My schedule at work got confused the other day, and instead of being blocked out after 4:30 for a meeting, I was blocked out for the whole day. Oops! Oh, well, might as well go home, sit in the sun on the deck, and have baklava with a cup of sweet, hot, turkish "mud coffee" scented with cardamom, which my "adopted kibbutz mother" Judy gave me as a reminder of Israel.
Here is my current favorite baklava recipe, which I have smushed together and modified from the recipes in Joan Nathan's Foods of Israel Today, and Gloria Kaufer Greene's The Jewish Holiday Cookbook.The parts of the recipes (in parentheses) are my helpful tips ;-)
mix together & set aside:
4 cups (about a pound) of shelled and finely chopped--but not totally ground up--walnuts or combo of walnuts and/or pistachios and/or almonds (if you are chopping them in a food processor, do the almonds first since they're so much harder)
1/4 cup sugar (so far I like the organic freeze-dried sugar cane juice best--it has a brown-sugar taste)
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
One box (one pound) of phyllo dough from the Greek or Middle Eastern grocery or the co-op. If it's frozen, let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight the day before you need it and then let it come to room temperature the day you're going to use it.
1-1/2 sticks butter, melted. Add a tsp of warm water to the melted butter and brush some on the bottom of a jelly-roll pan (10" by 15" by 1" pan); keep the rest warm/melted till you're ready to use it.
1-1/2 cups water
1-1/2 cups sugar (I use the freeze-dried sugar cane juice here too)
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole cloves
a few cardamom pods
Juice & finely shredded zest of one lemon
1/2 cup honey
a few drops of rose water or orange blossom water (I like to use both!)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
OK, now open the box of phyllo dough. There will be 18-25 very thin, tissue-paper-like sheets in the box. They are fragile and dry out easily (and if they dry out they become very aggravating to work with) so you have to keep them covered with a damp (but not wet) cloth between lifting off each new sheet and arranging it in the pan. They should be easy and fun to separate from one another and not stick together in a clumpy mess (and if they do, they are not salvageable. Toss them and get a new box)
Lay one sheet of phyllo on the buttered pan (it will overhang). Brush it lightly all over with the melted butter + water mixture. Lay a new sheet of phyllo on top of the that, and brush with the butter mixture. Repeat till you have 5 sheets in a buttered stack. Scatter about 2/3 cup of the nut filling over the whole thing. Stack two more sheets of phyllo on top, buttering each (some recipes say that you can skip buttering every third sheet but I think, why bother pretending there's a low-fat version?). Scatter another 2/3 cup of the filling on top. Repeat, sprinkling 2/3 cup filling on every two buttered sheets, till you've used up all the filling. Then keep stacking sheets and buttering them till you've used them all up or until you get bored (if you have left-over sheets, wrap them back up in plastic and they will still be usable for another few weeks). If you run out of butter, you can use oil.
Trim the edges that are overhanging (& put them in their own little buttered pan, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon and bake till brown and crispy)(or discard them)
Then, score the baklava by cutting with a very sharp knife halfway down to the bottom of the pan. Cut diagonals both ways to make diamond shapes, or cut triangles or squares, whatever size you prefer.
Bake it in the upper half of the preheated oven for one hour. If the top gets too brown too fast, cover it with aluminum foil.
While the baklava is baking, combine all the syrup ingredients except for the flower water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer gently, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Add the rose and/or orange blossom water.
When the baklava is done, it should be crisp and golden. Take it out of the oven and immediately pour the syrup over the top of it, and it will make a lovely hissy crackly sound. Cut all the rest of the way through where your scored lines are to separate the pieces. Let it rest uncovered or covered just loosely with aluminum foil for several hours or overnight before eating it, with strong black coffee or earl grey tea with lemon.
(thank you to the new israelity.com for the coffee in Israel link)
Turkish coffee photo originally uploaded by Joseph Robertson