Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Easy Baklava made with Walnuts, Sesame Seeds & Olive Oil

Making baklava is surprisingly easy.  When made with olive oil, it's also vegan, which is important for one of tomorrow's guests.  Although often made with butter, making baklava with olive oil instead is also traditional because it is in line with religious eating traditions in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East from whence it comes.

The phyllo:
  • "No one" makes phyllo dough from scratch.  For fun, check out this video showing how it's made. Widely distributed brands like Athens Fillo are found in the freezer aisle of the supermarket.  This recipe calls for half a 1-pound box (1 sleeve of 2) which means we will have the other half to make savory turnovers with some leftover Thanksgiving turkey later in the weekend. The other sleeve of dough will keep a good long time in the freezer if we eat all the turkey first.
The Olive Oil Pump:
  • I find the easiest way to distribute oil on the phyllo sheets is to use a sprayer.  I have a Pampered Chef kitchen spritzer I've nursed along for years but there are also lots of similar beasts on Amazon.  Don't expect an oil pump to make a fine aerosol but they do a good job of making a little oil go a long way.  I keep mine filled by the stove and use it whenever I want to keep things from sticking.  When it clogs, I soak its parts in hot water and detergent and then run them through the dishwasher.  
Ingredients for the base:
  • ½ pound of phyllo dough, thawed as explained on the package
  • 1 pound shelled walnuts
  • 8 ounces sesame seeds
  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ cup sugar
  • olive oil to moisten phyllo
Ingredients for the syrup:
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • juice of one lemon
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.   
  2. Finely chop the walnuts (about 20 brief pulses of a food processor)
  3. Mix walnuts, sesame seeds, cinnamon, cloves, and ½ cup sugar in a dry bowl.
  4. Lay a sheet of phyllo on the floor of a 9"x13" glass baking pan.
  5. Spritz with oil.  You needn't soak the sheet with oil -- just a light spritz.
  6. Repeat until your have a base of 4 spritzed sheets.
  7. Cover with 1/3 nut mixture.
  8. Repeat 4 sheets of phyllo, spritzing each, and 1/3 nuts twice more.
  9. Cover with and spritz each of the remaining sheets of phyllo.
  10. With a very sharp knife, cut into 1½" squares or diamonds.  It is important this be done before baking.
  11. Bake 40 minutes.
  12. As the phyllo and nuts finish baking, simmer the syrup ingredients for 10 minutes in a non-reactive pan.
  13. Discard the cinnamon sticks and spoon the hot syrup over the hot baklava in its pan, making sure to cover the entire top.
  14. Let rest to stick together.
This baklava is drier and crumblier than others you might have had.  I find it less cloying than some.  You may want to make more syrup to have a wetter pastry.

You can easily replace the walnuts and/or sesame seeds with other nuts, seeds or dried fruit to your taste.

And, of course, you could gild the lily by serving it warmed with vanilla ice cream ... but not tomorrow.  Our guest is vegan and it's bad enough we're going to eat turkey in front of her!

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Imprecise & Inexpensive

Two themes predominate in my approach to cooking. 1. Daily cooking of flavorful food need not be a precise art. 2. You can be an adventurous cook on a budget. Cooking and eating should be fun for both cookers and eaters.