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Phyllo

Athens Brand Phyllo (or Filo) is available in the freezer section of most major grocery stores. Look for it where you would find frozen cakes, pie shells and/or puff pastry. Locally, both Krogers and Schnucks carries packages of phyllo sheets, as well as pre-baked phyllo mini-tartlet shells. Homestyle phyllo (a slightly thicker phyllo sheet that is used more for savory dishes) can be found at Middle Eastern food marts and delis.

 





Most of us in the Western world view baklava as a strictly Greek dessert – a buttery, cinnamon-laden, nut-filled concoction of paper-thin layers of dough that almost melts in your mouth. Phyllo dough has its origins back to the 8th century B.C. when Turkish nomads had an infatuation with making sweet-layered bread to have with their tea. The adaptation of adding several layers of a pastry filling of nuts came from the Persians and means that baklava itself may even pre-date the creation of phyllo which is the Greek word for leaf.

A most assuredly Middle Eastern delight, baklava comes with many variations and was primarily baked for special occasions. Many of the great houses in Istanbul kept phyllo makers on staff and it was baked and served in the palaces of the ancient Persian kingdom.

The flavors of baklava vary as much as the regions who claim it as solely their own. Cinnamon, cloves, honey, rosewater, lemon, cardamom, walnuts, pistachios and almonds have been found in variations of the dish. Baklava was the pastry of choice for the Turkish sultans and their large harems because the two main ingredients, walnuts and honey, were believed to be aphrodisiacs when taken regularly.

Today, the majority of the phyllo dough on the market is not manufactured by hand – but rather by machines and it is available in the freezer section of most supermarkets. In specialty Middle Eastern and Eastern European delis, a slightly thicker, homemade style of phyllo can be found for use in savory dishes such as Greek Spanikopita (spinach and feta pie) and other such delights. Newer packaging of frozen phyllo has also taken inconsideration how Americans are using the product and has created smaller sheets and individual packaging for easier use.

Traditional Baklava

2 cups walnuts (1/2 lb)
1 cup shelled pistachios
˝ cup sugar
1 ˝ tsp cinnamon
8 oz phyllo dough
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 tbs water
honey syrup (recipe follows)

Toast walnuts in a 350 degree oven for 5-8 minutes. Place walnuts and shelled pistachios in a food processor and blend until finely ground and then mix with the cinnamon and sugar in a bowl.

Brush bottom of a 13 by 9 inch pan with melted butter and place two phyllo sheets on bottom of the pan (or fold one to fit), brush with butter these with butter and repeat step 2 more times.

Sprinkle phyllo with ˝ cup of your nut and spice mixture, and two leaves of phyllo, brush with butter and repeat this step five times until all of the nut mixture is used. Top final layer of nuts with three to four sheets of phyllo - each brushed with butter. Then, sprinkle this last layer with the water (helps to soften the phyllo) and with a sharp knife, score this top layer only into the diagonal pattern that makes the phyllo diamonds (you can score into squares, as well). Criss-crossed diagonal cuts should be made every 1 ˝ inches.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for approximately 40-50 minutes or until the top is golden. While the baklava is baking, prepare the honey syrup below and allow to cool. Once the baklava is removed from the oven, place on rack to cool, cut all the way through the diamonds to separate the pieces and pour cooled syrup over all pieces. Cool baklava completely, cover and allow syrup to be fully absorbed (typically overnight).

Honey Syrup

This syrup is an integral part of the baklava recipe as it imparts additional flavor and the syrup serves as the ‘glue’ that helps hold together the thin phyllo layers, thus creating the sticky texture associated with baklava.

Zest of small lemon
1 tsp lemon juice
1 cup water
1 small cinnamon stick
1 cup honey

Bring all of the ingredients to a boil and boil until the mixture is slightly thickened/reduced (will take about 10 - 15 minutes on high heat or about 30 minutes on medium-low heat). Cool.

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