**So it’s not a pie in the usual sense, but baklava is pastry stuffed with nuts, sweet syrup, and butter. The pie spirit is there. And really, who would complain about getting baklava?**
Growing up I never knew that there was more than one kind of baklava. The sticky, crispy, little diamonds with pistachio and that hint of rose water were the only ones I knew. Later, I found out that baklava comes in countless shapes and sizes, with different fillings and sweeteners. Every culture that makes it (think Mediterranean) makes it differently. Heck, every family probably makes it differently.
A few years ago, I happened upon a Turkish bakery on the East side of Manhattan that offered about a dozen varieties: baklava filled with pistachios, walnuts, even sour cherries and other dried fruits. Some were shaped like squares, others like small round nests, and still others rolled up like cigars. Jen and I bought two pieces of each to take home and slowly devoured them. They were absolutely delicious, crunchy and sticky sweet, but not the baklava I remembered from childhood.
If you think you don’t like baklava, please try these. The honey flavor that most people associate with what could be a too-sweet dessert is replaced by a lite simple syrup flavored with rose water. When you make them yourself, you can control how much syrup is used, so they don’t have to be too sweet if you don’t want them to be. When I make them, I probably use two-thirds to three-quarters of the syrup most people use. Just enough to flavor the pastry without completely saturating it. This way, they are the perfect complement to a heavy meal., and no one can eat just one.
Recipe: Syrian-style Baklava
From Aromas of Aleppo
Makes enough baklava to last a holiday season, or about 100 pieces depending on how you cut it
- 1½ lbs shelled pistachios (blanched/peeled/finely chopped)
- 2 Tbsp powdered sugar
- 1¼ lbs (5 sticks) unsalted margarine/butter, melted
- 24 sheets phyllo dough (1 package)
- 1 cup cold rose water syrup
- Combine the pistachios, sugar, and ¼ cup of the melted butter in a medium mixing bowl.
- Keep the untended phyllo sheets covered with wax paper and a towel to prevent them from drying out, while you build the pastry. Grease a 13×18” sheet pan. Place a sheet of phyllo dough into the pan, fold or cut off any overhanging edges. Brush the dough evenly with the melted margarine or butter – don’t be stingy! Repeat until half of the sheets have been buttered and stacked in the pan.
- Spread the nut mixture over the phyllo. Cover the nut layer with a generous amount of butter, and repeat step 2 with the rest of the phyllo and melted butter. Brush top of baklava well with butter. Refrigerate, covered, for 20 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Cut the pastry carefully into diamonds/squares in the pan. When cutting, use a large knife and press down fully in each cut, instead of making sawing or slicing motions.
- Bake for 1 hour, or until baklava is puffy and golden.
- Make the rose water syrup (recipe below). Allow to cool while the baklava bakes.
- After removing from the oven, allow to cool for 30 minutes. Transfer pieces into a greased, wax paper-lined container, and pour room temperature rose water syrup over the baklava. Let it all cool. If stacking multiple layers of baklava in the container, make sure to grease both sides of each piece of wax paper that sits between layers of baklava.
- Store in the refrigerator for up a month, if they last that long. Serve at room temperature so that the syrup can soften.
Rose Water Simple Syrup
Makes a bit more than you need for the baklava recipe above. I’m tempted to try to heat the rest and make candy out of it.
1 ½ cups sugar
½ tsp lemon juice
¼ tsp rose water
- Combine the sugar, lemon juice, rose water, and 1/2 cup water in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture boils.
- Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the syrup slides slowly down the back of a spoon.
- Allow the syrup to cool. Use immediately or pour into a glass jar and refrigerate. It will keep up to 2 months.
Note: I like to make more freeform pieces of baklava with the leftover scraps of dough, bake them, coat with syrup, and keep them all to yourself. You deserve it for making such a delicious dessert.
About this author: I'm a New Yorker who would rather cook than go out to restaurants. Sometimes I think I may be in the wrong city for that. Then I remember the exotic ingredients I'd be hard-pressed to find if I lived somewhere else. My cooking style is an eclectic range of everyday-American, Italian, middle-eastern, with extensive forays into Japanese cuisine, and some pit-stops into Indian and African cuisines. I love to try my hand at recreating dishes I taste. While I enjoy most anything with a flavor, from high cuisine to instant junk food, I have a soft spot in my belly for home-style cooking no matter the geographic or ethnic origin. Read more from this author...