Last week I mentioned that I had been craving Greek food like a mad dog. It was a powerful and all-consuming craving that had to be satisfied. I gave into my craving when I got my SRC assignment and made some fabulous chicken gyros (ones that I am already craving again…). I seriously wanted Greek food, right down to dessert. When I think Greek dessert of course the first thing that comes to my mind is the classic Baklava. A rich dessert layered with buttery phyllo sheets with chopped nuts in between soaked in flavored simple syrup.
Have you ever had baklava? It is so rich and filling that a mere 2″ x 2″ piece is enough. Most recipes make a 9 x 11 serving, nearly enough to feed an Army. Although it freezes well, even half a recipe was more than enough for my family. So I created a petite version of baklava, it makes an easy 12 servings, just enough to enjoy for a couple of days. I messed with a classic original a little more and added dried tart cherries, I’m a fan of dried fruit and nuts together, plus I had this little bag of it sitting around. It seemed like every time I went in the pantry cupboard I’d have to move that bag around to get to something else. It was actually quite pushy and kept throwing itself at me; I finally conceded and put that last bit to use. Because I’m not a fan of über sweet desserts I also brightened up the flavor with added orange zest and juice. The baklava was just as rich but it finished off with a nice zing of orange (it’s also a well-known fact that I am a citrus flavor freak and try to sneak it in everywhere).
Recently someone told me that truly authentic baklava does not have honey in it nor any spices. This comment piqued my interest; the baklava that I have been familiar with always had honey and spices in it. But then I began to wonder if I had only had “Americanized” baklava. Was honey and spices in baklava the same as a meat lover’s pizza…not really authentic but delicious regardless? The search was on. I pulled out my Mediterranean cookbooks (I did not have a specific Greek one) and found recipes that both used and didn’t use honey and spices. That solved nothing. So I hit our good friend Google to see if there was any clarification.
Interestingly I learned that baklava is Turkish, although common throughout the Mediterranean and in some parts of Asia. It is traditionally made with a simple syrup and/or honey. The syrup is often flavored with rosewater or orange flower water. The nuts used depended on the region, pistachios and almond mixtures are more common in Turkey and walnut/almond versions more common in Greece all due to the commonality of the nut in the area.
But that still didn’t really answer my question, is it authentic if the recipe uses syrup? Finally I found, in a comment thread at epicurious what might be the best answer. Traditional Turkish baklava does not use honey, it uses flavored simple syrup however traditional Greek baklava does use honey plus the additions of things like cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom. If the Turks are truly the father of baklava then using honey would not be authentic. But I was craving Greek, and Greek baklava is what I made complete with honey and even some cinnamon.
Does anyone out there have more insight?
- 2 1/2 cup chopped nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachios or a combination)
- 1/2 box phyllo dough, thawed in the refrigerator overnight
- 2/3 cup butter
- 1/3 cup chopped tart cherries
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- zest of 1 orange
- 1/2 cup water (or less)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup honey
- zest of 1 orange
- Juice of 2 oranges
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Place butter in a microwave safe bowl, heat for one minute or until melted. Lightly brush a 2 qt rectangular baking dish (roughly half the size of a 9x13 pan).
- Place nuts in a food processor and roughly pulse until the nuts are small even sized pieces. Add cinnamon, tart cherries and orange zest. Pulse two more times to blend.
- Remove phyllo dough from the package and wrap in a damp towel (a flour cloth towel works very well for this). Take one sheet and fold it in half and lay in the bottom of the dish, evenly and lightly brush with butter. Repeat this step 3 more times (this will equal 8 phyllo layers).
- Evenly sprinkle a layer of nuts on top of the phyllo, till the phyllo is just covered. Fold another phyllo sheet in half, place over the nuts and brush with butter, repeat with another folded phyllo and butter. Continue this process until all the nut mixture is used, ending with nuts on the top.
- Finish the layers, by folding the remaining phyllo sheets in half, brushing with butter and repeating until the remainder of the sheets are used. Melt more butter if necessary, if there is extra butter pour it over the top.
- Cut baklava into diamonds about 2" big, about 12 pieces. Use a sharp knife and cut all the way through to the the bottom. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until light golden brown and flaky on top.
- While the baklava is baking make syrup. Add juice to a measuring cup, add just enough water to bring it to 1/2 cup. In a medium saucepan combine water, sugar, honey, zest and orange juice. Bring to boil and then reduce to a simmer, simmer long enough to have the sugar completely dissolve. Remove from heat.
- Pour syrup over baklava. Allow to sit at room temperature for a minimum of 2 hours and preferably 4 or more.