Hi, my name is Daniel, and it’s been 365 days since I last ate pumpkin pie.
I realize I’m alone in this, but I am not a big fan of pumpkin pie. Not a fan. Pumpkins are best reserved for soup, as in this recipe. But I like cooking for Thanksgiving, and given free rein, chose my ideal dessert this year for the occasion.
Where Americans have love inculcated in them since early childhood by the tradition of pumpkin pie and a day off school, for me it was baklava. The streets of Melbourne practically overflow with Turkish and Greek baklava joints, with honeyed syrup oozing down the gutters and filo pastry crunching underfoot. Enough said. Here’s the recipe:
1 package frozen filo pastry (you will need 30-40 sheets of 9” x 13” dimensions)
Two sticks of butter (or so)
1 cup pistachio nuts, preferable raw and unsalted (and unshelled)
1 cup slivered almonds
1/3 cup white sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
½ cup honey
½ cup white sugar
½ cup water (if you have it)
1 tsp lemon juice
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp vanilla essence
Most traditional baklava recipes contain walnuts, but I don’t like walnuts. Pistachios, however, I would dance barefoot on a snowy roof for. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any unshelled pistachios in my local supermarket, so I set down to the difficult business of shelling them all myself (difficult because it’s hard not to eat them as a reflex action of shelling). I suppose I could have driven around a little more and found unshelled ones, but I was too lazy… You know, sometimes I remind myself of one of S. A. Wakefield’s bottersnikes, a creature so lazy it will go to no end of trouble to do things the easiest way.
When the nuts are shelled, grind them up. I use an electric coffee grinder for this. You want to make sure they are smashed into little bits, but not so finely ground they turn into pistachio-almond butter. I suppose if I looked a little harder, I could have found ground almonds and pistachios, but you see… anyway, mix them all together with 1/3 cup sugar and the cinnamon.
Now begins the tedious business of brushing 30-40 sheets of filo with melted butter. This will take you a very long time. Sorry, but there’s no way around it. I recommend you do it with good company, or at least a good audiobook.
Brush a 9” x 13” baking tin with melted butter. Lay down a sheet of filo pastry (thawed), brush it with melted butter, then repeat.
Repeat five times, so you have six layers of filo pastry in the tin, all slathered in butter.
Sprinkle on one third of the ground nut mixture and shake it around to make it even. Then layer this with another sheet of filo pastry, brush it with butter…
You see where I’m going with this.
After about eight more layers (it’s easy to lose track), sprinkle on the next third of nut mixture. Then keep layering. Then the last third, but reserve about a tablespoon of the ground nuts for garnish. Layer with another eight or ten layers. Brush the whole thing with butter.
Now, with a very sharp knife, carefully cutting almost all the way through, divide the uber-baklava into many small units. This is done before baking, because after baking everything will be so brittle it would shatter into bits. I used a fancy pattern for mine, but you could just do squares.
Bake in a 350º oven for about an hour. I started checking after ½ hour, and probably took it out after 50 minutes, but ovens all vary, bless them.
Roughly 15 minutes before you think they are going to be done, start making the syrup. Combine ½ cup sugar, ½ cup water, cinnamon stick and lemon juice and bring to a simmer. It will start to thicken after a few minutes.
Take the baklava out of the oven when they are looking toasty. Making sure everything is hot, mix the honey and vanilla into the syrup. Immediately pour the syrup evenly over the baklava, relishing the sizzling sound. Garnish with the last of the ground nuts, and let cool completely in the pan, the baklava slowly absorbing the sweet syrup.
These will keep for days and just get better, and incidentally, they really are better made the day ahead.