I didn’t know what to make this week. My husband requested “something nice.” Not that the stuff I’ve made recently hasn’t been nice (except for the chilli cumin cornbread which was awful at best), but I knew exactly what he meant. There’s been a couple of decent chocolate cakes, a tart, but nothing would knock your socks off. I asked Jon to choose something. If it wasn’t nice, then it wouldn’t be my fault. He went for a rummage around the recipe book shelf and came back with baklava from Anatolia – Adventures in Turkish Cooking by Somer Sivrioglu and David Dale.
First things first. There was no way I was going to attempt homemade filo pastry. There is a recipe in the book, but it doesn’t encourage you to try it. I understand that there are records of filo pastry going back to the 13th century – thanks Wikipedia. What I don’t understand is who decided that it would be a good idea to see if they could roll dough so thinly that they could see through it? It couldn’t have been stumbled upon by accident like puff pastry could it?
Anyway, according to the recipe, to make true baklava, you need at least forty-two sheets of filo and a baking tray that’s 33cm long, 22 wide, and 2cm deep. Tesco sell chilled filo pastry in packs of twelve sheets of around that size. I decided to buy two packets, cut the sheets in half, and use a smaller baking tray. I also decided to buy a tin of ghee, rather than making my own clarified butter. The weather was too hot to make anything harder than it needed to be.
Having decided on the size of my filo sheets and baking tray, I began the baklava by grinding pistachio kernels to a powder and melting the ghee. I used a big bag (200g) of pistachios. The recipe does tell you to use more than this but, at £5 per bag, I couldn’t bring myself to buy another one for just one recipe. I cut my filo sheets in half using a pizza cutter so that they roughly fitted into my 22cm square tin and, as per the recipe, set aside twelve sheets for the top of the baklava. I divided the rest into two piles and covered each one with a damp cloth.
It wasn’t difficult to assemble the baklava in the tin – a layer of filo, a quick brush with melted ghee, another layer of filo, another brush with ghee and so on, and a sprinkling of the ground pistachios every third layer. I did have to check the number of layers a couple of times. I was listening to The Spy Who Came In From the Cold on the radio and lost lost count whilst pondering how George Smiley could be so simultaneously ruthless and sympathetic. While George polished his glasses with the end of his tie, I layered, brushed and sprinkled (and checked whether I was on the second or third layer) until I’d used up my first batch of filo. I put a thick layer of pistachios on top and began the process again with the second batch. When the second batch was finished, I put the remaining twelve layers onto the top, brushing them with ghee, but leaving out the pistachios.
Once rested, I put the tray into the oven at 160° fan. The recipe gives a baking time of 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. My pastry didn’t reach the golden brown stage until it had been in the oven for about 45 minutes.
While the baklava was baking, I made a sugar syrup with caster sugar, water and lemon juice. The recipe says that you should bring the syrup to the boil, and then keep it at a low simmer for twenty minutes or until the mixture is thick and syrupy. I’m not sure whether my syrup was thick enough, but I was paranoid about it starting to caramelise, so it may have come off the heat too early.
Once the baklava was out of the oven, and the syrup made, I was supposed to heat the bottom of the baking tray on the hob. I had a problem here. We have an induction hob. It only works if the pans are magnetic. I hadn’t checked the tray. I ended up heating up a flat pan than I knew was magnetic, and putting the tray on the top. It was all a bit tricky, but I just about managed to heat up the baking tray without burning the bottom of the baklava while stirring the syrup at the same time. I poured the syrup over the baking tray, left if for an hour or so, and sprinkled what was left of my pile of ground pistachios over the top.It would probably be difficult to produce something with this much butter and sugar that didn’t taste good but even so, I was really happy with these. Pastry soaked in butter, layered with pistachios. Just delicious. I might even go as far as to say that they knocked my socks off.