The history of baklava is a long one indeed. A variation of this delightful fragrant pastry is believed to have been created by the Assyrians as far back as the 8th century BC using a thin bread dough instead of the paper thin phyllo that we know today. Phyllo sheets were the Greek's contribution to the development of this dish and thus named because in Greek "phyllo" means "leaf". Up until the late 18th century this was a dessert of the regions royal palaces and wealthy estates as pistachios and honey were believed to be aphrodisiacs. The addition of cinnamon for women and cardamom for the man (added to mix by the Armenians) augmented this belief. For a more detailed history and a wonderful YouTube video of how to make Turkish Phyllo by hand and amazing looking baklava click here. I really wanted to put the video on this page but don't know how to embed it. It's in Turkish but you will adore the enthusiasm and pride of the, I'm assuming, owner who proudly shows the beauty and craftsmanship of this amazing tradition.
When I did my Greek Mezethes for The Daring Cooks Challenge last month I had no time left to prepare a dessert to end the wonderful meal I had created (as is often the case around here) but had clipped the following version of baklava from Bon Appetit in January and was determined to make it even if it meant that there would be no dinner on the table that night!
The following was contributed to Bon Appetit by Molly Wizenberg, creator of the Orangette blog and author of "A Homemade Life". I believe Molly really outdid herself with this recipe. It is by far the best baklava I have ever eaten. With toasted nuts and a beautifully fragrant orange and cardamom syrup that is much lighter and cleaner tasting than the cloying honey syrup that is usually used. I revved up the orange flavor by adding some orange peel to the syrup. I had to augment the pistachios with some whole almonds because I didn't have enough despite Manly spending an hour in front of the TV shelling them for me. He's my rock star. The only other addition was a generous sprinkling of lavender flowers over the top to add some color and a subtle perfume to the mix. The lavender is not at all critical to this recipe and a sprinkling of powdered sugar would more than suffice. You will truly be transported to another place and time with this ancient dessert made anew. Enjoy!
Recipe:Pistachio Baklava with Orange-Cardamom Syrup and Dried Lavender
Makes about 30 pieces
Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine; January 2010
Original recipe by Molly Wizenberg
1 3/4 cups plus 8 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons orange zest
1 1/4 cups fresh orange juice
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
2 cups shelled pistachios, toasted
1 cup whole almonds, toasted
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
30 14x9-inch sheets fresh phyllo pastry or frozen, thawed (from one 16-ounce package)
Dried Lavender Flowers (optional)
Simmer 1 3/4 cups sugar and orange zest and orange juice in saucepan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Boil over medium heat until reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 8 minutes. (This really foamed up on me and might have gone over had I not been watching so be careful). Add cardamom. Cool syrup.
Place nuts and 2 tablespoons sugar in processor. Using on/off turns, process until most of nuts are finely ground (the largest pieces should be the size of small peas). Mix nuts, 6 tablespoons sugar, and cinnamon in medium bowl.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish with some of melted butter. Place 1 phyllo sheet on bottom of dish. Brush lightly with melted butter. Repeat 9 more times with phyllo and melted butter. Sprinkle half of pistachio mixture (about 1 1/2 cups) evenly over phyllo. Place 1 phyllo sheet over nuts; brush lightly with butter. Repeat 9 more times with phyllo sheets and melted butter. Sprinkle remaining pistachio mixture evenly over. Place 1 phyllo sheet atop nuts; brush with butter. Repeat 9 more times with phyllo sheets and melted butter.
Using sharp knife, cut diagonally through top phyllo layer from top left corner to bottom right corner. Cut top layer of phyllo into 1-inch-wide rows parallel to both sides of first cut. Turn pan and cut rows about 2 1/4 inches wide, forming diamond pattern.
Bake baklava until golden brown and crisp, 50 to 55 minutes. Drizzle syrup evenly over hot baklava. Cool in pan on rack. Recut baklava along lines all the way through layers. DO AHEAD Baklava can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.
Garnish with dried lavender flowers, if desired.
One serving (1 piece) contains the following:
Calories (kcal) 222.0
%Calories from Fat 50.4
Fat (g) 12.4
Saturated Fat (g) 4.6
Cholesterol (mg) 16.0
Carbohydrates (g) 25.0
Dietary Fiber (g) 1.7
Total Sugars (g) 14.4
Net Carbs (g) 23.4
Protein (g) 3.7
Protein (g) 3.7