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Baklava

by Chloë King
Baklava

Baklava

PT1H45M

 
 

Why not try?

There are few things more irritating and inspiring for a teenager than the knowledge a parent engaged in wilder behaviour than they are ever likely to. I know this because, as a teen, I remember repeatedly asking my mum to recall the story of the time she sold her blood to afford the ferry home from Greece. As a student, my mum travelled the Greek islands with her friend Jane. The short trip provided some of her most outrageous stories, accompanied by joyous, golden-hued photographs of her chowing down on giant beef tomatoes and sipping tea from a porcelain cup, her left arm bandaged from the profitable sale of her type A. I found Mum’s holiday diary from the trip not long ago. Inside, written in pink felt tip, are original recipes for moussaka and baklava, two Greek classics that, for a twenty-something in the early seventies, must have seemed the most exotic and delectable dishes imaginable.

Baklava, the teeth-itchingly sweet delicacy of the eastern Mediterranean, can be made with pistachios or almonds, but in Greece it is commonly filled with walnuts. My mum’s recipe calls for puff pastry – an abomination, presumably necessitated by the fact you could not buy pre-made filo pastry in 1970s New Malden. For many things we should now be thankful for. Mum’s recipe is beautifully simple, however, and has provided the backbone to my version, which forgoes popular spices such as cardamom, clove and cinnamon to let the flavour of the walnuts sing out from between fine layers of filo steeped in honey-like syrup scented with rose water. If you can get hold of Greek filo I find it superior to the more popular UK brands. The pastry is finer and holds its layers better, resulting in a puffier baklava with more defined layers and a lighter texture.

Ingredients

Metric

Imperial

1
Start with the syrup. Place half of the sugar and half of the water in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium heat and cook until the sugar is caramel-scented and lightly golden. Be patient, as at a controlled heat this will take up to 20 minutes. Do not stir the sugar solution while it is bubbling as this may lead to crystallisation
2
When the sugar syrup is just caramelised, add the rest of the water and sugar; be careful as the hot sugar solution may splatter. Resist stirring the syrup while it is still on the heat
3
Leave over a medium flame until all the sugar has dissolved and you have a transparent, golden syrup, this may take up to 5 minutes
4
Add the rose water and let the syrup bubble for a minute longer before decanting into a warm jar, you will be left with about 300ml. Leave the syrup to cool a little, then store in the fridge until the baklava is cooked
5
To assemble the baklava, first preheat the oven to 150°C/gas mark 2
6
Cut the filo sheets in half and then trim to roughly the same size as your tin. Melt the butter, skimming off milk solids as they form
7
Using a pastry brush, paint a little of the melted butter onto the tin; then coat your filo sheets one by one, placing each one neatly into the tin as you go
Buttered filo pastry
8
When one third of the sheets have been used (or one half if you have fewer than 24 sheets), put a layer of ground walnuts on top and continue as before. When another third has been used, layer up the rest of your ground walnuts; then top with the remaining buttered filo
9
Using a knife, carefully tuck in any untidy edges and then cut right through the baklava as you wish to serve it, in a grid or diamond pattern. Bake in the oven for 55 minutes
10
When the baklava is hot from the oven - it should be evenly golden brown - pour the cool syrup into the cuts and a little onto the top, reserving a touch for when you’re ready to serve. At this point you may return the baklava to the oven for five minutes, which Claudia Roden says has a magical effect on the texture
Baklava in tray
11
Leave the baklava to cool before serving or overnight if you can, it tastes even better the next day. To prettify the pastries you may wish to brush a little extra syrup onto the top and scatter with finely chopped walnuts or crystallised rose petals
Baklava
 

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