Tag Archives: baklawa

Pistachio and Honey Baklava

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.

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Hazelnut Baklava and a reassessment

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.

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Orange Balkava

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.

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