KARINE HRECHDAKIAN’S BAKLAWA (Arabic) PAKLAVA (Armenian), BAKLAVA(Greek)
Adapted from her aunt Penny’s Paklava recipe, Anissa Helou's “Lebanese Cuisine” (St. Martin's Press), and Chef Ramzi N. Choueiri's “Le patrimoine culinaire du Liban.”
You can freeze Baklawa once assembled and bake it without defrosting days later. Aunt Penny finds that her Baklawa is best baked the day before being served. She likes to give the sugar syrup a chance to meld into the layers. However, if you experiment with the bite sized Lebanese morsels, I highly recommend making them the same day. They are heavenly when crisp. This Baklawa will keep for a few days if stored in an airtight container. Do not store in the refrigerator.
For the Baklawa, you will need 1 1/2 inch deep baking dishes, rectangular or round, not jelly roll pans. Pyrex baking dishes will do.
Clarified butter (see below)
Sugar or honey syrup, (see below)
3 cups walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, unsalted pistachio nuts or unsalted cashew nuts
Scant 1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz ) fine sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional if using orange blossom and rose water)
1 tablespoon orange blossom water (omit for Greek honey version)
1 tablespoon rose water (omit for Greek honey version)
A chunk of butter to grease the baking dish
2 packages of phyllo pastry (40 sheets), measuring 13 x 18 inches
1 pound clarified butter
The day before, prepare the sugar or honey syrup and clarified butter as described below. If frozen, thaw the phyllo dough in the fridge overnight.
Preheat oven to 4000F.
Chop the nuts as finely as possible, but resist the urge to use a food processor as they release more oil and it makes them pasty. Transfer to a mixing bowl, add the sugar, cinnamon (if using) and/or orange blossom and rose water, and mix well.
Grease a deep baking dish, measuring about 13 x 18 x 1 1/2 inches with a chunk of butter. Spread one sheet of phyllo pastry on the bottom of the baking dish. (Keep the other sheets covered with a damp cloth as they dry up very quickly.) Brush with melted clarified butter, lay another sheet over it, brush with more clarified butter and continue until you have 18 layers of phyllo pastry for the bottom half.
Spread the nut filling evenly over the pastry and cover with 22 more layers of phyllo, making sure you brush each with melted clarified butter. Pour any leftover clarified butter over the pastry. Cut into diamonds with sides measuring 2 inches or into thin rectangles about 2 inches long and 3/4 inch wide. You can stop at this point, tightly wrap the pan with plastic wrap and freeze until ready to bake.
Bake in a preheated 4000F. oven for 10 minutes, reduce temperature to 3500F. and bake another 45 to 50 minutes until crisp and golden. Remove from oven and very carefully, with someone to help you, pour off any excess clarified butter.
Let Baklawa cool a few minutes, then pour the warmed sugar/honey syrup all over the pastry. Serve at room temperature.
Clarified Butter, Samneh (Lebanese), Ghee (Indian)
Clarified butter will keep in fridge at least 2 weeks. Try to make it a day or two before assembling pastry.
4 sticks sweet unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
Bring butter to a boil in a small heavy saucepan over moderate heat. Once foam completely covers butter, reduce heat to very low. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until a thin crust begins to form on the surface and milky white solids fall to bottom of pan, about 8 minutes. Continue to cook, watching constantly and stirring occasionally to prevent burning, until solids turn light brown and butter deepens to golden and becomes translucent, 16 to 18 minutes. (The Lebanese wait until it is as transparent as a tear.) Remove clarified butter from heat and pour through a sieve lined with a triple layer of cheesecloth into a jar.
Microwave option: Place butter pieces in glass measuring cup. Microwave on high 2 minutes. Remove and let stand 1 minute. Spoon off foamy top layer or pour through a fine mesh sieve lined with a triple layer of cheesecloth into a jar or bowl. Spoon clear clarified buttter into small bowl. Discard any milky liquid at bottom of measuring cup.
You can store this syrup in a glass jar and keep it in the refrigerator for about two weeks or more. Try to make a day or two before assembling pastry. Warm before pouring on the Baklawa.
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey (to prevent crystallizing)
1 tablespoon rose water
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
Put the sugar, water, lemon juice and honey in a saucepan. Bring to boil, simmer 1 minute, then stir in the rose and orange blossom waters and boil for a few seconds.
Take off the heat and leave to cool before using.
Honey Syrup for Greek Baklava
2 cup sugar
2/3 cup water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 stick cinnamon
2/3 cup honey
Combine sugar, water, lemon juice, and cinnamon stick in a heavy saucepan. Bring to boil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally until sugar is dissolved, then simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes. Stir in honey and return to boil. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Pour through a sieve into a large measuring cup. Chill, uncovered, until cold, about 1 hour. Warm before pouring on Baklava.