After Lebanese or Turkish food, I am usually too full for dessert. All those little mezze dishes are deceptive, as you just keep pick-pick-picking at them. Then it’s time for a coffee, you scan the dessert menu – “just to see” – and there you see baklava, coquettishly beckoning you on with the promise of sweetness, nuts, crisp pastry and the fact that as it is so small, you can certainly manage just one little piece. I almost always end up going for it.
I like baklava for those times when you want to have something sweet that does not have chocolate in it and does not have any cream. I love the golden brown, crisp, buttery pastry, and then a syrup-soaked layer of nuts and spices. If I make it at home, I am pretty free and easy with the nuts, but I do favour a mixture of almonds and pistachios with a few pine nuts. This is combined with cinnamon, and sometimes a little vanilla, cardamom or a pinch of cloves, then rounded off with a rose water and orange blossom sugar syrup. I’m going to be a bit big-headed here and declare that my version is pretty good, as guests usually refuse to believe that I made it.
Then, last weekend, I was leafing through the Observer Food Monthly supplement, and I saw something that intrigued me. This was “Istanbul Orange and Vanilla Baklava”, referred to as the “Queen of Baklavas”. This version substituted the nuts for a puree of whole oranges (yes, whole oranges). I have never seen this done before. I’ve seen baklava with different nuts, different pastries (the usual filo or thread-like kadaifi) and different spices or flavours, but the nuts were always a feature. Could this fruity version work? It would surely be a vibrant-tasting treat, so I thought that it would be worth trying it.
The recipe is taken from the Observer Food Monthly, available here (scroll down for the recipe).
The filling basically involved cooking whole oranges, then preparing a sweet, spiced puree to fill the baklava. I cooked the oranges the night before, then left them to cool before preparing the puree the next day. This is a useful way to do it, as it means you can prepare the baklava the next morning relatively quickly. It all really was super-easy, but I found I had to cook the sugar syrup for about 20 minutes rather than the suggested 10. I also added half a teaspoon of rose water to the syrup as I like the baklava to be really fragrant. You could avoid the “specks” on the cooked baklava by clarifying the butter you use for the filo, but I don’t bother. Just hide them using the chopped pistachio nuts!
Worth making? Wow, did this taste of orange. Not a subtle flavour, but a real citrus-fest in the mouth. I really liked it and it was a lot lighter and fresher than nut baklavas, but it is such a strong taste that I would be inclined to serve it in larger pieces with mascarpone or creme fraiche as a dessert proper, rather than as a post-dinner accompaniment to coffee. I also found that it is best served relatively fresh (really as soon as it has cooled), as the filling is moist and thus does not absorb the sugar syrup the way that a nut-filled baklava would do, meaning that the filo pastry becomes soft quite quickly.