07 Dec Holiday Baking How-to: Grandma Marie’s Baklawa
Baklawa, or baklava, made by layering thin sheets of phyllo dough with chopped nuts, butter or oil and honey or syrup dates back to the 8th century B.C. in the Middle East. Phyllo comes from a word meaning “leaf” in Greek, referring to the paper-thin layers of dough used in most recipes. This sweet rich treat was reserved for holidays throughout history because of the time and expense associated with making it.
Differences in preparation of baklawa depend on the ethnic tradition, with some calling for pouring olive oil over the nut-filled layers of dough while others brush butter atop the phyllo. You may find finely ground walnuts in some versions, while others call for pistachios. Typically a cold syrup or honey is poured over the baked baklawa, hot from the oven.
Back in Lebanon where my husband Mike’s mother Marie grew up, there were beautiful sweet shops where you could buy baklawa, so Marie’s mother never made it at home.
It wasn’t until Marie arrived here 56 years ago as a newlywed that she ever made baklawa. There were a lot of Old Timers from Lebanon here, many first generation, who used to get together and make cheese and baklawa and other things, she said. The best recipe she remembers for baklawa was from Victoria Paul. Marie started with that recipe and played with it over the years, arriving at the one she now uses to bake the baklawa she makes year-round, for weddings, 1st communions, birthdays and Christmas.
Grandma Marie’s baklawa recipe achieves a delicate balance of sweetness and crunch, and it always amazes me how perfect the little diamond-shaped pieces come out every time she makes it. One key in making baklawa, Marie told me, is having everything ready to go ahead of time, which calls for some planning. Marie makes it all look so easy as you watch her effortlessly assembling her signature gift from the kitchen. Years of practice have obviously paid off. For Grandma Marie, it is a labor of love, to be sure.
Perhaps you’d like to expand your holiday baking horizons with this week’s Special of the day, Holiday Baking How-to: Grandma Marie’s Baklawa. Happy Baking!Grandma Marie’s Baklawa Recipe by Marie George (makes one 10 x 15 inch pan of baklawa) *Prepare ingredients ahead of time. Make the syrup: Combine 3 cups sugar, 2 cups water and juice of half a lemon in a medium saucepan and boil for 10 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon orange blossom water or rose water. Refrigerate until ready to use. Make the filling: Combine 1 pound finely ground walnuts*, ¼ cup sugar and 1 tablespoon orange blossom water or rose water. (or unsalted ground pistachios) Refrigerate until ready to use. Clarify the butter: Melt 1 pound unsalted butter, skim off foam. Thaw one 10-ounce box fillo (phyllo) dough in refrigerator overnight, then one hour at room temperature. When ready to assemble: Rewarm prepared butter. Spread butter over bottom of a 10-inch by 15-inch jelly roll pan to cover. Lay 6 sheets of thawed fillo in pan. Spread all of prepared filling on top of fillo sheets in pan.
Rotate pan and cut straight lines across baklawa, again about 1 inch apart, creating diamond-shaped pieces.
Sydne George is a food journalist specializing in recipe development, food writing and food photography. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sydne’s “Special of the day” columns and recipes are archived at: http://sydnegeorge.com/blog