and beyond, typically known as a type of baklava/baklawa. Rather than making one of the many recipes I have from different places, I decided to combine the essence of a number of traditions to produce something with a lovely complexity of flavour, using spices and scents typical of many of the cuisines of that very broad region.

For the filling, I've used walnuts and pistachios ground with sugar (about half the weight of the nuts) and scented with cardamom and rosewater. The base of the tray was covered with about eight layers of thin filo/fila/phyllo pastry, each buttered lightly. It's helpful to let these bottom layers rise up the sides of the tray too, as this contains the filling better during cutting and later removal of the baklava from the tray. I then added half the nut mixture and flattened it out. A further four layers of buttered filo create a nice textural difference. Then the remainder of the nut mixture. I topped this with eight layers of buttered filo.

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Note that, as most trays nowadays have a delicate non-stick coating, I lined the tray with four pieces of baking paper to reduce the risk of damage during cutting and then a layer of buttered foil.

You should cut diamond shapes into the baklava before baking. Use a very sharp knife and press downwards rather than pulling the knife through the baklava. My pieces were a little larger than intended, as I spaced the long cuts too far apart.

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You also need to make a sugar syrup. I flavoured it with a little honey, lemon, cinnamon and orange blossom water. Simmer the syrup with flavourings (except orange blossom) for about 15 mins (it should still seem thin and shouldn't have developed any colour). Add the orange blossom water at the end. Chill the syrup well. It is used after the baklava has been baked.

Bake the baklava for 30-45 mins at about 160C (for conventional oven), then raise the temperature to about 200C for a further 10-15 mins when you see the top pastry layers are beginning to puff up a bit. You don't want the pastry to get brown (no darker than a roasted almond (yes, a blanched one!)), but you do want it to cook through. If the top layers are going brown, cover with foil.

Once you've removed the tray from the oven, pour the cold syrup over the baklava. It will sizzle deliciously. Let it cool for a few minutes, then use your knife to re-cut the diamond shapes (it makes separation of the pieces later much easier).

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You can serve the baklava as soon as it is completely cool, but you'll find the texture is better about a day later, as the syrup will have been properly absorbed by the nut mixture by then.

I used 300 gm nuts, 150 gm pastry and about 200 ml sugar syrup (250 gm sugar, 150 ml water) to fill a 32 x 18 cm tray. You can scale up or down to other size trays.

There are many factors here that will influence the final flavour — different strengths of rose and orange blossom waters, freshness of spices, etc. It's up to you to judge the flavour to suit you. I'd recommend being a little cautious at first.

By the way, although I usually make all my own pastry, filo is something I didn't have time to try this time, sorry!

Now, baklava/baklawa is sweet. If you already know that the typical product in your Greek or Middle Eastern pastry shop isn't to your liking, this version isn't likely to be much more palatable for you, though my version is more fragrant and less sweet and syrupy than some.

As you can see, there are no real tricky bits to making baklava, and the preparation is pretty quick. The result is something nutty, perfumed and delicious that goes perfectly with strong coffee.

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COMMENTS

14 responses to “Luxuriously fragrant baklava”

  1. Julia @ Mélanger

    This looks really delicious. I love how you have combined the flavours and techniques of different versions to create your own. Cardamom and Rosewater? That's interesting. They didn't overpower each other? Also love the sound of the honey, lemon, cinnamon and orange blossom water for the syrup. I've never made anything like this before, and really should give it a go.

  2. Manggy

    "eight layers of buttered filo…"
    Well, no wonder it's so good then! ;) Confession: I actually thought you were talking of something else when you told me about it. My memory was colored by what *I* wanted to make (take a guess…).
    Hmm, do you think, to decrease the amount of baking paper used and for extra insurance, if you could use plastic cutlery to make the incisions? I know we have quite a few here from take-away (I'm not sure if you first-class flyers get them ;)

  3. Anh

    I love baklava and just got a lesson on how a good baklava should be from a Turkish friend. And even though I have snacked on baklava the whole weekend, I still want more seeinf your post.

  4. harry de paris

    Certainly sounds yummy! Mind you, I'm not a particularly sweet tooth, so the thought of having a whole tray of potentially syrupy treats is a bit daunting. Does it keep for long? I don't suppose you'll ever find that out!!

  5. Coby

    My teeth are aching happily at the thought of this! Your balance of nuts v sugar though *does* sound like it would be a bit easier on my dental bills.

    I've made pastry, but never attempted filo – and would be very impressed if you blog about it some time (hint hint) :)

    On the knife idea, I have seen (though have never tried) 'lettuce knives' that come in fluro colours and are made of plastic – I suppose they could work, though your method seems to do the job well enough – could you not lift the whole pastry out (using overhang of paper) before cutting also?

    Your breakdown of this recipe does make it seem like even a beginner would be successful:)

  6. Thanh

    You make it sound so easy Duncan haha. I've made baklava once and it was a pain. Making the nut mixture was easy enough, but the pastry part was a pain. The filo was ripping on me, drying out, the butter was everywhere. Plus the final result didn't taste as good as the fantastic stuff I can get around Melbourne. I think I'll keep paying for baklava rather than making it.

    How do you make filo? Filo pastry seems extremely hard to make, as each sheet is so thin. I couldn't imagine even attempting that.

  7. Jackie

    Ooooh I am so trying this! I can smell the sugar already.

  8. Coby

    In Thanh's defence, I think that some filo pastries arrive in less than perfect condition. You need to start with quality pastry or you are already on the back foot in terms of dry pastry.

    Duncan, I get what you mean about making the cuts in the tray, I guess it's more likely to squash out if you cut it after removing from the tin. You are sounding just a leeetle evangelical about us all giving this recipe a go:) Might just have to…

  9. SJ

    Duncan, another post to remind me of the things I used to make all the time! I love using Cardamon and Orange flower water and walnuts. I usually use cinnamon and rosewater with a walnut/almond mix. And Baklava is relatively easy, if you use shop bought filo ;-) I've found the refrigerated pastry is easy to deal with than the frozen, Thanh.

    (then again – I think portuguese tarts using your recipe *are* easy :-)

  10. Maria@TheGouremtChallenge

    I've always wanted to make baklava. I love yur nut mixture two pistachio and walnut would taste lovely. I should give it a g, and youre right its not that difficult. I've made macarons….and that's HARD!

  11. 3hungrytummies

    Given bags of pistachio and walnuts, now I know what to do this weekend. Thanks for the recipe.

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