Tasty isn't it ? So what is it ? If you are familiar with the foods of the Middle East, Greece and Turkey, then you might have come across this very sweet desserts made with all kinds of nuts, covered in filo pastry and drizzled with a combination of sugary syrup and honey. I can't tell you where they come from exactly, because in these 3 regions they've been arguing and I hope not fighting for centuries to claim it at as their own – the same goes for hummus – the famous chickpea dip, which I hope to share a simple recipe with you in the future, God willing. Ok, what about the food ? They are almost like delicacies because they are usually served and sold in small batches and because of what they are made off, expensive nuts like pistachios, topped with very time-consuming filo pastry – usually anything that takes time to make in a kitchen and is sold, costs a lot because they've got to pay the bills for the person who spent hours making just one stuff'. So, why I am making these expensive delectable fancies ? In short, because I like them and I am not rich.
Just last week, I was rushing through the Naschmarkt in Vienna (Vienna's premier location for buying anything exotic related to food) with the kids, when I thought "let me spoil myself and buy some baklava". I noticed the lady in front of me cringe when she was told the price for what she had just bought and learnt from her mistake to go easy and just get 3 pieces – Price, wait for it ? €4 or $6 for my international readers. Ouch ! you may say, but I did mention they are delicacies. Something the rich spoil themselves with in the Middle East by buying trays of them to give as gifts. OK ! So I thought " I like this, but let me have a go at making them this weekend because I can't afford to buy more, at least in 2009". So I finally braved it and bought about 400g of filo pastry, which on looking through many cookbooks, has a special warning as being very delicate. Making my own is not an option as the weather can make or break your filo pastry. Oops ! For those not familiar with filo pastry, it is literally, pastry sheets, thinner than paper and almost see through. On Saturday I had used about 200g of it to make a Chickpea and fried rice filo pie – impressive ? Well ! it was for the kids and taste nice, but being a bit of a perfectionist and not having expensive camera equipment to shoot at night, I don't have any delicious pictures to share with you – sorry, but it was good and I hope to make it again.
OK ! too many words, let's make this stuff.
Start with the sugar syrup – yes ! I know you're saying not sugar syrup, but you need it, as there's no sugar involved in baking and trust me unsalted nuts covered in non-sugar pastry is going to taste about as bad as eating paper, without ink of course.
Sugar syrup – 200g of caster sugar mixed with 150ml of water, juice from half a lemon and a dash of almond extract (optional). Put on the stove and bring to the boil so that it is bubbling for at least 5 minutes. Once cool, place in the fridge for about 2 hours.
The rest is quite easy and simple;
Place 300g of nuts (I used half pistachio and half blanched almonds – but walnuts are sometimes used) in a food processor and crush until medium fine – don't leave it too long until it becomes dust, but you want to see chunks. If you don't have a food processor, place the nuts in a bag, and crush with a rolling pin.
After this, get your filo pastry ready, by taking out of the fridge and cutting it into chunks that will fit nicely into your 21 by 21 baking tin, lined with buttered foil. Melt about 70g of unsalted butter as you will need this to butter in between the filo sheets. To begin, place 2 to 3 sheets in the bottom of the tin, buttering each sheet and then place all the nuts on top. Just continue with the filo sheets, remembering to butter each sheet before you place another one on top of it. This should take about 5 minutes. After this, try and cut the pastry right through to the bottom of the pan, using a pizza slicer if you have one, or a sharp knife. If you can cut diagonally, try as it looks more impressive.
Place in the oven on 180C for about 20 minutes until the top looks golden brown. As soon as you take it out, pour half the cold syrup all over the baklava, making sure it flows through each and every crack. Wait 5 more minutes and pour the rest of the syrup.
Wait for about 10 minutes for it to soak right through, ensuring that the baklava is cool, if not, you'll burn your mouth with hot sugary nuts.
Enjoy by its own – you don't ned anything else with this.
In summary, you need;
200g filo pastry
300g of a mix of pistachio, almond and walnuts
70g of melted unsalted butter
For the sugar syrup
200g of caster sugar
150ml of water
Juice from half a lemon
21 by 21 baking tin
Inspired by a recipe in Nigella Lawson's "How to be a domestic goddess"