Sunday, November 11, 2007

Wild Goose Chase Baklava

For this, the inaugrual post on The Food Life, I think I should start with a small anecdote that attempts to show the extent of my ongoing quest to find new food and cooking experiences. Most anyone you speak to about making baklava from scratch will tell you that it's not worth it. Store-bought is often very good, and making it can be very labor intensive, so why bother?

For me, the fact that you can find good baklava in lots of places is reason enough to try and recreate the magic at home. It's true that there's no instant gratification factor here in that once it's made, the baklava has to sit out on the counter overnight, but for me that's an advantage, since I'm making it on Sunday to bring to a pot luck dinner scheduled at the end of a very busy Monday.

I fashioned an ingredient list based on a couple of online recipes (mainly from Whole Foods and Food Network) and set out with great expecations for my Sunday afternoon. My hopes were dashed, however, when the two Tesco employees it took to answer my question as to the location of filo pastry came to the joint conclusion that it could be found exactly nowhere at this particular Tesco. Disgruntled and disillusioned (but spurred on by Euan, who convinced me that filo pastry was within my grasp) I hustled myself (via taxi) to the Big Tesco. So, an hour and fifteen minutes (and a 14 Pound cab ride) later, I had not only all the ingredients I needed to make my special bakalva, but also a name for it.

What I found when I actually got down to making it was that it's actually rather enjoyable in a childish, playing-with-your-food kind of way. I would advise you to really get the mise en place all set before you even break the seal on your thawed filo dough, because, although I was warned, I didn't fully comprehend until I saw it for myself--it dries out fast. I used a mixture of almonds and walnuts, but you could easily substitute for any kind of nuts, particularly cashews and/or pistachios. I was concerned about the cutting of the raw pastry as I didn't have a particularly sharp knife on hand, but it turned out to be rather easy to cut as long as I took care not to drag the knife too much.

As for public reception of this recipe, I'll have to wait and include it in my next post. For now, I'll get on with the recipe by way of saying that I strongly encourage anyone to try it because we all know, somewhere deep down, that there's really no substitute for homemade.

Wild Goose Chase Baklava

1 pound thawed filo dough
2 sticks butter, melted and slightly cooled
11/2 cups finely chopped nuts of your choosing
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tesapoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
pinch salt
1 cup honey
1/4 cup orange juice
1/3 cup water
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F/ 230 degrees C. Butter a 9x9 inch baking dish. In a bowl, combine the nuts, sugar, spices and salt and set aside.

Unwrap the thawed filo (halving the sheets if they are too big to fit in your pan) and sandwich it on your work surface between two damp tea towels. Working quickly, layer each sheet of filo into the pan then brush liberally with the butter, until you've got about 10 sheets.

Now sprinkle on the nut mixture and spread it into a relatively even layer over the filo. Repeat the layering process with the filo until you've got another 10 layers or so, trying to line the edges up as neatly as possible.

When you've gone through all your filo, use as sharp a knife as you can find to cut the dough first into squares (I managed 4-by-4) and then diagonally once to make triangles. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the filo turns golden brown.

While it's baking, combine the honey, orange juice and water (with the extra cinnamon if using) in a saucepan over low heat, stirring to combine. Do not let it boil.

When the baklava is out of the oven, spoon the honey mixture over evenly. (It may seem like a lot of liquid, but not to worry, it will be soaked up by the pastry.)

Allow it to rest overnight or up to 24 hours before serving to your very impressed friends and dinner guests.