Food You Can Eat: Turkish/Greek Baklava

All your gods are false gods. I have found the True Way.

I am but a humble supplicant. Worshiping at the feet of the Master.

First things first:  One day, Mrs. Butcher came home from work with a little treat for me:  four pieces of baklava.  Now, I grew up outside of Milwaukee, which has a significant Greek population, and I discovered the gloriousness of baklava at an early age.  However, when my family moved when I was 15, I spent the next several decades wandering the baklava wilderness.  Every time I tried what I was assured was “really good, authentic” baklava, it fucking sucked.  It was almost always too dry, and was often hard enough to chip a tooth.  So, I was pretty skeptical when I tried what Mrs. Butcher had brought home. 

However…I was soon to find myself caught up in the middle of a full-blown spiritual experience.  This was baklava like I hadn’t had since my childhood.  It was soft, and moist and Oh.  My.  God.  After taking several minutes to find my way back to Earth, I asked Mrs. Butcher where she’d gotten these.  She replied that a friend of one of her co-workers had made it.  I declared that I needed to find this Zen Master of Baklava and sit at her feet until I, too, could be granted the Great Wisdom.  This was a Matter of Life and Death.

So, I called Mrs. Butcher’s co-worker and got the phone number of her demi-goddess neighbor.  Then I spoke with the demi-goddess herself (a benevolent, and just, demi-goddess if there ever was one) and we set up a time for me to come down there and learn the way to heaven. 

She taught me ever so much more than how to make baklava.  She offered me salvation, and I shoved it into my mouth.

A caveat before we get started:  This lovely woman is from the US, but lived in Turkey for several years, which is where she learned how to make it.  She is quick to point out that her baklava is Turkish, not Greek.  However, she also concedes that her baklava uses walnuts—as the Greeks do—rather than pistachios—mostly because raw, shelled pistachios cost an arm and a leg.  However, she also uses real butter in her baklava, which is the Turkish way.  Greeks use a butter called galaktos, which is made from a combination of sheep’s and goat’s milk.  Also, the lemon-flavored syrup she makes is Turkish, whereas the Greeks tend to use honey in their syrup.  So, to sum up, while she calls it Turkish baklava, it’s really kind of a combination of the two.  For my part I will state for the record that this is, literally, the only walnut dish that I will eat, because walnuts are garbage nuts.  But, she is able to transmutate them, like water into wine.  That being said, when I make these again (and you can damned sure bet that I will need to put in a lot of practice) I will very likely spring for the pistachios.

Also, this recipe is for a ½ and ½ baklava.  One half plain and the other half chocolate.

Here’s what you’ll need:

For the syrup:

3 Cups Sugar

1 ½ Cups Water

5 tsp Lemon Juice

For the pastry:

1 Lb. of #4 filo dough (this is typically the thinnest you can find)

2-3 cups Walnuts or Pistachios

⅓ Cup Sugar

2 tsp. Cinnamon

2 Dark Chocolate Bars (use the good stuff—not that Hershey’s shit.  Also, I am a well-known hater of Dark Chocolate for a myriad of reasons, however, this dessert is sweet enough to make it palatable)

1 Lb. Unsalted Butter, melted

The day before making the pastry, mix together the water and sugar over low heat until the mixture liquefies.  It will turn from cloudy to clear.

Before.
After.

Then add 5 teaspoons of lemon juice, stir and raise the heat to medium high. As the syrup heats up, you’ll notice some white foam forming on top.  Remove this foam with a spoon.

It doesn’t look like much, but get rid of it anyway.

When it starts to boil, reduce the heat and simmer it for 12 minutes. Then turn off the heat and let it cool in the pan, then put it in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, pour the nuts, sugar and cinnamon into a food processor and pulse it until the nuts are fine, but not powdery.

I even tasted this right out of the food processor and it was still good. The age of miracles hasn’t passed.

Empty the nuts into a bowl and then add the broken up pieces of the chocolate bars to the food processor.  Process until their texture is similar to the nuts.

I used the lightest dark chocolate I could find, which was the 72%.

Separate the filo into groups of four sheets.  The easiest way to do this is to just count out four sheets and then gently fold a corner of the four sheets underneath the rest of the filo and then move on to the next count of four until done.

Brush melted butter along the bottom and sides of a ½ sheet cake pan.  Then lay one sheet of filo on the bottom of the pan and brush the filo with butter.  Then, add another sheet of filo and butter it.  Lather, rinse, repeat, until the first group of four sheets have been laid out and buttered in the pan.

Then, sprinkle the nut mixture over all of the filo.  Don’t make it too thick—just enough nuts to lightly cover the dough.

My head started to get light at this point.

Then, sprinkle the chocolate in a similar layer over just half of the pan.

I could feel my heels starting to lift off the floor.

Then, drizzle a little butter over the nuts and chocolate, and place a sheet of filo on top, gently pressing it down so it sits in place, but isn’t punctured by the nut/chocolate layer.  Repeat the entire process of filo, butter, nuts, chocolate, and more butter until everything is used up.  Dust the top of the chocolate half so you can tell where it is after baking.  Then, using the sharpest knife you have, cut the baklava into 48 squares.  You need to do it now, because cutting baked filo dough is an exercise in madness.  Also, you’ll know right away if your knife isn’t sharp enough.  For that matter, get yourself a knife sharpening appliance because dull knives are more dangerous than sharp ones.  This is a fact that I keep pointing out to Mrs. Butcher and which she continues to ignore—but that doesn’t change the fact.

It’s difficult to cut these when you aren’t rooted to the ground.

Then, place the pan on the rack space just below the middle, in a pre-heated 350-degree oven (yes, this is one of those occasions when pre-heating is actually necessary) for about 42 minutes, or until the filo “has a nice tan”, as my personal savior puts it.

We have ignition.

Then, remove the syrup from the refrigerator and pour it over the hot baklava.

We have liftoff.

Let it sit for at least several hours, for the syrup to get soaked up by the pastry.  Baklava should never be refrigerated, so just cover it with parchment and plastic wrap, or just use foil, and let it sit on the counter as it taunts you and crowds out all thoughts of everything else in the world because this baklava is life itself.

As heaven is eternal, there is likewise no end to my savior’s knowledge.  She also sent me home with some boreck, which is the Turkish version of spanakopita.  This was filled with feta and liquified human ecstasy.  So, I shall be returning to the mountaintop again. 

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About butcherbakertoiletrymaker 572 Articles
When you can walk its length, and leave no trace, you will have learned.

21 Comments

  1. I love baklava but that’s a lot of work! I’m lucky to have a couple of places here to get good baklava. The local Greek Orthodox Church does a couple of fundraisers a year where I get the walnut version. And a Palestinian bakery for the pistachio. Both truly are good if the gods.

  2. boreck…feta and spinach right?

    it is delicious…when you buy it from the turks

    avoid dutch supermarket bakery boreck….

    (i mean…its not terrible….but…not even close)

  3. I know what you mean about dry baklava, and it’s weird. If you’re going to all that work to make it, why stop short at the final step? It’s like making a multi layer cake and then cheaping out on frosting.

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