Baking Baklava With Home-Made Phyllo Pastry - Daring Bakers Challenge July 2013
Baklava (and to some Turkish Delight) has always conjured up the magic and mystery of the Middle East of the past, some of it real and some imagined. So in my mind all of these would exist side by side in perfect harmony - beautiful women with dark kohl lined eyes, street shops crammed with delightful trinkets and other ware, magic carpets and genies, and of course tea shops selling mint tea and a variety of sticky sweetmeats suggestive of warm and exotic spices.
So what is Baklava? It is a sticky sweetmeat made by layering coarsely chopped nuts and spices between layers of thin Phyllo pastry which is then baked and drenched in a spiced citrusy syrup of sugar and honey. The name “Baklava” comes from Farsi meaning “many leaves” referring to the layers of pastry in this sweetmeat.
Phyllo, which means "leaf" in Greek, is tissue paper-thin like sheets of dough that is used to make a lot of dishes both sweet and savoury. Phyllo is not difficult to make at home but involves a bit of work when it comes to rolling out the dough as it involves rolling and stretching dough until it is thin enough to almost see through. Most people think Phyllo pastry is Greek but it actually is Turkish in origin but the Greeks can probably be credited with turning it into the extremely thin version that is characteristic of Phyllo today.
Most people think that Baklava is a Greek dish. The truth however, is that almost everybody country from the Middle East, the Eastern Mediterranean to the Balkans, including the Turks, Arabs, Jews, Greeks, Armenians and Bulgarians will tell you that Baklava is a dessert from their country! The reason for this is that all these countries were once part of the huge Ottoman Empire where Baklava can be traced to.
If one goes back a little further in history, as far back as the 8th century, the origins of Baklava can be traced to the Assyrians who from where it travelled taking on local flavour wherever it was adopted. The Assyrians made Baklava by layering nuts between unleavened flatbread and then drenched this with honey. With time and adaptation, the flatbread gave way to paper thin Phyllo pastry, the choice of nuts would depend on what was locally available and the syrup was flavoured with spices. So the filling and the spices in the syrup would depend on which country the Baklava was made in.
Traditionally, only the wealthy ate Baklava as the common man could not afford the ingredients. This sweetmeat was considered a very special dessert fit only for kings, queens and people belonging to that strata of society until mid-19th century. So much so that even today, it apparently is a common phrase in Turkey to describe oneself saying, "I am not rich enough to eat Baklava every day"!
I adapted the challenge recipe slightly to suit or taste and fit my 6” by 6” baking dish. I reduced the sugar in the recipe a bit because to my mind, Baklava should be sweet enough yet let the flavours of the nuts and spices come through. This dough can be made, rolled out ahead of time and be frozen until required making the business of making Baklava easier. Just make sure it is completely thawed before using it.
Also use ghee (or clarified butter) instead of melted butter if you can. The solids in melted butter will make your Phyllo layers soggy while ghee/ clarified butter will keep them crisp.
For the dough:
For the syrup:
For the filling:
- Make the Phyllo dough. You can knead the dough by hand or using the food processor as I did. Put the flour and salt in the processor bowl and pulse a couple of times to mix. Then combine the water, oil and apple cider vinegar ina small bowl and add to the flour.
- Knead until it comes together as a dough that’s sticks together initially and then becomes a smooth and elastic dough. Add a a tablespoon or so of water if your dough seems a little on the drier side.
- Shape the dough into a ball and place in a bowl coated with oil. Roll the dough till it is well coated with the oil and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let it rest for about 2 hours or longer. I ended letting my dough rest for about 6 hours before I started rolling it out!
- Now its time to start rolling out the dough as thin as you can. Divide the dough into 4 or 5 portions of equal size. Work with one portion at a time keeping the others covered so they don’t dry out.
- Place the dough on a well-floured surface and keep rolling out, dusting with flour whenever necessary, until you have rolled it out as thin as you can. Remember to also dust your palms and the rolling pin with flour. Lift the rolled out dough and stretch it on the backs of your hands as you would a pizza dough, just helps make it that much thinner. Otherwise just lift it up and carefully stretch it using your fingers without tearing it. Your dough should be thin enough to be almost transparent.
- Set aside the rolled out dough sheets on a well-floured surface. Repeat the process until your dough is used up. Flour well between each sheet so they do not stick to one another. You will not need to cover your dough with a wet cloth, as you do with boxed dough, it is moist enough that it will not try out. If you can make your Phyllo about the thickness of 2 sheets of copy paper and evenly rolled then that’s perfect.
- I divided my dough into 4 equal portions and then rolled each portion out into a square about 12” by 12”. Then I cut it into 4 equal squares. This gave me a total of 16 layers (each 6” by 6”) which I used as 4 layers of 4 sheets each for my Baklava.
- You can make the syrup and the filling while the dough rests. To make the syrup, combine all the ingredients for the syrup in a medium sized pan/ pot and bring it to a boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Turn the heat to medium and let the syrup boil for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Take it off the heat and strain out the solids. Keep the syrup aside until required. Do not chill but let is stay slightly warm.
- Now make the filling. Keep aside about 2 to 3 tbsp of the powdered pistachios and then mix together all the ingredients for the filling in a bowl, except the ghee/ clarified butter.
- Assemble the Baklava Warm the ghee/ clarified butter slightly to make it easier to brush on. Brush the bottom and sides of your baking dish with ghee/ clarified butter. Place one sheet of Phyllo dough in the bottom of your baking dish. Brush it lightly (but well) with the ghee/ clarified butter. Place another sheet of Phyllo and brush with the ghee/ clarified butter again. Repeat this with three more Phyllo sheets and brush each layer with the ghee/ clarified butter.
- Spread one third the nut-spice mixture in a uniform layer. Then once again layer 4 sheets of Phyllo like before. Spread another one third portion of the nut-spice mixture. Once again layer another 4 sheets of Phyllo and then layer the remaining third of the nut-spice mixture. Top with 5 layers of Phyllo and finish off by brushing the top most layer of Phyllo well with the ghee/ clarified butter.
- You should have a 5-4-4-5 construction of Phyllo pastry layers (I used 4 sheets in every layer), though you can use as many layers as you want. Tuck the edges neatly suing a knife or spatula. Using a very sharp knife, cut the Baklava from the top through to the bottom, into desired shape and number of pieces. I cut mine into 16 squares.
- Now bake this at 180C (350F) for about 30 minutes and then take it out. Cut through the Baklava once again to make sure the cuts go all the way down to the bottom of your pan. Return the Baklava to the oven and bake for another 30 minutes or until the top is a beautiful golden brown.
- Once the Baklava is done, take it out and gently pour the syrup evenly on the top of the hot Baklava making sure it goes through all the cuts. Pour as much as you can without letting the Baklava float in the syrup (I poured almost all the syrup I made, less about 2 to 3 tbsp of it). The syrup will soak into the Baklava during its overnight rest making it moist and juicy.
- Let the Baklava cool and then cover it. Let it sit at room temperature overnight. The Baklava will have soaked up the syrup. Store and serve at room temperature, after dusting the top of each piece with the reserved powdered pistachios. You can warm it very slightly before serving if you prefer.
- The Baklava will keep at room temperature for about a week in an airtight container. It can also be stored in the fridge but warm it up before serving or it will be very hard. Serve the Baklava with coffee as a snack or as dessert.
This recipe makes 16 small pieces.
1\. Remove all your rings, bangles and bracelets or any jewelry that might snag the dough before you start working on it. The dough becomes very fragile as you roll it out and you want it to tear as little as possible, preferably not at all.
2\. Check that you cut out your Phyllo to the exact measurement of your baking dish. A pizza cutter is less likely to tear the Phyllo than a knife while cutting it.
3\. Small tears in your Phyllo are ok, and your dough will roll out thinner and easier with practise. Just try to keep a couple of “unblemished/ not-torn” sheets for the top most layers for a good finish to your Baklava.
4\. Use a wooden dowel or a thin wooden rolling pin to roll out the dough. This makes rolling out much easier and you will be able to roll out the dough quite thin.