I have to be honest. Out of all the Arabic pastries, baklava or baklawa was never my favorite. Too sweet, too doughy, or so I thought. One day, Tracy, a Texan married to a Lebanese friend, made it using pecans, a nut that you find in Texas in any backyard. What a revelation! Her baklava was crispy, golden, buttery with the delicious crunch of pecans. So, I have adopted pecans since then as my nut of choice for baklawa. Eating it this way is reminiscent of the southern pecan pie, without the gooey corn syrup custard and the wet and doughy crust. It is crispy, buttery yet light, crunchy with pecans, in one word, fantastic!!
Normally, Lebanese Arabic pastries are intimidating at best, but this one is the easiest to achieve at home. I prepare the ater the night before, I toast the nuts and crush them, so that all that is left is the assembly. Phyllo dough is easy to use even if the layers are not perfect, it really does not matter! I saw my Egyptian friend Phoebe crumple up the dough like a piece of kleenex tissue and throw it in the pan and the baklawa still came out perfect! The important part is the top layers, these should look nice and straight, but no one will see what’s underneath, so crumple away if you want to!
INGREDIENTS: For a large tray 17in. x 13in. yield is about 50 pieces
1 1/2 lbs of phyllo dough (1 lb is sufficient for a 9x13in pan)
1 lb of pecans, whole, toasted in a moderate oven for 10 minutes till fragrant
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 sticks of butter (2 sticks if making a smaller tray), melted and clarified (run through a paper towel and a sieve)
For the ATER (SYRUP):
3 cups of sugar
1 1/2 cup of water
1 Tablespoon of lemon juice
1 Tablespoon of rose water, 1 Tablespoon of orange blossom water
A day before, or a week before, make the ater (syrup)
- Place the sugar in a saucepan, add the water and the lemon juice (it is OK to use bottled lemon juice). Set on medium heat, stirring from time to time. It will boil. Let it boil and don’t stir anymore. It needs to boil for about 15 minutes. If you own a candy thermometer, it needs to read 230F or 110C, which is one notch below softball. Actually, about 5 minutes or so before, you will add the flavorings, orange blossom and rose water or one or the other. ( I like to add both) The result you are looking for is similar to honey, but not quite so thick.
- Let the syrup cool and if using that day, set it aside. If not cover and refrigerate for a few days or a week.
A day before or a few hours before, toast the nuts
- Place the pecans on a baking sheet and toast in a 300F oven (moderate) for about 15 minutes. Watch every 5 minutes because these nuts can burn quickly. When the fragrance escapes the oven, they are ready.
- Cool the nuts and then chop them, ideally by hand with a mallet (placing them in a heavy-duty plastic bag). If using the food processor, pulse and check, then pulse again. Otherwise, the pecans will turn into powder in a New York minute!
- Place them in a bowl, add 1/2 cup of sugar, mix lightly and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
A few hours before, or a day before, thaw the phyllo dough
- Read the instructions on the package. Usually, it is OK to thaw the dough at room temperature for 3 to 5 hours. I like to thaw it in the fridge overnight. Keep in the plastic wrapper until you are ready to make the baklava.
When ready to make your baklava, melt the butter
- Use 3 sticks of butter (unsalted or salted, your call) for a large tray (13×17), 2 sticks for a medium tray (9x13in). Place the butter in a pan and melt it slowly on low heat. I put it in a pyrex and use the microwave. When melted, pour the butter in a bowl through a sieve lined with a paper towel, to remove as much of the milky residue as possible. One technique calls for boiling the butter with some bulghur, I tried it and did not find it conclusive.
Make the baklava:
- Dip a brush in the butter and grease the entire surface of the pan. Unroll the phyllo dough on a cool surface and start lining the pan with a sheet of dough, then brush the entire sheet with butter. Repeat the process until half the phyllo sheets are used. Don’t fret if your sheet of phyllo is broken up or wrinkled or whatever. It will not show. The only important thing is to keep buttering those sheets, even if you miss buttering one, do the next one!
- When you have enough layers, sprinkle all the pecans on the entire surface, trying to be even.
- Resume layering the sheets of phyllo dough, one at a time, buttering each one with the brush. The last few sheets left will need to be somewhat even and neat looking because this will affect the overall look of the pastries. When finished, butter the top sheet very well and place in the fridge for 10 minutes to help with the cutting. It is an optional step, but I think helpful.
- Cut the entire surface with parallel lines going one way and then the opposite way, in order to obtain lozanges or squares.
- Place in the middle rack of the preheated oven (325F) until the entire tray is golden and puffed up. If helpful, turn the tray around during the baking process to make sure all the baklava is cooking evenly.
- When the entire tray is golden, pull it out of the oven and immediately pour the syrup following the cut lines first. You will hear a khshhh sound which is very pleasant. My idea is to keep the surface of the pastry relatively dry and crispy. If you wish however, you can pour the syrup all over. Wait a few minutes and when cool, cut them again. Serve from the tray or put each one in a disposable cupcake container. Sahteyn!
It is important to cut through the layers of phyllo dough both before and after baking. Slide your good knife through until it reaches the bottom of the pan. Shape your squares or lozenges so that they are easy to unmold. As far as the syrup, you will have some leftover if you only pour it through the cut lines of pastry. Keep it in the fridge for several weeks and use it when making smoothies or any dessert or breakfast crepes or pancakes…
8 Comments • Comments Feed