Nick the Greek's Baklava

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Homemade Baklava from my kitchen
Homemade Baklava
                It was my turn to bring some sweets for our ladies Wed. morning Bible study.

A very popular Phyllo Pastry served for dessert is known as Baklava, pronounced bahk-lah-VAH. Commonly called the aristocrat of pastry desserts, it is of Byzantine origin, made in all countries of the Near East, and each one claims it for its own. In fact I would even say that each Greek Family has their variation of the recipe.

Although Baklava is a dessert, Greeks refer to it as “sweets” and generally would not eat Baklava after a meal as perhaps other western countries would. I remember many times seeing my mother serve Greek coffee and Baklava during the day especially when a visitor arrived.

Now the history of Baklava is not well documented but it can be traced back to the 12th century. This sweet dessert was popular in Syria and Lebanon and then adopted by the Turks. My thinking is that the nuts and honey mixture was combined with ground sesame seeds to make a type of halva because phyllo dough was not available back then.

Phyllo dough was introduced in the kitchens of the palace and the Greeks' major contribution to the development of this pastry is the creation of a dough technique that made it possible to roll it as thin as a leaf, compared to the rough, bread-like texture of the Assyrian dough. In fact, the word phyllo, coined by the Greeks, means "leaf" in the Greek language.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina baklava is generally rich in nuts and filling and is only eaten on special occasions, mostly during in the holy months of Ramadan and Eid.

In Iran, a drier version of Baklava is cooked and presented in smaller diamond-shaped cuts flavored with rose water.

In Afghanistan and Cyprus, baklava is prepared into triangle-shaped pieces and is lightly covered in crushed pistachio nuts.

Perhaps you are one of many that recognizes this fabulous pastry by its layers of nuts and many sheets of filo, of which you will need twenty to forty of them to make this fabulous pastry. This unique dessert is usually bathed in syrup, flavored with rose and brandy.

It’s no surprise to see Greeks using nuts in their dessert since almonds, walnuts, pistachios and hazelnuts grow in abundance there.

  • Baklava Nutrition

Baklava has many health benefits as a pastry, it's not just full of empty calories like so many other desserts.    Nuts are filled with nutrition, and they're naturally cholesterol free.  Although nuts are high in fat, the fat is mostly unsaturated fat which has a beneficial effect on health.  Honey consumption raises antioxidant levels.

    * Various studies have shown that both walnuts and almonds have a beneficial effect on blood cholesterol levels.
    * Walnuts in particular (followed by pecans and hazelnuts/filberts), are high in Omega-3 fatty acids that are good for you.  This fat has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.
    * Nuts are an excellent source of dietary fiber, magnesium, copper, folic acid, and vitamin E.
    * Phyllo pastry has no trans fat, saturated fat or cholesterol and is low in calories.
    * Baklava has a remarkable shelf-life and can last for many months depending on how you store the pastries.

Baklava is a spectacular dessert with simple ingredients.  Honeyed walnuts, however, make it absolutely delicious. Baklava is quite easy to make and suitable for a large gathering. My father would add that you need a master to handle the ready-made paper-thin Greek phyllo pastry. I’ll be sure and let you in on my father’s tips. He has some good ones!

  • Ingredients:
1 pound of phyllo pastry

  • Filling:
3 cups chopped walnuts (or more). You can use pecans, almonds, pistachios or any combination but I prefer walnuts.
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 pound melted sweet butter or salted butter
Whole Cloves

  • Syrup Topping
3 cups sugar
2 cups water
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup honey or 2 teaspoons rose or brandy flavoring. I just use honey.
Some add 1 large cinnamon stick. I don’t because I prefer to put whole cloves in between the cut diamond squares that will be removed later.

Defrost frozen filo to room temperature.

  • Tip #1 from Nick the Greek:

Keep it covered with a damp-cloth as it dries out quickly.

Mix all the filling ingredients in a bowl and set aside. Melt butter and keep it in the pan to reheat if it cools and doesn’t flow easily while you are working with the filo. Use pastry brush to oil generously the bottom and sides of a large rectangular baking pan (approximately 13 in x 9 in).

Place 5-6 sheets of filo in the pan and sprinkle lightly with warm butter. Place another sheet of filo on top of the first sheet, and brush each layer lightly with melted butter. Fold in excess length of each sheet at alternative ends. Some use a scissors and cut away the excess filo dough but I don’t because it isn’t an exact science and you can’t do anything wrong at this point.

  • Tip #2 from Nick the Greek

Instead of a pastry brush, my father uses a squirt bottle to spray the layers with.

Continue until you have spread 6 or more sheets. Spread half of the filing, including the corners. Cover with 6 or more sheets of filo remaining sheets, oiling between each one. Roll edges and tuck with remaining butter. Before baking, cut through the top layers only, into the traditional diamond shapes. Use a small sharp knife with a ruler to guide you if you want. We do this in order to facilitate serving once it has been cooked.

To Make Diamond-Shaped Pieces:

Make vertical cuts, 1 inch apart. Turn pan horizontally and make cuts at an angle, 1 inch apart. Stick a whole clove in the center of each diamond. Besides adding flavor, it keeps the layers together. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Check it during the last 20 minutes to see if it is browning evenly.

Begin boiling the syrup except for the honey for 10 minutes before taking the baklava immediately out of the oven. Add honey and simmer for another 5 minutes until slightly thickened. You never really want to boil honey because it changes the flavor immensely.

Pour hot syrup over hot baklava immediately after removing it from the oven. Use ladle or large spoon to distribute syrup evenly over all of it. Set aside to cool, at room temperature, not in the refrigerator. Keep in pan overnight or at least 4 hours before cutting and serving. Enjoy!

photo edit of pastry dessert
Baklava on Fire

photo shop editing of phyllo dough
Cross Process CP4

green ceramic platter of Greek pastry
Baklava Overlay

photo editing of a platter of baklava

Sweet pastry photo edits for Mandarin Orange Monday


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