Baklava is a sweet nutty delight wrapped in buttery layers of filo pasty. My first taste of it was from a Greek market stall so I always think of Baklava of being typically Greek, but I know that the Turkish also claim it as a national delicacy so I won’t get into the controversial issue of where it’s is from! Either way, with everything that’s been going on in the UK this past week it feels more appropriate than ever to celebrate European food and people.
Baklava is one of those recipes I have always wanted to try making, so when at my baking group this month we had a ‘freestyle’ theme it was the perfect opportunity to finally give this one a go. I’ve had a recipe for it tucked into my recipe notebook for several years now. When I dug it out I noticed that it was from a 2014 Good Housekeeping magazine so it’s been a long time coming! In the end, this recipe ended up being a bit of a combination of a load of different things I read, but primarily from my Good Housekeeping magazine snippet and this blog post. I was also happy to find out that while this feels like a real exotic treat to eat, the ingredients I’ve selected are actually all really accessible and available from most supermarkets or shops.
As I was making this for the local baking group, I didn’t think I could get away with buying filo pastry and so decided to make it from scratch. I’ve learned that technically, it isn’t actually as difficult as I thought. However, what I hadn’t realised in my great ignorance (I obviously need to start watching more Great British Bake Off!) was that the beautiful layers in filo pastry aren’t a magical process that happens in the oven, but are actually a product of layer upon layer of wafer thin pastry. So the big downside to making your own is that it will take several hours, and the skill is all in trying to roll out the pastry so it’s wafer thin. The upside is that you’re doing so many layers, that it emerges that it actually isn’t too catastrophic if you’ve got a few tears in your pastry here and there.
Overall, I learnt that this recipe is actually pretty easy to make and wouldn’t have actually been too time consuming if you weren’t making the pastry, so I’d probably buy the filo next time. However, it’s a pretty therapeutic process if you’ve got a few hours to spare on a Sunday night and so I’ll give you the choice! Important note – this recipe requires standing overnight before consumption, it will improve with age and can be kept in an airtight container for a week. I’ve tried to divide the recipe up to make it easier to read but I’m aware this can make it look a bit daunting! I promise though that it really isn’t as complicated as it looks. If you’re using shop bought pastry, just start from The Nutty Filling and ignore The Pastry 1 and The Pastry 2.
- 270g plain flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 180ml water (adding a little more if required)
- 4 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tsp cider vinegar
- 150g unsalted butter
OR 500g ready-made filo pastry
The Nutty Filling
- 300g nuts (I used a mix of pistachios, walnuts, almonds and cashew nuts. I’d recommend being particularly generous with the pistachios and walnuts if you can)
- 3 tbsp caster sugar
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp all-spice (or grind up 1-2 cloves if you don’t have this)
- 150ml honey
- 150g caster sugar
- 150ml water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 cardamon pods
- 1/2 lemon, the zest and juice
- 1 piece of fresh orange peel
How to make it…
The Pastry (Part 1)
- Mix together the flour and the salt in a large mixing bowl. In a measuring jug, combine the water, oil and vinegar and mix together. Slowly add the liquid mix in with the dry ingredients, mixing together either using an electric mixer or by hand. When it’s ready, it should form quite a sticky mixture – add a little more water if it’s too dry, or a little more flour if it’s too wet.
- Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, until you end up with a smooth dough. Then shape into a ball and cover with cling film which has been lightly brushed with oil. Leave to rest in the fridge for 90-120 minutes. You can use this time to prepare the nutty filling.
The Nutty Filling
- Heat the oven to around 180°C/ Gas Mark 4. Take your mix of nuts, and put all of them in a baking tray (doesn’t matter which kind). Roast for around 10-15 minutes, until they start to become golden in colour and emit a lovely nutty smell. Leave to cool for about 10 minutes.
- Add all the nuts in a blender or food processor, and roughly grind together so that there are still a few whole nutty pieces left. Then mix in the caster sugar, ground cinnamon and all-spice.
The Pastry (Part 2)
- Take the dough, divide it into 3 balls and then cut each of these into 3 again, and cut each of these into 4 smaller balls. You should end up with 36 balls. Put these back in the mixing bowl under the oil covered clingfilm while you get to work.
- Slightly melt your butter by putting it in the microwave for around 10-15 seconds. Line your baking tray (I used an 8 x 8 inch square tray) with either baking paper or with butter.
- On a floured surface, start to roll out one ball at a time, trying to match it to the shape of your tray. When it’s wafer thin, use the rolling pin to pick it up from the surface and place it in your lined or buttered tray. You may need to use your hands to stretch the dough out, like you might if you were making a pizza base. (Tip – if it sticks to the surface too much, dab a little bit of butter on the edge to help it stick to the rolling pin instead as shown in the picture).
Combining the pastry and the filling
- Butter the surface on the filo pastry, and then add another layer. Repeat with around 10-11 layers of filo adding butter over each layer, and then add 1/3 of the nutty mix. Then add another 8 layers and filo and butter, add another 1/3 of the nutty mix, and repeat (another 8 layers of filo and butter, and the final 1/3 of the nutty mix). Save around 10-11 layers of filo for the top. If you’re struggling to keep the dough wafer thin without breakage, you might want to add 2-3 balls together for the final layer of filo to neaten it up a bit. If you’ve bought the filo pastry, follow the same instructions but use less layers of filo. Ensure you’ve brushed the top with a generous layer of butter as well.
- Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/ Gas Mark 4. Use a sharp knife to cut the baklava into your desired shape. I went for 36 triangles, which I achieved by cutting 9 big squares and then cutting diagonally through each of these (see photo).
- Bake for 15 minutes in the middle shelf of the oven, then reduce to 170°C/ Gas Mark 4 and bake for a further 30 minutes until it turns a golden brown. When it’s back in the oven, start making the syrup.
- Heat the sugar, honey and water together in a large non-stick saucepan over a low heat, until all the sugar has dissolved.
- Add the cinnamon stick, cardamon pods, lemon zest and juice, and the orange peel. Bring to the boil and then leave the simmer for 15 minutes, until it has thickened to a light syrupy texture. Strain and set aside to cool.
- Finally, when you’ve removed the baklava from the oven, pour the warm syrup over the top, trying to get into all the crevices of the shapes you have cut. Leave to soak at least overnight, after which you can remove the shapes by cutting around each shape again with a knife.
Recipe adapted from ‘livinthepielife’ blog post: ‘Make Your Own Phyllo Dough & Baklava’ and from the Good Housekeeping November 2014 magazine edition, recipe: ‘Baklava’ page 233.