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



Ingredients:
1 lb thawed filo dough (#4 thickness is best)

1 cup melted unsalted butter (or olive oil, or a combination of both)

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

Syrup: 
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
½ cup honey or corn syrup
Juice of 1 whole lemon or lime (this prevents syrup from crystallizing)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cinnamon stick
8 whole cloves

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

Directions:
1.       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.
2.       Brush the bottom and sides of a baking pan (9x13x2) with butter.  
3.       Unfold thawed filo dough carefully and cover with a damp (well rung) kitchen cloth while tyou 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.   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 2 more sheets of filo pastry, each brushed with butter.   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.  Bake baklava for 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden.   Reove from oven and let cool.  
8.       Prepare the 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.    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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