Time for yet another Daring Bakers challenge but this one’s a bit different. The DB designated hostess could not present and host this month’s challenge due to a wrist injury. So in a “celebration” of past Daring Baker and Daring Cook challenges, Lisa challenged all of us to search through the Daring Kitchen archives (both baking and cooking recipes) and pick any one we’d like! The REAL challenge was picking which delicious recipe(s) to try!
Going back in Daring Baker challenge history to revist a past challenge seemed like a good idea to me. Most especially because there have been a couple of challenges that I wanted to do but missed them for some reason or the other. I picked the “Home-Made Phyllo from Scratch Baklava” challenge from June 2011 (hosted by Erica of Erica’s Edibles) as I have always wanted to try making Phyllo pastry at home, for the simple reason that I cannot find it in the stores here and I have always wanted to try Baklava.
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.
Please do see this page for details on making the dough and rolling out the Phyllo pastry and this set of videos on how to make Baklava.
Baklava With Home-Made Phyllo Pastry
(Adapted from Daring Baker Challenge, June 2011)