Monday, December 21, 2009

A Family Tradition for the Holidays - Baklava

I'm not making any this year so there are no pictures, but it's always been a tradition in my Greek family (Iatropoulos) to make baklava and various other Greek pastries for the holidays. I've never managed to master the cookies, but the baklava is much simpler than you'd think. It's like building lasagne, just more tedious.

You'll need a package of phyllo dough, thawed according to the package directions. Melt 3/4 pound of unsalted butter and make a simple syrup by boiling 1 cup of sugar with one cup of water and the juice of half a lemon. Boil the rind from the half lemon in the syrup, stir in 1 cup of honey and allow to cool completely. Finely chop 1 pound of walnuts and mix with 2 teaspoons of cinnamon.

Unwrap the phyllo and spread it out, covered with a lightly damp kitchen towel. This is critical to keep the phyllo from drying out and becoming brittle.

Using a pastry brush or small paintbrush (preferred), butter the bottom and sides of a roasting pan or pyrex dish. The size isn't critical but your job will be easier if you choose a pan approximately the size of the sheets of phyllo. Layer 6 sheets of phyllo in the bottom of the pan, brushing each sheet with melted butter and re-covering the remaining phyllo as you work. From there, sprinkle a good handful of the nut mixture on the phyllo and cover with another sheet, butter and repeat until all the nuts are gone. If your sheets of phyllo are a little larger than your pan, just tuck the ends under.

When you're done, cut on the diagonal in one direction and bake in a 350-degree oven until golden brown. Remove from the oven and immediately pour the cooled syrup (remove the lemon rind, silly!) over the hot baklava. Stop pouring when it becomes saturated to the point where you have a little extra syrup in the bottom of the pan. Allow to cool completely and then cut on the other diagonal to form diamon-shaped pieces.

The baklava will keep nicely for several days at room temperature, covered loosely with plastic wrap. If you're going to give it away, putting each piece in a paper muffin cup works nicely.


One of the Austalian "stickies" (dessert wines, muscat or tawny "port) works really well with this - Buller is a good brand, as is the Yalumba Museum Muscat. If you don't want wine just serve coffee - or maybe a second piece of baklava.

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