Yesterday, I began to assemble trays and boxes of my cookies and pastries to hand out to neighbors, friends and others that I am in contact with during the course of the year.
In the past, I filled each tray or box exactly the same, but this year, each package was just a little different. About a month ago, I began to get little reminders from my friends as to which cookie was their favorite. None of my “Xeno” friends could pronounce any of the treats I’ve gifted to them, so they describe them to me instead. Richie told me he wants plenty of the ones with the sesame seeds – (koulourakia). Jo at work said she’s waiting for the revani. Maureen, the doctor I work with said the ones with the clove in the middle and drenched in syrup is her favorite – (melamakarona). And Ron down the block wants baklava — all the time. Every time he sees me — not just for Christmas.
Baklava is one of my quick and easy desserts to make. Most people think it’s difficult to make, but it’s quite simple, especially when you buy the packaged phyllo. I rarely make anything that is not completely from scratch, but rolling out dough as thin as paper would take all day.
My friend, a very talented chef, Krystina Kalapothakos, recently told me she was making her own phyllo. Youth and patience – that’s all it takes! Krystina’s blog is kouzounaskitchen.com. She has some amazing recipes on it. And if that isn’t enough, she just finished writing her first cookbook, Back To My Roots.
There’s plenty more trays to be assembled, so you’ll have to wait and see what else I’ve baked this season.
~ Baklava ~
1 pound finely chopped walnuts
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 package phyllo dough
1½ cups unsalted butter, melted
1½ cups honey
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
Orange rind and 2 tablespoons juice from orange
2 cinnamon sticks
*Don’t be intimidated by the phyllo. It does dry fast so you need to work quickly. Most people like to cover it with a damp towel. This doesn’t work for me. I find it gets mushy and the leaves stick together. I just keep some Saran wrap on top of it. The regular long size phyllo is great when I double the recipe and make a large pan. (The size of a full size sterno pan) If you find the shorter phyllo sheets, a 9x 13 pan works perfectly. I use a Pyrex baking dish and it works beautifully.
Combine the filling ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
Brush the inside of the pan with some melted butter to coat. Lay two phyllo sheets in the pan. Brush the phyllo with butter using a pastry brush. Repeat three times. The bottom layer will have eight sheets in all. Spread one third of the filling onto the phyllo. Lay two sheets on top of the filling and brush with melted butter. Repeat two more times. Spread another third of the filling on the phyllo. Lay two sheets of phyllo and brush with melted butter. Repeat two times. Spread the last third of filling on the phyllo and cover with two sheets of phyllo. Repeat three more times. The top and bottom layers should have eight sheets. The layers in between the filling should have six sheets and there should be three layers of filling.
Carefully score the baklava into squares, and then cut each square into two triangles. This must be done before baking or the top layers will crumble if you try to cut them after baking. If you have any leftover butter, drizzle it over the top before baking. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes, then lower temperature to 300° and bake for an additional 30 minutes. The top layer should be golden brown.
While the Baklava is baking, combine all the ingredients for the syrup in a pot. When it reaches a boil, lower to a simmer. Simmer for twenty minutes.
The syrup should be cooled if you are pouring it over hot pastry, or the pastry should be cooled if the syrup is hot. I prefer to have both slightly warm when I pour the syrup. Let the syrup absorb into the baklava for a day before serving.