Tuesday, September 14, 2010

To Baklava or Not To Baklava!

Recipe:  Baklava
Video:  Link
Recipe Number:  6
Week:  1

Yummy, crispy, tasty Baklava!

So I had an extremely long weekend at work and worked more hours that I probably should have.  Today, Tuesday, was my first day off in a week and it will be my last for a week.  I actually have a recipe I have made before this one that I have not had a chance to upload because of work and locational issues!  But, back to the point, I had one entire day off and thought to myself, what could I do that will be fun and a challenge?  Quickly, I came to the conclusion there was one recipe that I would have to try:  Baklava!  But it was not that easy to decide, I was nervous to try it because it looked hard and took a long time.  And, while it was definitely both those things, I was so glad that I did it!  Now, like always, go read the recipe and watch the video so you know what I am talking about (like always, links are at the top of the page!).

So in order to make baklava, one needs to have fillo dough (or as Titli calls it, phyllo pastry).  I was not sure exactly where to go for this but I thought that the Whole Foods near me would have it and... I was correct!  However, as I learned today, it is not easy to find fresh fillo dough and it is usually found frozen unless you go to a Greek market (or any other culture that traditionally uses fillo).  Now the problem, and this is a foresight issue, with getting frozen fillo was that it needs to be thawed.  And it needs to be thawed properly, which means that you do not just sit it on the counter for a few hours.  The recommendation on the box is to let it sit in the refrigerator for seven to eight hours and then let it sit in room temperature for two hours.  I almost gave it up sue to lack of planning right then.  And I was walking back and forth between the fillo dough and the dark cooking chocolate (I was also considering making French Chocolate Cake) and now I am sure that the workers at Whole Foods think I am crazy.  But then I did the math, and figured out I could get the dessert done before the evening was over if I used the bare minimum so I took the chance.  I would just like to note that this worked out for me, but I would recommend planning in advance and letting the fillo dough thaw in your refrigerator for 24 hours and then at room temperature for two!  That is what I will do next time.

So I bought everything that I needed and came home, putting the fillo dough in the refrigerator right away.  As you may notice, I was not in my usual kitchen but another person's apartment.  And it just so happened that they were having water issues above and the wall needed to be fixed right then and there!  Hurray, I got to go sit for a few hours before I could even start, which turned out to be fine because I needed to let the dough thaw, right?

Filling ingredients; I used all the spices Titli did

While I was waiting for the dough to thaw, I realized that I could be proactive and decided to make the filling and the syrup, which needs to be cool when applied, in advance.  So starting at two in the afternoon, I began on the filling.  The filling is super easy to make and the only thing hard to do about it was shelling the pistachios!  Now, to be honest, it was not hard as much as it was repetitive.  Grab nut, shell, put fruit in bowl and then pitch shell.  For 125 grams (and that is a lot of nuts, folks!).  So if you are going to in list help during this recipe, have some silly friend of yours shell your pistachios.  Saves you time and then they can say proudly they helped make baklava (and if you have made baklava, you know just how silly that is).

Coarsely blended filling!
I divided in advance my two portions of filling and put them into two separate containers for later use.  I am not one who likes to guess or estimate and I would have been really annoyed if I used too much filling for the first layer and ended up with not enough for the second layer so, for me, it was best to just divide right away so I could see I had done it evenly.  Also, I think that my filling was coarser than Titli's now that I am comparing my pictures to her video, but I enjoyed the taste and texture of mine just fine!  Haven't had the pleasure of trying Titli's yet, though!  I just actually bought this food processor today; it is by Cuisinart and worked great!  Everything fit in it (just barely, though) and was processed within thirty seconds!  Much faster than I was expecting!

Syrup ingredients; aren't those cups the cutest?

After the filling, I decided to make the syrup because when you are making baklava, the syrup needs to be cool!  So you should probably allow time for it and I was worried about doing it while the baklava was baking in case something went wrong.  I am not as talented as Titli yet!  So I made it hours in advance, I believe I started it around three in the afternoon.  The syrup was just as easy to make as the filling though considerably messier (at least, for me it was!).  You just put all into a pot and bring to a boil then allow to simmer for twenty minutes.  Easy peasy, right?  Not exactly!  Be careful with this syrup as mine went from just starting to heat up to boiling up and over the brim of my pot in less than ten second!  Luckily I was watching it like a hawk and got on it quickly.  But do you know whats hard to clean up?  Honey, definitely.  Or, even harder, hot honey that has then cooled all over the place!  Who ever says a watched pot never boils has never made baklava, let me tell you.  After I removed it from the heat quickly, I turned the heat right down (down, down to between gas mark two and three) and let it simmer for twenty minutes.  Everything went smoothly and the apartment smelled lovely:  there is nothing like the smell of sweet honey!

Blurry!  But this is a nice simmering pot of baklava syrup

After twenty minutes, I set the baklava syrup aside and let it cool down to room temperature.  No problems in this department; I thought that it might thicken and become hard to use, but it did not.  It had a consistency more watery than honey but more condensed than water!  Now I had sometime on my hands before I could begin using the fillo dough (it was not even on the counter yet) so I decided to clean the kitchen up.  As a note, when cooking for neat freaks in their apartment, be sure to clean up between steps!  This is a messy and long recipe and I am sure you will not want to be cleaning up everything afterwards.  You definitely have the time, I know you do, so be proactive!  And if your neat freaks are anything like mine, and I am sure that is not possible, it is worth having your head to keep cleaning because it only gets messier from here on out!

Now I do not have any pictures of me making the baklava and layering the fillo, I apologize about that but it was so intensive and time-consuming I did not have a second to run and grab my camera so I could show you how mine looked at this time.  But to give you a general idea of the neatness and fluidity of my motions, watch Titli's video and then pretend a kindergartner was copying everything she did.  That was me with just about the same grace!  She makes everything look so easy and really, it is not so bad, it just is not that easy.  Before I continue, though, I need to make a note about frozen fillo dough because if you are in the US, that is probably what you are going to use.  First things first, plan ahead!  I bought my dough at nine in the morning and that really was not enough time.  You should really get it the day before and start thawing in the refrigerator as soon as possible so that the dough has a long, slow thaw.  When it thaws too quickly the dough sticks together and tears more easily, which, as I am sure you can guess, can be incredibly frustrating!

If this is your first time making baklava, like me, I have one very important piece of advice: stay patient with the fillo dough!  It is very hard to work with and it sticks and tears like you would not even believe!  If you think you are going to make your first baklava like Titli makes hers you have another thing coming.  All I can say is just keep plowing along and take your time!  If you try to rush things, you are going to make things worse for yourself, much worse!  Also, if you are an American, you may find it hard to find a baking tray that are the deminsions Titli specifies: 7"x11".  That is not a standard US size.  I used a 9"x13" baking tray and the only big difference is, assuming you do not tear the sheet, you will not have enough fillo to fold over.  That should not be an issue, though, as there are 11 layers of fillo in baklava and both brands of fillo dough I saw had 20 in their packages.  In retrospect, though, I would have purchased and thawed two packets of fillo dough for my first time.  I needed them and you can always refreeze what you do not use!

Like I said before, move very slowly when handling the fillo dough and keep it covered!  Both presented issues for me!  When I was pulling the fillo dough, it would often tear or stick to the layer beneath it.  When this happens, adjust your grip on the fillo so you are holding the dough just beneath the tear, but not on it, and continue to peel the layers apart.  This takes the pressure off the tear and helps prevent the tear from growing.  And keep the unused fillo covered!  It is tempting to forget as you are trying to man-handle this tiny piece of dough into your tray without it ripping, but do not forget!  Do not!  the dough will dry out and rip like tissue paper when bent even slightly.  Now, when putting the fillo into the tray, move slowly and press with your fingers so it is firmly in all of the corners.  Then apply all the butter.  And repeat and repeat.  When it comes to trimming the excess filo away, I found it was easiest to do right after I added the nut filling layer because it weighed down the fillo and helped prevent the part I wanted to stay in the tray from pulling away and ripping.  Also, I cut by pressing a sharp blade onto the dough and then slicing forward.  This motion tore the dough the least for me.  For particularly long pieces, I trimmed with scissors first and then did the fine detailing with a knife.  Just a thought!

My first layer of fillo, first layer of filling, second layer of fillo, and final layer of filling went relatively smoothly if not painstakingly slow.  It was the final layer of fillo in my baklava that I really ran into issues.  I shall call this final layer my Frankenstein layer.  During the beginning of my layering, I accidentally tore a large chunk of my fillo, which meant I was not going to have enough fillo to make all the layers!  I was nervous about this and my fillo was drying out so it was tearing more and more.  I am going to be honest, I got frustrated at this point and tore the remaining fillo a lot.  The result?  My layers were patch work, using multiple pieces, sometimes just fractions, of fillo to fill the layer completely.  And then I used ample amounts of butter.  I managed to scrape together, quite literately, five more layers of my surviving fillo.  Just three shy of what Titli used.  This is why I recommended getting two packages of fillo for your first batch of baklava!  Better to have more and save the rest than be short like me.  With a sharp blade, I scored my baklava down to the top most layer of nuts, but I was not expecting anything good to result from my hours of effort.

Scored and ready to bake!

My hardest part was over.  Baking went very smoothly.  I was using a different oven than I normally do and was praying that it heated true to number.  It did, so I baked my baklava first for thirty minutes at 360F and then removed to cover with aluminum foil and then bake again for twenty more minutes.  I am not going to lie, I was very apprehensive during the baking process as there were two people ready to eat my baklava and I had no idea how it was going to turn out (the Frankenstein layer was getting me down).  But it smelled delicious and that got my hopes up.  When it was done baking the second time, I quickly removed it from the heat, took off the aluminum foil, and drizzled on the syrup, slowly.  It made the appropriate sizzling sound and my baklava looked appropriately flaky and golden brown.  I sighed a sigh of relief.  It looked absolutely fantastic!  If you are like me, though, the hardest part of a baking recipe is the last part: letting it cool properly.  Go do something away from your kitchen for about two hours, that is all I can say.  This baby needs to cool down to be made properly.

After two hours, it was just before ten in the evening now, the baklava was cool and ready to try.  I garnished it with the ground pistachio and served with more than a pinch of apprehension.  I had no need!  It was delicious!  Absolutely decandent and despite my best efforts to thwart a properly made baklava, everything seemed to be made just fine.  I highly recommend trying this recipe; it may take a long time and a lot of effort (this was my hardest baking project to date) but it is well worth it and I was successful on the first try!  And the only way to get better is to do; next time I am sure I will be better at handling the fillo dough and I am already wanting to try again.  Try this recipe.  Just bite the bullet and do it!  It is worth it.

I think I may go have another!
If there is a recipe by Titli you would like to see me try, sign up and comment on my blog or send me an email at cookingwithtitli@ymail.com!  I would love the challenge and I am feeling up to it now that I have a few recipes under my belt.  Or, are you a beginner cook/baker as well and you tried one of the recipes I did?  Let me know about it!  People need to hear others' experiences so that we can all learn!

Happy Baking!

Zielony Pie


  1. Congratulations on your first baklava! As you rightly emphasise, your pastry needs RESPECT and you need PATIENCE!

  2. I'm going to try this recipe for Christmas. Wish me luck! Thanks for all of the tips.

    I am also in the US. I love all of Titli's recipes, but I'm always having to convert the measurements. What do you use to convert the recipe?


  3. Salam Alaikum!!
    I'm always trying all your recipes. My family liked so much Baklava.
    I love all of Titli's recipes.
    Wish you good luck.
    Thank you very much.

  4. its currently in the oven baking, but the syrup is delicious, and the baking tray looks like a proffesional baker made it. I cant wait to try.
    I added orange zest and juice to the syrup mixture, as i saw in another recipe. It makes the syrup very fruity, and I have to restain myself from just eating that!