So…is it too late to make a New Year’s Resolution on February 21st to be a better blogger? Don’t answer that.
Despite being distracted with various projects, responsibilities and, let’s be honest, vacation time, I did manage to document my adventures in baklava this Christmas. It was my grandma who “passed the torch” and despite having to overcome obstacles such as an Easy-Bake-sized oven, rowdy grandkids, and a granddaughter who hovered over her shoulder the entire time, snapping photos and taking notes, she maintained her cool quite well. Of course, it might’ve also been that Whiskey Ginger that she seemed to effortlessly throw back…but that’s another story for another time.
For those of you who don’t know, baklava is a traditional Greek dessert made of phyllo dough, nuts, spices, and sweetened with honey. It might also be one of my very favorite indulgences (it’s right up there with watching Regis & Kelly), and it’s one of the many dishes that my Yia-yia makes best. There’s something about biting into that diamond-shaped pastry that will always remind me of my childhood; of holidays spent lingering over a meal with family, stuffed to the brim but always managing to make room for a second piece.
Being the food blogger that I am (it’s been a busy couple of months; please don’t revoke my title just yet), I thought it only right that I “carry the torch” for the rest of my cousins and learn to make this family favorite. As my grandma and I set out to make my first batch of baklava in a warm, lively cottage in Tiburon, I found myself thinking about how many times she’d been through this very culinary routine. I could almost see her as a young girl with pigtails, standing on her tip-toes, peering over the kitchen counter and listening carefully while my great-grandmother solemnly explained each step in the baking process – much like how she was about to explain it to me; “Remember to move quickly and diligently with the phyllo dough, Doll” and “Make sure you tuck in the sides with butter real good”. I even envisioned the first time my Yia-yia made my Papou her baklava; how he must have fallen in love with her all over again after biting into that flaky, nutty pastry, laden with the weight of honey and butter. While it’s not a secret recipe by any means, it’s one that I’m sure can be associated with many a’ family gathering, dating from further back than even my Yia-yia might remember.
So without further ado, I give you: Yia-Yia’s Baklava. I hope your family and friends enjoy it as much as ours have.
3 cups water
3 1/2 cups sugar
5, 2-inch strips of lemon peel
1 cinnamon stick (optional)
12 oz honey
3 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
5 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
2 sticks of butter
Package of phyllo dough (buy from an Armenian or Greek store for best quality)
For the syrup:
1) Combine water, 3 cups of sugar, 5-6 cloves, lemon peels, and cinnamon stick together in a sauce pan and heat on medium heat until it bubbles.
2) Pour in honey and stir until well-mixed.
3) Take off of stove and let cool to room temperature.
For the filling/phyllo:
1.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2.) Mix together chopped walnuts, the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl until well-combined (mixture should be fairly dark; if still on the light side, add a dash more cinnamon).
3.) Melt two sticks of butter on stovetop or in microwave.
4.) Brush a 2 in. deep, 17 x 11 1/2 pan with butter.
5.) Working quickly, but diligently, line the bottom of the pan with about 10 sheets of phyllo, letting the sheets hang over the edge of the pan; make sure to cover up the entire base of the pan so there are no holes.
6.) Coat phyllo with another layer of melted butter;
7.) Layer another sheet of phyllo into the pan and brush with butter; repeat phyllo/butter alternation ten times.
8.) After ten sheets of phyllo/butter, pour a thin layer of the nut mixture onto the phyllo.
9.) Layer another sheet of phyllo over nut mixture and brush with melted butter; repeat nut/phyllo/butter alternation until the nut mixture is gone.
10.) Tuck the “overhang” of phyllo into the sides of the pan while coating with butter to ensure sides don’t stick.
11.) Layer another piece of phyllo on top and coat with another layer of butter.
12.) Alternate layer of phyllo and layer of butter with about 10-12 sheets of phyllo, tucking in each edge of the dough with butter every time.
13.) With a small, sharp knife, cut into the layers to make horizontal rows (about 7 depending on how thick you want the pieces to be); then cut into dough diagonally to form diamonds.
14.) Poke a clove into each diamond for garnish.
15.) Bake for about 30 to 45 minutes; or until the dough has a nice golden brown crust.
16.) Take out of the oven and pour the cooled syrup over the entire pan of baklava, making sure to coat every piece.
17.) For best results, let sit 3-4 hours and then serve.