I wish I could tell you I was a ballerina or, at least, I wish I could tell you I used to be a ballerina. However, I cannot lie to all of you. I was born with neither grace nor the self-restraint to live for an extended period of time on nothing but birdseed and feathers. Despite many years of ballet lessons, I remain the same lumbering girl I always was.
It’s too bad, really. I actually dreamed of being a ballerina. That dream, however, along with the one about playing the harmonica, went up in smoke. There are a whole host of reasons for my failure at dancing. First, I have a remarkably poor sense of balance. I can barely keep upright on the soccer field. It’s ridiculous. Second, I’m actually quite reserved. Even as a child, my cheeks nearly caught fire as I flitted about the classroom in tights and a tutu. I did this for 5 years, if you can imagine. But nothing changed. Not a thing.
Part of me remains convinced, despite the above evidence to the contrary, I could have been successful were it not for my mother.
Isn’t it always this way? We blame our mothers for nearly everything. What a convenient scapegoat. I’m quite sure Maeve will do this to me someday. It’s inevitable.
In this case, however, I think I might be right. While my mother was the person who encouraged me to do ballet, dress up, and conduct nightly performances in my flannel nightgown before going to bed, she was also a subtle saboteur. This very same woman who championed my clunky moves, exposed my greatest weakness. I might never have discovered the seductive syrupy sweet goodness of my favorite dessert were it not for her. Every week upon picking me up from ballet class, she drove me straight to the outer Richmond District of San Francisco where, together, we tasted our way through a series of Jewish delis. It was during those crisp Saturday afternoons that I really fell in love. I fell madly in love with baklava.
And, when I say love, I am only mildly sarcastic. I have deep feelings for this sweet and dreamy treat. I’ve often thought, were I in the same position as Edmond in C.S. Lewis’ wonderful tale, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I would similarly be tempted to trade the whereabouts of my siblings to an evil queen for a sweet treat. He made a decent choice in Turkish Delight, but baklava is my number one.
Up to now, however, I did not dare attempt making baklava from scratch. It was partially an avoidance of the seemingly ultra delicate phyllo dough, but also a concern I might be disappointed. Seriously, who would want to work through an afternoon only to be disappointed at the other end? Not me. I am far too lazy for that.
It wasn’t until last week that I finally mustered the courage to attempt this treat at home. It happened to be a partially sunny Friday afternoon. This was the key. There is something about an early Spring dose of vitamin D in this town that emboldens residents. Even the tiniest glimpse of that allusive yellow orb and, suddenly, we all have superpowers. Given my common state of sleep deprivation, I wasn’t about to waste this fleeting surge of energy. So I used every ounce of it to make this amazing treat.
Flakey on top and soft in the middle and oozing with nutty sweetness, this baklava is the baklava of my youth. One tiny taste and I was transported back to a dusty deli, my hands sticky with syrup and my increasingly chubby legs dancing about in pale pink tights.
There is not much more to say except this recipe is wonderful. It’s certainly a keeper. And, not to worry, it wasn’t very time consuming. I took breaks to take care of my wee one, but the process was very straightforward and easy. I’m sure the entire thing won’t take more than a couple of hours and that includes the baking time.
I cannot wait until Maeve eats solid foods. I can use this baklava to fatten up those skinny legs of hers. Who needs ballet? Have you seen their scary toes? In my humble opinion, a weekly dose of baklava is time better spent.
3 cups sugar, or 2 cups sugar and 1 cup honey
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons light corn syrup (optional)
2 (3-inch) sticks cinnamon (optional)
4 to 6 whole cloves, or 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
1 pound blanched almonds, pistachios, walnuts, or any combination, finely chopped or coarsely ground (about 4 cups)
1/4 cup sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves or cardamom (optional)
1 pound (about 24 sheets) phyllo dough
About 1 cup (2 sticks) melted butter or vegetable oil
To make the syrup: Stir the sugar, water, lemon juice, and if using, the corn syrup, cinnamon sticks, and/or cloves over low heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Stop stirring, increase the heat to medium, and cook until the mixture is slightly syrupy, about 5 minutes (it will register 225 degrees on a candy thermometer). Discard the cinnamon sticks and whole cloves. Let cool.
To make the filling: Combine all the filling ingredients.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12-by-9-inch or 13-by-9-inch baking pan or 15-by-10-inch jelly roll pan.
Place a sheet of phyllo in the prepared pan and lightly brush with butter. Repeat with 7 more sheets. Spread with half of the filling. Top with 8 more sheets, brushing each with butter. Use any torn sheets in the middle layer. Spread with the remaining nut mixture and end with a top layer of 8 sheets, continuing to brush each with butter. Trim any overhanging edges.
Using a sharp knife, cut 6 equal lengthwise strips (about 1 3/4 inches wide) through the top layer of pastry. Make 1 1/2-inch-wide diagonal cuts across the strips to form diamond shapes.
Just before baking, lightly sprinkle the top of the pastry with cold water. This inhibits the pastry from curling. Bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 300 degrees and bake until golden brown, about 15 additional minutes.
Cut through the scored lines. Drizzle the cooled syrup slowly over the hot baklava and let cool for at least 4 hours. Cover and store at room temperature for up to 1 week. If the baklava dries out while being stored, drizzle with a little additional hot syrup.
Source: The World Of Jewish Desserts
Note: I gave you this recipe in its entirety. I was not about to mess up my first batch of this stuff. However, I recommend using only 3/4 of the syrup. Otherwise, the baklava might be a bit too syrupy. It’s up to you, however. As always, I’d love to hear what you think.