At the weekend, there was a very special celebration lunch. It was in honour of one of my friends, who was awarded an OBE, and we were round at her house to enjoy good food and great company. We also got to see the official video of the big day at Buckingham Palace. It was so funny to watch – incredibly grand and exciting, and nice to be able to share in the event.
This is my contribution to the lunch – a tray of pistachio baklava with an aromatic honey syrup.
This is based on my normal nut baklava recipe, but I wanted to make it a little more special. So I made the filling with mostly pistachios, and made the sticky syrup with a good measure of honey. Rather than just using pure honey (which could be somewhat overpowering) I replaced some of the sugar in the syrup with wildflower honey, and it came out just right in terms of the honeyness-to-nutiness ration.
Now, for a fancy event it needed to look fancy too. So I jazzed it up by presenting on my lovely metal Arabian-style plate (a bargain at the St Gilles flea market in Brussels this summer) and scattered the baklava with sliced pistachios and some dried pomegranate. Yes, dried pomegranate. This was news to me! Not something I had ever come across before, but the hostess was using them in another part of the meal, and I thought a few of the sweet-tart seeds would make a nice complement to the sweetness of the honey syrup.
We went hunting for the famed dried pomegranate up and down Stoke Newington High Street, but to no avail. Exhausted from all that pavement pounding, we sound some refreshment at the lovely new coffee house Fred & Fran and got chatting to one of the baristas. We mentioned the dried pomegranate, and he shouted down to the chef – had she heard of it? Nope, news to her too. So we shuffled off, bought a fresh pomegranate, removed the fleshy seeds and ended up drying them in the oven at a very low temperature. Needs must and all that!
So I hope you enjoy this recipe – I can’t really say how authentic it is, but it is very simple to make and it seemed to be pretty popular served with a scoop of milk gelato.
To make pistachio and honey baklava (makes around 24 pieces):
For the sugar syrup:
• 75ml water
• 125g white sugar
• 50g honey
• 1 teaspoon of lemon juice
• 1 tablespoon of orange blossom water
• 1 tablespoon of rose water(*)
In a saucepan, heat the water, sugar, honey and lemon juice until it comes to the boil and cook for a minute. 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:
• 150g pistachios
• 50g almonds
• 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), brush the base with a little melted butter, then add a sheet of filo. Brush with butter, then add another sheet. Brush with butter, and 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, brushing with melted butter, then adding the next. Finish by brushing the sixth sheet with butter.
Cut the baklava into pieces – long rectangles, diamonds, squares, or whatever whimsical shapes take your fancy. Do this carefully with a sharp knife and make sure to go all the way through to the base. You might want to leave a border of “scrap” baklava where the pastry is a bit untidy 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. Decorate with chopped pistachios and dried pomegranate seeds(**).
(*) By this, I mean the lightly aromatic rose water. If you have the much more intense rose extract, then use just a few drops and not a whole tablespoon!
(**) To dry pomegranate seeds – remove the red seeds from the white pith, and spread on a non-stick baking tray. Leave in the oven at 60°C (140°F) for several hours until the seeds are dry. They will remain slightly sticky but should keep their colour and not turn brown.
Worth making? This version of baklava is very fragrant, and there is just enough honey to make this seem like a very decadent treat. It is also very simple to make, and can be prepared ahead of time.