This sweet, eastern Mediterranean favourite wins a place in my Tasmanian feature recipes, because not only does it use honey (Tasmanian leatherwood, of course), but its centerpiece ingredient is walnuts – also grown in Tasmania.
The first I ever heard of baklava was in my spotty youth, when I read Robert Ludlum’s The Icarus Agenda, set in the Middle East. The description of this pastry and nut cake, dripping with honey syrup set my mouth to watering. Many years later, I was working in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond, and I discovered a fantastic Greek cake shop on the corner of Swan street. I’d often stop in there and buy a big box of baklava.
The good news is that baklava is really quite easy to make. The bad news is that it means fiddle-arseing around with filo pastry, which is not my favourite activity. But the good news there is that, while filo is delicate and a bit difficult to handle, it’s also quite forgiving, and your mistakes are easily patched up.
Now, I know I’ve been teaching you how to make your own pastry, but with filo, I go strictly for the frozen stuff. Buggered if I’m going to even attempt to make those paper-thin sheets of pastry. And therein lies the secret of (relative) success with filo: it must be thawed slowly. No ifs, no buts. Filo should be thawed in the refrigerator, overnight. Trying to hurry it along by taking it straight out of the freezer to the kitchen bench will only make it more likely to dry, stick and tear.
You should also take care to keep the pastry moist while you’re working, as I’ll explain below.
This recipe also uses breadcrumbs, as well as nuts, which I haven’t seen in other baklava recipes. Perhaps it’s non-traditional or something, but I find that including the breadcrumbs makes for softer filling.
What do I need?
- 1 packet of frozen filo pastry (about 375g)
- 300g of walnuts
- 1 cup of breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup of caster sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 3/4 cup of sugar
- 1/4 cup of leatherwood honey
- 1 cup of water
- 1 tsp of grated orange rind
- 1 or 2 tbsp of orange juice
(you can use 1/2 tsp of orange blossom water instead if you have it handy)
What do I do?
Prepare the filling first, so you can spread it straight onto the pastry. The idea is not to have the pastry exposed to air for too long.
Finely chop the nuts (or use a food processor if you’re smart), then mix them with the breadcrumbs, sugar and cinnamon.
Take the thawed filo (you thawed it in the fridge overnight, remember?) out of the packet and spread it flat on the bench. Cover it with a clean, damp cloth, to stop it drying out while you’re working. I also find it useful to have a spray bottle of fresh water handy, and give the cloth a quick spray now and then to keep it damp.
Melt the butter – start off with about 1/4 cup of butter, if you run out, just melt some more (that’s what microwaves are for!).
Brush a 20 x 30 cm (8” x 12”) baking dish with some melted butter. Lay a filo sheet on the tray. The edges should overhang a little.
Now brush the filo sheet with some butter, and then lay another filo sheet on top of it. Keep layering the filo sheets, brushing each with butter, until you’ve got about 1/2 dozen or so to make a base.
If the filo sheets tear (and they will!), just arrange it as best you can, and patch any holes with some spare pieces of pastry (use a piece of one of the stuffed up sheets you’ll invariably have chucked aside). Once you cook it, the layers of pastry will pretty much glue each other together, and you’ll never know the holes were there.
Once you’ve layered 1/2 dozen or more sheets for the base, spread 1/2 of the filling over it.
Layer another 1/2 dozen sheets over the filling (remember to brush each layer with butter). Keep these sheets inside the tray (don’t let them overhang). If you need to cut the pastry to fit, use a pair of scissors, not a knife (it will tear). Now then spread the rest of the filling on top of that.
Now layer the last of the pastry sheets on top. Brush butter on the top layer, then fold the overhanging edges of the bottom layer over. Brush the edge with butter to seal it.
Using a sharp knife, cut the pastry into diamond shapes. Or not. I couldn’t be bothered trying to work out how to cut a proper diamond pattern, so I just took the lazy option and cut it into squares. Sue me.
Bake the baklava at 180°C (350°F) for about 45 minutes. The pastry should be nice and golden. If you’re worried that it will burn, cover it with foil once it’s turn golden, until the cooking time is done.
While the pastry is cooking, prepare the syrup.
Combine the sugar, honey and water in a saucepan, and stir it until the mix heats up and the sugar and honey dissolve. Bring it to the boil, then reduce the heat to medium and let it simmer for about 10 minutes, until the syrup starts to thicken a little. Remove it from the heat and add the orange rind and juice (or orange blossom water).
When the pastry is done, take it out of the oven and pour the syrup over it immediately.
Leave it to cool, then cut it up and serve!