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Throwback Thursday: Beautiful, beguiling Baklava!

Throwback Thursday: Beautiful, beguiling Baklava!
Baklava, fresh from the oven, with the syrup poured over it. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

When I was 18 and singing in a band, our drummer was the coolest ever Greek guy whose parents owned Sloppy Sam, the legendary Three Anchor Bay Greek nosh shop where Nick’s mom made baklava and sold it in diamond-shaped slices. I’ve adored it it ever since.

Staying with the Greek theme of the kreatopita (Greek country pie) we published yesterday, here is another of the Greek greats, although this is disputable, whether you are a Greek, a Turk or even possibly Hungarian.

Baklava isn’t necessarily Greek, it’s Turkish and Middle Eastern in early origin, but try telling that to a proud Greek. And Greek Cypriots also claim it as theirs. Even Hungary lays a sort of claim to it too, having adapted it to become strudel, over time.

Leaving them all to sort it out, all we need do is enjoy it, not matter its true derivation.

And it’s divine no matter who’s making it. It’s rich, it’s sweet, it has extraordinary balance thanks to the bitterness of the walnuts offset against the spicy sweetness of the orange-infused syrup, and it’s arguably the most moreish dessert of any in the world. Who doesn’t love baklava?

Baklava is all about layers of phyllo pastry drizzled with butter and sprinkled with a walnut crumble, baked for ages in a low oven and finished by pouring over it the syrup you made much earlier. Talking of which, here’s what to do first.

Make the syrup:

Ingredients

600g sugar

400ml cold water

60ml (about 4 Tbs) glucose syrup or glucose syrup substitute * Here’s a good video showing how to make it

1 stick cinnamon

3 whole cloves

1 large orange cut in two

Method

In the morning, add all ingredients to a pot and put on a high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring while the sugar dissolves. Turn it off and leave it aside to cool for most of the day.

The Baklava

Baklava, served up, with the orange, cinnamon stick and cloves that were used to make the syrup. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

Ingredients

1 pack frozen phyllo pastry sheets (they come in 500g packs; you need the whole box)

450ml butter, melted

1 Tbs ground cinnamon

1 tsp (scant, i.e. level) ground cloves

400g walnuts (or pecans, though walnuts are traditional)

50g breadcrumbs

Method

Preheat oven to 150℃ (on the fan setting if you have it).

Blitz the walnuts in a food processor but not so much that they become a paste. They must be crumbly. Add the breadcrumbs, ground cinnamon and ground cloves and blitz for a few seconds more. Set aside on a big surface where you will soon be preparing the baklava.

Grab (it now being later in the day) the cooled syrup and put it alongside the walnut crumble, with a basting brush.

Brush a clean and suitably deep dish well with some of the melted butter. The dish should ideally be just a couple of centimetres smaller than a whole phyllo sheet when laid over the base and up the sides.

Open the pack of phyllo sheets and lay out in front of you with the long side near you. Once the dish has been buttered, lay out one sheet of phyllo in it, loosely, with some hanging over one edge. Lay another one out but this time with the sheet overhanging the opposite edge. Drizzle a little butter over the pastry base but do not touch it with the brush.

Now sprinkle a handful of the walnut crumble over the bottom.

Repeat this process – laying down a sheet of phyllo, sprinkling with a little butter, adding a handful of crumble – until there are three phyllo sheets left.

Of the three remaining phyllo sheets, fold two in half (and trim carefully with a very sharp knife if necessary) and fit snugly to cover the top of the pile of layers, that is to say, within the dish, not overlapping it. Now place the final sheet of phyllo over the top to cover the whole dish, and use the pastry brush dipped in butter to push the edges down along all four sides and neaten it all up.

Brush (don’t drizzle in this instance) the remaining butter all over the top.

Pop it into the fridge for 20 minutes, then remove and score into a diamond pattern but NOT all the way to the bottom of the dish. Score from left to right first, then diagonally across. Check the photo on this page to see what the pattern should look like.

Bake for 2 hrs to 2 hrs 30 minutes… I went the whole hog, the full two and a half hours, and it came out perfectly. But all ovens are different so you’ll have to appoint yourself the judge of this.

When it comes out, pour all of the COOL syrup (after removing the orange, cinnamon and cloves) over it. Leave it to wallow in its deliciousness for as long as you can before grabbing a large spoon and digging in. DM

Tony Jackman is Galliova Food Writer 2023, jointly with TGIFood columnist Anna Trapido.

Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks.

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