Sunday, April 10, 2016

Melissa’s Traditional Greek Baklava

Baklava is a traditional sweet, flaky Greek pastry.  There are some who might argue about the origin being Turkish or Egyptian…   However, I have always known/accepted it as Greek.   Baklava is not really a common “dessert”.  It is more a presentation for special occasions.   In America, it is common to use melted butter for this dish.  But historically in Greece, butter was much too expensive.  Olive oil was more readily available and used by most of the population for this dish.  It was considered a sign of wealth to use butter.   So technically speaking, olive oil is actually more “authentic” (and more healthy).   However, it would be an excellent way to make this dish a perfect mix of both authentic AND high-scale, to use a mix of butter and olive oil-- which is what I do.   But make sure you use UNSALTED butter, or it will give your dish too much of a salty taste.   Then  homemade syrup is poured over the pastry after baking, as a final step to sweeten the pastry and ensure it won’t be dry.   It is best to allow the baklava to soak up ALL the syrup by making the dish 1 day ahead.   It is generally not desirable to eat Baklava too soon after making it, since it will not be at its best until the next day.   Store tightly covered but do not refrigerate; baklava keeps well, and will remain unspoiled until it is eaten.  

Melissa’s Traditional Greek Baklava

1 lb thawed filo dough (#4 thickness is best)
1 cup melted unsalted butter (or olive oil, or a combination of both)

1/2 pound mixed, chopped unsalted nuts (walnuts, almonds and pistachios are most common/traditional)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground nutmeg
1/3 cup sugar

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
½ cup honey or corn syrup
2 tsp lemon juice (this prevents sugar in syrup from crystallizing)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cinnamon stick (or 1/2 tsp ground)
8 whole cloves (1/4 tsp ground)

Tools you will need:
1.       A basting brush for the filo and butter.
2.       A nut grinder, blender, or food processor.

1.       Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.       Prepare the filling-- finely grind the nuts and place them in a large bowl.   Add  the ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground nutmeg and 1/3 cup  sugar.  Blend very well.
3.       Brush the bottom and sides of a baking pan (9x13x2) with butter or oil. Unfold thawed filo dough carefully and cover with a damp (well rung) kitchen cloth while you work, to prevent it from drying out. You can pre-trim the dough to fit your pan, or fold the dough in on itself once it is inside the pan, to make it fit. Both are fine. Gently peel 1 sheet of filo pastry up and place it inside your baking pan. Brush the whole surface of the filo sheet with butter/oil. Repeat this with 7 more sheets, giving you a total of 8 sheets.  
4.       Spread 1/3 of the nut mixture evenly over the buttered filo sheets. Top with 5 more sheets of filo pastry, each brushed with butter/oil. Do another layer of nuts, with another layer of 2 buttered filo sheets.  Then do a 3rd layer of nuts.  
5.       Cover the 3rd layer of nuts with 8 more sheets of filo, brushing each sheet with butter.  
6.       With a sharp knife, gently and carefully cut the baklava in 1”x2” rectangles or criss-cross diamond shapes. You may also gently insert one whole clove into the top of each rectangle, for garnish if desired. 
7.       Preheat oven to 350. While oven heats, prepare your syrup by combining all the ingredients (1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, ½ cup honey, 2 tbsp lemon juice,  1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 cinnamon stick and 6 whole cloves) into a pot.   Bring to a simmer, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat. Place in refrigerator and allow to cool.
8.       Pour syrup evenly over every inch of the baklava.  
9.       Let baklava rest overnight, lightly covered, to absorb the syrup and enhance all the flavors.   Serve the following day.  

TIP:   Store tightly covered.   DO NOT refrigerate.  Baklava keeps quite well without spoiling, until it I eaten.

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