NATIONAL BAKLAVA DAY!

 

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Today is National Baklava Day! I didn’t know there was such a day until recently. There seems to be a day for everything, so why shouldn’t this delicious, traditional Greek pastry be honored with its own day?

Many people are intimidated by the thought of attempting to make baklava, mainly because they’re not familiar with working with phyllo. It’s actually one of the easiest pastries to make and I often whip up a tray when I want to make something without too much fuss.

Baklava is so special it’s even mentioned in my novel, Evanthia’s Gift. Here is an excerpt:

           As the weeks went by, the change in Sophia could not be suppressed. She was lighter, happier and her eyes had a more dreamy quality to them. Whatever her task, it reflected the love that was bursting from the depths of her soul. Her bouquets at the flower shop were the most beautiful and creative work she’d ever fashioned. For Valentine’s Day she baked a delicious batch of baklava, while daydreaming how Dean would lick the sticky phyllo and walnuts off her fingertips, and she would kiss the rest of the honey off his irresistible lips. At the dance studio, she lost herself in romantic love songs, staying after class to choreograph pieces to the music that expressed her love for him. But it still bothered her that Dean wanted to keep their relationship a secret.

~ Baklava ~

 Filling

1 pound finely chopped walnuts

½ cup sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

Pastry

1 package phyllo dough

1½ cups melted unsalted butter

Syrup

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 bakers like to cover it with a damp towel. That method doesn’t work for me. I find the sheets of phyllo get stuck together. I just keep some Saran wrap on top to keep it from drying. 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 cut the baklava into squares, and then cut each square diagonally to form 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.

 

 

COUNTDOWN TO GREEK EASTER – TSOUREKI

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I have been trying, for years, to master baking tsoureki—traditional Greek Easter Bread. I’d watched my mother make it since I was a child, and as an adult I’d followed her recipe. But as delicious as hers were, they didn’t have the light, fluffy texture of the tsourekia at the Greek bakery. Mom’s was sweet and tasty, but dense. I made it my mission to create a recipe that balanced between the delicious sweet taste of my mother’s and the airiness of the bakery’s.

During my period of experimentation, I tried to crack the code — discover the secret — find the perfect recipe. What I’d learned was that there wasn’t anything wrong with Mom’s recipe. The problem was in the execution, and my nemesis was the yeast. Apparently, I didn’t understand the meaning of lukewarm, and this had been my biggest mistake. I now know that for the best results, the water must be the same temperature as your finger, otherwise the yeast will not rise to its full potential, if at all.

Last year, I was determined to make the best batch of tsourekia, so I consulted a panel of experts — avid bakers on a Greek Facebook page. After taking the advice from several women, I decided to keep my mother’s measurements but alter her method a bit. And I am very satisfied with the result. I got to keep my mom’s recipe in the family, yet at the same time, used it in a way that worked for me. With my newfound discoveries, I posted the recipe onto this blog site, but I foolishly threw away my mother’s original.

This year, when my yeast began to rise, I was so pleased. It had never risen so high. I was thrilled and thought, ‘this will be the fluffiest bread yet.’ I formed the braids and let them rise again, and when I removed the dishtowels covering the dough, the braids had flattened and spread throughout the pan. I’d spent all day making a double batch of tsourekia and they were completely ruined. I had no idea what I’d done wrong. I called my sister. I knew that I must have copied something wrong onto the blog post. And boy did I ever. Instead of 2 packets of yeast, I wrote down 5 packets of yeast. That certainly explains a lot. I won’t be making that mistake again.

PS – Just to be clear. The picture is last years beautiful tsourekia

Kali Anastasi! (Have a good resurrection)

Tsoureki

 2 packets rapid rise yeast (1/4 ounce each)

4 ounces lukewarm water

Dash of sugar

1 cup whole milk

1 ½ cup sugar

1 ½ cup unsalted butter (3 sticks)

5 eggs, room temperature

Juice and zest from 1 orange

1 teaspoon powdered mahlepi

½ teaspoon powdered mastiha

1 teaspoon salt

9-10 cups bread flour

1-2 egg yolk for brushing top of bread

Sesame seeds or almond slices for garnishing

 

In a bowl add the lukewarm water to the yeast along with the dash of sugar. The temperature of the water will decide if your bread will be a success or an epic fail. I have had both. The water should be the same temperature as your finger. Any warmer and it will kill the yeast. Place saran wrap over the bowl and set aside for about 10 minutes.

In a saucepan, add the butter, milk and sugar. Stir until the butter has melted. Do this over a low temperature. Remove from the pan and pour into a large bowl. Allow the mixture to cool to lukewarm.

Whisk in the eggs. Add the orange juice, zest, mahlepi and mastiha. Add the yeast mixture and whisk to combine.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, add the four and salt. Add the wet ingredients. Attach the dough hook to the mixer and mix on low speed for 1 minute. You may need to shut the mixer off and scrape the sides with a spatula. Mix at medium/high speed for 15 minutes. The dough will be a little sticky, but will begin to pull away from the bowl.

Transfer to a separate bowl, cover with a linen cloth and keep in a warm place for 2-3 hours. If you can’t find a warm enough place, I suggest you preheat your oven to 200 degrees and then shut it off. Place the bowl in the oven. When the dough has risen, gently deflate the dough with your fists and divide into 3 or 4 equal balls, depending on how large you want to make your breads and how many.

Each ball will then be divided into three equal sections and stretched long enough to form a braid. Form each braid on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Place a linen cloth over them and let them rise in a warm place for 1 hour.

In a small bowl, add 1 tablespoon of water to the egg yolks and whisk. Carefully, place a red Easter egg at the large end of the braid. With a pastry brush, gently coat the top of the bread with the egg and then sprinkle with sesame seeds or almond slices.

Bake in preheated oven set at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

 

 

REVANI – CHRISTMAS COOKIE & PASTRY MARATHON…DONE!

 

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With just a couple of days left until Christmas Eve, I finally finished boxing and cello wrapping trays of cookies. The pastries that require syrup I always make last—baklava, melamakarona and revani. By the time they will be consumed, the sugary liquid will have fully absorbed into the pastry, yet will still taste freshly made.

There are other pastries drenched in delicious syrup—ones I’ll share with you on another occasion—Karithopita, a cinnamon walnut cake. And Galaktoboureko, a semolina pastry cream, layered between fluffy phyllo dough.

But today, if you are looking to make a quick dessert, nothing could be easier than a pan of revani.

This ends my Christmas cookie blog posts for this year. If you are celebrating Christmas, I wish you a joyous and peaceful one. If you’ve already celebrated your holiday, I hope you had a very Happy Hanukkah. And for those celebrating other holidays this season, I hope the message of your holidays bring happiness to your lives.

Revani

Cake

1 1/3 cups flour

1 cup farina or semolina

8 eggs

¾ cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla

Zest of 1 orange

 

Preheat oven to 350°

Combine flour, farina, baking powder and salt. Beat sugar and eggs with a mixer. Mix in vanilla and orange zest. Slowly add the farina mixture and mix through. Pour batter in a buttered 11x 14-inch baking pan and bake 35 minutes. The cake should take on a light golden color. While the cake is baking, prepare the syrup.

Syrup

4 cups water

3 cups sugar

1 cinnamon stick

1-2 slices of orange rind

Juice from ½ orange.

Add all ingredients into a pot. Boil for 10 minutes and simmer for another 10 minutes.

The juice from the orange is optional. I decided to put the orange juice in the syrup so not to waste the orange I took the zest from. The cake had a more intense orange flavor than usual. If you only wish to have only a hint of orange flavor, omit the juice and use only the rind.

After the cake has cooled a bit, cut it into serving size squares or diamonds. Pour the warm syrup over the cake and let it absorb the syrup before serving.

 

 

BAKLAVA – CHRISTMAS BAKING MARATHON CONTINUES…

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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 ~

 

Filling

1 pound finely chopped walnuts

½ cup sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

Pastry

1 package phyllo dough

1½ cups unsalted butter, melted

Syrup

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.