Sunday, October 30, 2011

Reading Comprehension Fail

Alternate Title: How I thought I ruined two batches of baklava, but it turned out okay in the end.

For this month’s international dessert, I chose to make baklava.  This was actually the Hubster’s suggestion, since he loves the stuff, and so do I.  What’s not to love?  Super sweet, chewy nuttiness, and layers of phyllo dough.  Good stuff.

First of all, I know I have said many times that I don’t put nuts in baked goods, and that is still true.  But when the baked good basically IS nuts, I’m okay with it, like in baklava, or pecan pie.  I just don’t like them when they are mixed with other, non-nut ingredients. I know it’s a weird inconsistency on my part, but I don’t really care.

Like I mentioned in the alternate title, I made two batches of baklava.  The first one was a wreck:

You can’t really see it in the photo, but it wouldn’t stay in nice pieces when you took it out of the pan.  And then there’s the obviously over-cooked top layer.  I just put it in the oven for the recommended amount of time without bothering to check it towards the end, which is always a mistake.  Don’t do that.  Also, when I made the syrup, I wasn’t paying attention to it while it boiled, and it ended up boiling over the pan.  I lost quite a bit of the syrup that way (and had to clean up a huge mess on my stove), so maybe there wasn’t enough to stick the layers together.

So the first batch was a bust.  I set out to make the second batch (this is getting expensive at this point, buying all those nuts and the phyllo dough).  Making baklava isn’t that hard, once you get the hang of dealing with the thin, fragile sheets of dough.  Other than that, it’s just whizzing up some stuff in your food processor and assembling.  So, I made the second batch, thinking to myself “hey, this is pretty easy!!”. After I had assembled it, before it went in the oven, I thought to myself that the nut filling still seemed like it was missing something, even though I was sure I had followed the recipe.  But, just to make myself feel better, I checked out the recipe one more time. After I had put the whole thing together.  As I scanned down the list of ingredients, I saw it.  There it was, staring at me: ⅔ cup of sugar in the nut filling.  ⅔ of a cup of sugar that I had forgotten to include, both times.  At this point, there was nothing I could really do, other than swear at myself a little bit and stick the darn thing in the oven and hope for the best.  Or, barring that, at least I could tell you about my spectacular failure.  

Thankfully, the second batch came out pretty darn good.  The top layers are really crunchy, even after being drenched in syrup, and there is quite a bit of syrup that hangs out on the bottom of the pan, but it’s pretty tasty, if I do say so myself.  It’s very sweet, but I think that’s kind of the point, right?  You can really taste the cinnamon and allspice in there too, which I just love.

Now a few notes:

I could never find rose water, so I omitted it.  I looked at a lot of other recipes that didn’t include it, so I didn’t worry much about it.  I would have liked to have had it, but it wasn’t worth searching all over town for, and I didn’t have time for ordering it online. Maybe in the future.

You have to cut the sheets of phyllo dough to fit the bottom of your pan.  For me, this meant cutting the large sheets (as they come in the package) in half, and then trimming a little off of two edges.  I found this easiest to do with a pizza cutter.  It cuts smoothly, without dragging, like a knife sometimes can.  And I used a ruler to get a nice straight edge.  When working with the sheets of dough, it is important that they don’t dry out.  I kept a moist paper towel on top of the stack of sheets when I wasn’t using them.  When you brush on the butter, start at the middle and work your way out.  This reduces tearing and shifting.  And be patient.  Layering the phyllo dough isn’t a quick process.

Source: Alton Brown
Makes 28 pieces
For the filling:
1 (5-inch piece) cinnamon stick, broken in to 2 to 3 pieces, or 2 teaspoons ground
15 to 20 whole allspice berries
6 ounces blanched almonds
6 ounces raw or roasted walnuts
6 ounces raw or roasted pistachio (unsalted)
⅔ cup sugar
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon rose water
1 pound phyllo dough, thawed
8 ounces clarified unsalted butter, melted

For the syrup:
1 ¼ cups honey
1 ¼ cups water
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 (2-inch) piece of fresh orange peel


Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the cinnamon stick and whole allspice into a spice grinder and grind. (fp note: i have a little coffee grinder that i use just for this. they are pretty cheap.)

Place the almonds, walnuts, pistachios, sugar and freshly ground spices into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped, but not pasty or powdery, approximately 15 quick pulses. Set aside.

Trim the sheets of phyllo to fit the bottom of a 13 by 9 by 2-inch metal pan. Brush the bottom and sides of the pan with butter; lay down a sheet of phyllo and brush with butter. Repeat this step 9 more times for a total of 10 sheets of phyllo. Top with ⅓ of the nut mixture and spread thinly. Spritz thoroughly with rose water (or just water, like i did). Layer 6 more sheets of phyllo with butter in between each of them, followed by another third of the nuts and spritz with rose water. Repeat with another 6 sheets of phyllo, butter, remaining nuts, and rose water. Top with 8 sheets of phyllo brushing with butter in between each sheet. Brush the top generously with butter. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Remove pan from the oven and cut into 28 squares (fp note: trying to cut 28 squares evenly was probably the most challenging part of this recipe for me, and i didn’t get it quite right). Return pan to the oven and continue to bake for another 30 minutes.  (fp note: as i said before, i overcooked my first batch. for the second batch, i did 20 minutes for the first cook, and then 25 for the second cook). Remove pan from the oven, place on a cooling rack, and cool for 2 hours before adding the syrup.

Make the syrup during the last 30 minutes of cooling. Combine the honey, water, sugar and cinnamon stick and orange peel in a 4-quart saucepan set over high heat. Stir occassionally until the sugar has dissolved. Once boiling, boil for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and discard the orange peel and cinnamon stick.

After the baklava has cooled for 2 hours, re-cut the entire pan following the same lines as before. Pour the hot syrup evenly oven the top of the baklava, allowing it to run into the cuts and around the edges of the pan. Allow the pan to sit, uncovered, until completely cool. Cover and store at room temperature for at least 8 hours and up to overnight before serving. Store, covered, at room temperature for up to 5 days.

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