You’ll know what I’m about to talk about. We all have one of those purchases lurking in the larder. Something that looked such a smart buy when you were on holiday or in that posh deli, and for which you had such grand, grand plans. It was going to be amazing. A taste sensation. Guests would be in awe, impressed with your skills. Then you got it home…and it went into a cupboard to be forgotten about, save for the occasional pangs of guilt you feel when you see it, then quickly close the cupboard door so you can forget about it again.
In my case, the “object of guilt” it was a packet of Turkish kadayıfı pastry (the “angel hair” stuff). I picked it up when was in Brussels, and it was going to form the basis of an amazing tray of fragrant, sweet baklava. Last weekend, finally, finally, I got round to using it, and as intended, it was to make baklava – using pistachios, flavoured with orange blossom water and cardamom.
To use kadayıfı , you rip off as much as you need, fluff it up, let it sit outside for a few minutes (to get rid of whatever preservative gas is used to keep the pastry from spoiling…I prefer not to think about it!) and then pour on some melted butter. Next, there is not much you can do other than roll up your sleeves and mix the butter into the pastry until it is well-coated. This is the messier and more fun version of brushing sheets of filo pastry with butter, and means the strands on top become crisp during baking.
I had planned to use pistachio nuts to fill this baklava, and I got hold of a bag of good-quality unsalted nuts. What did not go through my brain until it was too late was the realisation that I would have to stand for the best part of half an hour shelling them, by hand, then picking off the papery inner skin. It you fancy testing your patience, then shelling pistachios is one of the best ways to do it. However, you can save yourself a heck of lot of work by getting hold of some pre-shelled nuts. Just a suggestion!
Rather than the brown sugar I’ve used in baklava before (which works well with hazelnut baklava), I stuck to white with the hope that the colour of the nuts would still be apparent after baking. The filling was finished off with a little cinnamon and a dash of orange blossom water, again not too much as I wanted the pistachio flavour to stand a sporting chance of being apparent after baking. However, the real magic of the East came from the syrup – made with acacia honey, orange blossom water, rose water and crushed cardamom pods. The cardamom on particular was a great addition, adding the lightly peppery, citrus-and-aniseeed flavour to the syrup. Just enough to be add a little something, but not too much that it was overpowering.
When the baklava comes out of the oven, you’ll think it is very fragile and wonder how you’ll cut it without everything collapsing. And you’re right, the kadayıfı wants to break apart. But once you’ve drizzled the hot baklava with the cold syrup and left the whole lot to cool, it slices like a dream.
This is a very different type of baklava compared to when making it with filo pastry. The strands on top stay crisp (and you get lots of little “snaps” as you bite into it), while the syrup soaks into the bottom layer and the nut filling. This makes for a nice contrast in textures. And it shows that sometimes, it can be worth revisiting that abandoned ingredient – it might just surprise you!
I ended up presenting this at a dinner as dessert. I’d merrily raided various Ottolenghi recipes for inspiration, so there had been a number of rich, aromatic and filling dishes, and I was sure that heavy chocolate cake wasn’t the way to go. So it was baklava with a few pomegranate seeds (colour contrast and a sharp tang to balance the sweet syrup) and the offer of whipped cream for those that wanted it. In the end, the cream went untouched, but all the baklava went. I just wish it wasn’t one of those things that is so addictively easy to pick at. Every time you pass it in the kitchen…just one piece…just one more piece…well, just one more…
To make pistachio baklava:
This looks complex – it isn’t. I’ve just tried to make the recipe as easy to follow as I can.
For the sugar syrup:
• 150ml water
• 200g white sugar
• 50g soft brown sugar
• 100g light honey (such as acacia)
• 2 teaspoons lemon juice
• 2 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
• 1 tablespoons of orange blossom water
• 1 tablespoon of rose water(*)
In a saucepan, heat the water, sugar, honey, lemon juice and cardamom pods 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. Remove the cardamom pods and any seeds before using on the baklava.
For the filling:
• 200g pistachios (or pistachios and almonds)
• 100g white caster sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 2 tablespoons orange blossom water
For the pastry:
• 300g kadayıfı (angel hair) pastry
• 150g butter
Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Grind the nuts. You want them medium-fine, but with a few larger pieces. Don’t turn them to powder otherwise the filling will be too dense. Combine with the sugar and cinnamon, then add the orange blossom water and mix well – it should be damp and sand-like, not wet and sticky. Set aside.
Prepare the pastry according to directions on the packet. This will most likely involve “fluffing up” the pastry and mixing it with melted butter and mixing well.
In a dish (I used one 21 x 28cm), add half the buttered pastry, and pat down until even but not too compact. Add the filling, and spread out. Be gentle so you don’t mess up the base. Now add the rest of the pastry, spread out, then pat down with the back of a spoon – you can be quite firm here.
Bake the baklava for 20-25 minutes the top is crisp and lightly golden. When done, remove from the oven, allow it to sit for a minute, then drizzle with the cooled syrup . Do it slowly – a spoonful at a time – so that all the baklava gets a soaking. If you see syrup forming pools in some areas, don’t worry – it will all be absorbed.
Allow the baklava to cool fully before cutting into pieces.
(*) 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!