I took a couple of days off from work and hunkered down in my tiny apartment kitchen to bake my annual holiday basket. This is my seventh year baking this basket and as can be imagined, the basket has evolved and grown (some may say, it has grown into a crazy endeavor.)
This year, I made sixteen treats over the course of four days. Even though it was well thought out with spreadsheets and I knew I would be excited to send off the goodies to my family and friends; halfway through, I was feeling the craziness of it all! But the beat goes on and so did my baking.
For my sixth treat for my annual holiday basket was a cranberry pistachio shortbread lightly scented with orange.
To go along with my Sumac Scented Chicken, for dessert, I made a wonderful version of Baklava. I have tasted baklava many times, but had never attempted to make it.
In my research, I found some versions used pistachios, some used walnuts, some used honey, some used rose water, some used lemon juice, some used orange blossom water. However, the common denominator was well buttered sheets of phyllo dough layering a ground nut mixture that was soaked in a syrup after it was baked.
Since I do not have commitments to any version, I married recipes with the items commonly available in my cupboard. The only item that I had to buy was phyllo dough, which was found in the freezer section of my local market.
Having never worked with phyllo dough before, I realized that it has to thaw in the refrigerator over night. Also it is very delicate. For all of you who were art majors, like me, or just plain crafty, it reminded me of working with gold-leaf. You carefully pull the sheet over to your work area and dab at it with a brush to work it into place. In this case it is a pastry brush with butter. Cutting the dough to the size of my dish and keeping it covered with a wet towel helped the process, but just have fun with it, we all have to crawl before we can walk.
I am so happy with the outcome, absolutely delectable. This will become a dish that I make over and over. If you are a sucker for sweets, like me, then you should try it.
Delicate, crispy sheets of buttered phyllo dough layered between ground nuts; all soaked in a beautiful honey sauce.
1 (16 ounce) package phyllo dough
1 pound chopped nuts ( I used half mixture of roasted no salt pistachios and walnuts)
1 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup water
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup honey
1/2 medium lemon, juiced
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F(175 degrees C). Butter the bottoms and sides of a 9×13 inch pan.
In food processor, chop nuts with cinnamon. Set aside. Unroll phyllo dough. Cut whole stack to fit pan. Cover phyllo with a dampened cloth to keep from drying out as you work. Place two sheets of dough in pan, butter thoroughly. Repeat until you have 5 sheets layered. Sprinkle 1/3 of nut mixture on top. Top with five sheets of dough, butter, nuts, layering as you go. The top layer should be about 6 – 8 sheets deep.
Using a sharp knife cut into diamond or square shapes all the way to the bottom of the pan. You may cut into 4 long rows then make diagonal cuts. Bake for about 50 minutes until baklava is golden and crisp.
Make sauce while baklava is baking. Boil sugar and water until sugar is melted. Add vanilla, honey, and lemon juice. Simmer for about 20 minutes.
Remove baklava from oven and immediately spoon sauce over it (I used a turkey baster to evenly distribute sauce). Be sure to get sauce on the sides! Let cool completely before you cover it. This freezes well.