Fear Not Phyllo – Redux
This post originally appeared on my old blog Valley Victuals. I have reformatted it here and maybe just slightly altered the recipe, which may or may not have had another type of nut in it other than California Walnuts. I’ll never tell. After all, California Walnuts are awesome, and why would you need any other? (I am submitting this recipe to the BlogHer Food ’10 Pity Party Iron Chef-ish Contest, sponsored by California Walnuts. Why do you ask?) 🙂
I’ve discovered that a good way to impress my Armenian in-laws is to cook their foods well. I did just that this weekend with a batch of paklava. Paklava is the Armenian word for the treat Greeks call baklava. This was my third time making it, and I have learned a few lessons along the way. I didn’t have any sort of family recipe to use, so I searched online the first time I made it and found two recipes. One is from Martha Stewart, and the other is from Tyler Florence, neither of whom are Greek or Armenian, as far as I know. Martha’s recipe seemed very elegant, with lots of separate layers of phyllo, butter and nuts. However, her syrup to pour over is very blah, just a simple sugar syrup. I may not be Greek or Armenian either, but even I know their should be some honey in there. Tyler’s recipe has an orange-scented syrup that uses honey, so I decided to combine the two.
My first attempt came out great and I was very pleased with it. I decided to make a second batch shortly afterward for some occasion. I grabbed just Tyler’s recipe, and put it all together. I didn’t really notice the quantity difference of some of the ingredients as I was making it. The first clue that something was different came when I followed Tyler’s directions after baking to remove an end piece and drain out extra butter. I didn’t have to do that with Martha’s recipe. I didn’t think much of it as I poured the syrup over it, and waited for it to absorb. When I came back to it to separate the pieces for serving, I was horrified. The bottom layer was sopping wet, sitting in a greasy, buttery, sugary puddle of muck. Ewwwww. I had some leftover phyllo, so I laid it out in a baking pan with just a little butter and baked it, and attempted to give my paklava a new bottom layer. It helped a little, but the pieces were awkward to handle as the new bottom layer never really congealed with the rest.
This time, I went back to Martha for the main recipe and used Tyler’s syrup again. I think the combination of the two improves on both recipes. I brought it to a birthday party this weekend and my Armenian in-laws enjoyed it immensely. Not bad for an odar (non-Armenian person)!
Jennifer’s Odar Paklava
For the pastry:
3 cups finely chopped California Walnuts
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground clove
1 pound frozen phyllo (filo) pastry, thawed
2-1/2 sticks melted butter
For the syrup:
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
Juice of 1/2 lemon (or a really big squirt from your yellow plastic bottle of lemon juice)
2 large strips of orange peel (or all the peel from one small clementine)
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of ground clove
Preheat the oven to 350 and then prepare the area!
I chopped the California Walnuts in my food processor and then mixed them in a bowl with the spices. I melted the butter in a measuring cup in the microwave. Unroll the phyllo and cover it first with some plastic wrap, and then with a damp towel.
(this is Martha’s trick. Tyler uses just the towel, which results in too damp phyllo that is very difficult to pull apart.) Paint the bottom of a 13″ x 9″ x 2″ baking pan with butter with and a pastry brush. (Silicone pastry brushes are excellent, by the way. Get a set of two for $1.99 at the Christmas Tree Shops and never wonder again if that nasty old-fashioned paintbrush one is harboring a bacteria farm in the base where the bristles never really dry out.)
Layer one sheet of phyllo in the pan on top of the butter. Paint with butter, and cover with another sheet of phyllo. Continue layering until you have a base of 7 phyllo sheets, the top one unbuttered. Sprinkle with 2 heaping tablespoons of the California Walnut mixture.
Cover with a sheet of phyllo, paint with butter, cover with phyllo, and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of nuts. Continue layering, phyllo, butter, phyllo, nuts. The thing about paklava is not so much that it is difficult, but it is time consuming!
Keep an eye on the phyllo, and when you have only 6 or 7 sheets left, stop layering in the nuts. Layer just phyllo and butter, buttering the top sheet too. As you get to the bottom, the layers tend to stick more, and become more difficult to pull apart in one sheet.
Don’t worry about it. As is bakes, the layers get all flakey and it will blend in.
Before baking, score the top with diagonal lines to make diamond-shaped pieces. Another one of Martha’s tricks here is to not cut all the way through to the bottom just yet. I assume this helps keep the syrup and butter from puddling in the bottom of the pan.
Bake for 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
Meanwhile, make the syrup. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until thickened.
This is where Smell-O-Net technology would come in handy. The sweet, spicey scent of the syrup mixing with the buttery fragrance coming from the oven make the whole process worth it.
Carefully pour syrup over the cooled baklava. Try not to over-do it, you may not need all of the syrup. Use Tyler’s trick for removing his gobs of excess butter to instead remove any excess syrup. Cut one end piece completely through, and remove. Spoon out any excess syrup. Allow to stand for at least one hour before cutting the rest completely through and serving.
I use muffin cups to contain the individual servings. You can store it by covering it very loosely with foil, but chances are it will disappear pretty quick.