Monday, 30 August 2010

B is for... Baklava

After dinner sweets


This was another first for me. I've never made baklava because, well, I've never really been much of a fan. If it's brought out at somebody's house or at the end of a meal in a restaurant, I'll always start to pick at it before remembering it's just not for me. It's too sickly sweet for my palate and the floral notes of rose and orange blossom just add to rather than cut through the tooth-aching sugariness of these sticky squares. I know too many people whose eyes light up with a child on Christmas Eve's excitement to write baklava off altogether though, so I thought "B" night would be the perfect excuse for this particular challenge.

Never having been remotely interested in them before, I thought it best to vaguely follow a recipe and chose Nigella's Baghdad Baklava (mainly because it involves a double "B") from Feast. I added the zest of a whole lemon as well as the juice (the recipe states the juice of half only) to the syrup in the hope that an extra hit of citrus would ward off some of the sweetness. I also substituted some of the caster sugar for honey, as so many of the other baklava recipes I'd been reading had a honey hit in them, and using half a kilo of sugar felt a bit alarming - I still ended up using a pound, which still won't get these a recommendation from your dentist anytime soon. I added more rosewater and orange-flower water than Ms Lawson's recipe states, as I'd bought such huge bottles of the stuff it felt rude not to. Instead of all almonds, I made my baklava with half blanched almonds and half pistachios and added extra cardamom. In the end, although largely following Nigella's instructions, I felt I'd altered it too much to be sure it could still legitimately be called Baghdad baklava, so have dropped the Baghdad. My boyfriend declared it to be the best baklava he'd ever tasted. High praise indeed. I still didn't like it much though. It turns out I was right all along. Baklava is just too sweet for me and I'd much rather have had a biscuit with my coffee instead. Bah humbug.

For the syrup

10 fl. oz/ 300 ml water
1 lb/ 400 g caster sugar
4 oz/ 100 g runny honey
The zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lemon
2 tbsp rosewater
2 tbsp orange flower water

For the pastry and filling

5 oz/ 125g unsalted butter, melted
1 lb/ 400 g fresh (not frozen) filo pastry
10 oz/ 250 g blanched almonds
10 oz/ 250 g shelled pistachios
1/2 tsp cardamom seeds, ground

To make the syrup, bring the water, sugar, honey, lemon zest and juice to the boil and keep at boiling point for 5 minutes. Add the rosewater and orange flower water, then remove from the heat. Pour the syrup into a jug over a sieve to sift out the lemon zest, leave to cool and then chill in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 180 C (160 C Fan)

Nigella suggests using a disposable square foil tin (23 x 23 x 4 cm), but I couldn't find any. I used a lipped baking tray (23 x 32 x 3 cm) instead as that's what I had in the cupboard, but if you have a smaller, deeper tin, use it.

Brush the tin with melted butter and then brush each of the filo pastry sheets as you line the tin with them. Filo pastry dries out very quickly, so keep a clean, damp teatowel on top of the packet in between layering up, to keep the pastry moist and easy to work with. Use half the filo pastry for the bottom of the baklava, placing the filo sheets in the tin evenly, so that the pastry goes up the sides with a little overhang. Once you have lined the tin with half the filo, chop the nuts (either in a processor or by hand) until medium-fine and stir in the cardamom. Spread the cardamom-scented nuts over the filo sheets and then carry on layering the second half of the pastry in the same way. The last sheet on top should be buttered well and then, with a sharp knife, trim around the top edge of the tin to give a neat finish. Cut into squares, making sure you cut the baklava right down to the bottom, but without cutting through the tin.

Pop the tray in the oven for half an hour, by which time the filo will have puffed up and become golden brown. As soon as it comes out of the oven, pour over half the cold syrup. Leave it for a few minutes to soak in and then pour over the rest and leave to cool completely before serving.

After the Turkish coffee and baklava, there were brie and biscuits on offer but I'd broken B group with the rest of the B feast and there wasn't a crumb's worth of room left in their bellies for cheese. The C nighters were more robust, as you'll discover next time...

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