Last week, I tried out a new baklava recipe which uses pureed orange rather than nuts for the filling (see here). Claims were made that is was the best ever.
Well…I’ve since done a little thinking about it, and I am not sure that it really was the best baklava I have ever had. You see, over the weekend, I made a batch of “traditional” baklava which used ground hazelnuts for the filling, with the addition of a few walnuts and pistachios. Not some moment of inspiration. It is just that I have been a bad, bad cook and not properly re-stocked the cupboards lately – I ran out of hazelnuts and had to make do. But this is my favourite baklava recipe, and in my view, the way baklava should be. Nutty, fragrant and very sticky. Oranges are good, but nuts are better.
In making it, the nuts are ground, but not too finely. The are mixed with soft brown sugar, and then I add some cinnamon, orange blossom water and rose water. This results in a rich, fragrant filling. This goes into a tray with filo pastry, bake until golden, and then cover in a sugar syrup. I vary the syrup sometimes, using brown sugar for a honey-like syrup with orange blossom water and rose water, or even adding a spoonful of good honey for flavour. As the filling is dry, it soaks up the syrup, so once you bit into it, the filling is moist and the syrup oozes out in your mouth so that you can taste the flavours. Heavenly.
So, as a result of my thinking, I put the orange baklava into the “dessert” category, and it was nice, but my “normal” nut baklava into the dessert/coffee/treat category, and see this as something that you can serve any time. The bonus is that as it is not “moist” like the orange recipe, it stay crisp and lasts longer. In fact, the only problem I ever have with this is that it is hard to stop at just one piece!
For the sugar syrup:
• 75ml water
• 175g sugar (white or brown, but brown will alter the taste)
• 1 teaspoon of lemon juice
• 1 tablespoon of orange blossom water
• 1 tablespoon of rose water
In a saucepan, heat the sugar, water and lemon juice until it comes to the boil. Allow it to boil for three minutes. Now add the orange blossom and rose waters, boil for a few seconds, and remove from the heat.
Allow to cool before using on the baklava.
For the baklava:
• 200g hazelnuts (or a combination of nuts – almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios)
• 100g soft light brown sugar
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1 tablespoon orange blossom water
• 1 tablespoon rose water
• 12 sheets of filo pastry
• 75g unsalted butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Grind the nuts. We want them to be medium-fine – if they are ground too finely, the resulting filling will be very dense. Combine with the sugar and cinnamon, then add the orange blossom and rose waters and mix well. Set aside.
In a dish (I used one 21 x 28cm), cover the base with a little melted butter, then add a sheet of filo. Butter the filo, then add another sheet. Continue until you have six sheets of filo in the dish. Add the filling, and spread out. Be gentle so you don’t break the pastry. Now add the rest of the pastry, in each case adding a layer, covering with melted butter, then adding the next. Finish by covering the last sheet with butter.
Cut the baklava into shapes – long rectangles, diamonds, squares. Do this carefully with a sharp knife. You might want to leave a border of “scrap” baklava where the pastry is a bit scrappy at the edges. This means the final result is neater, and as the cook, you get to enjoy this “angel’s share”.
Bake the baklava for 15-20 minutes until crisp and golden. When done, remove from the oven, allow it to sit for a minute, then pour the cooled syrup over the hot baklava. Be sure to get the syrup in between each cut. If you see syrup forming pools in some areas, don’t worry – it will all be absorbed.
Allow the baklava to cool fully before serving.
Worth making? Of the two recipes I have done, this is by far my favourite. Using filo might seem a bit daunting, but it is actually a breeze, provided that you’ve prepared everything else. The result is also spectacular – it’s really simple, and nothing so simple should taste so good. If you’re thinking of this recipe, I urge you to give it a try.