Sooo, if I've ever said that Croquembouche was exhausting and time consuming and hard to make...I'm sorry for lying to you. I was just kidding. THIS is on the other hand. God! I guess I've never made anything so time consuming and exhausting. No way. The French entremet is like nothing compared to this challenge! Hours of rolling, hours of layering, baking and I think I'm gonna have nightmares about rolling dough. Would I make it again? Absolutely! Am I mad? Oh, yeah, a big one, but believe you me, once you make it, you'd want to repeat it again and again. It's worth it plus you get nice toned arms. Asking how? Let's explore!
Baklava (read bah-klah-vah) is a rich sweet dessert (or pastry) made from a lot of layers of phyllo dough and sweetened with sugar syrup. It's a traditional dish of the cuisines of the Ottoman Empire and central and southwest Asia. However, nowadays it's popular worldwide. The history of baklava is not well documented, but it is mostly said to be Central Asian Turkic origin. On the other hand, most people consider it to be Greek, which is not true. Yes, it's popular there, but it's not the place where the traditional baklava was born. The most probale place of that is Turkey where it's eaten during Ramadan. And that's where I started looking for the traditional recipe. I can't speak Turkish by no means, so I took my dictionary and translated and translated each recipe I came across.
First of all, we'll have a look at the dough. Phyllo dough is paper-thin sheets of unleavened flour dough which is used in multiple layers as only one wouldn't be enough. When you look at English phyllo recipes, they only call for flour, water, oil and vinegar, but when I browsed through Turkish recipes I found something totally different. They make phyllo dough from flour, water, oil, vinegar and salt only for their special type of bread called yufka. However, for baklava, the dough is completely different. There's milk instead of (or with) water, almost every single one of them contains eggs and baking powder and then a combination of yogurt and vinegar or just yogurt. Some don't contain yogurt, but there weren't much of those - more of them definitely called for yogurt rahter than for vinegar. That's what I found very interesting. I just love using yogurt in my dough and I was very happy that Turkish baklava phyllo called for it.
The flour used in the dough (in Turkish un) should be unbleached all-purpose or even strong bread flour because it contains a higher level of gluten that is much needed during rolling. The dough needs to rest for at least 30 minutes in your fridge, but the longer the better. My dough refrigerated overnight and it was a pleasure to work with. Also, the recipes called for starch (nişasta in Turkish) - either wheat or corn - for flouring during rolling. Wheat starch is something I couldn't find in any of my local stores, so I went with cornstarch, which is supposed to make the dough crispier, that means that if you want soft dough, use wheat starch.
When you roll the dough, be patient. It takes about 3 to 4 hours to roll out about 30 paper-thin layers. I had absolutely no probs with the dough - it was so easy to roll out and it didn't even tear at all. It just takes a huge lot of time, but at least you work out a bit, right? The first ones won't be very beautiful as it takes some time to master the art of rolling this type of dough, but practise is the key and after 5 or 10 layers you'll only have smooth very thin beautiful layers. To ensure your dough is thin enough, put the rolled layer over newspapers and if you're able to read the heading your dough's thin enough. The amount of dough stated in my recipe makes about 40 layers, but you'll need only 28. The lefover rolled layers can be frozen for future use (maybe another baklava??).
Asking what to fill your baklava with? Answer is easy peasy: nuts. Most of the recipes asked for waltnuts, hazelnuts and/or pistachios. Neither of them called for almonds nor pecans etc. Just the first trio. Hey, I'm talking about the traditional baklava, if you want to experiment, go for macadamia nuts, pine nuts, dried fruit, whatever. It¨s just I've never eaten baklava and that's why I wanted to explore the basic type before going mad with crazy flavour combinations :) In English recipes there you'll find that the filling contains nuts, spices and sugar. No such things in Turkish, though, only and only nuts, nothing else.
When you're ready to assembly your baklava, you'll have to layer the layers of phyllo on each other. I used 8 layers for the first and final layer of dough and 6 layers for the two middle dough layers. You can use even less (but not less than 5) depending on the thinness of your rolled layers.When I watched Turkish vidoes about making baklava, I noticed that they didn't butter each layer of phyllo, but only every second or third and to butter is a bit too strong word, they only slightly drizzled the layers. This provided flaky, puffy and separated layers of dough in the baked baklava. Superb!
Now you may wonder in which universe is this dessert sickeningly sweet when there is no sugar?! Don't worry, sugar coma is about to come. Or maybe not? When your baklava is baked, you have to pour over it sweet sugar syrup. Again, in English and Greek recipes, there you'll find the usage of honey spiced syrup, in Turkish you'll find simple sugar syrup made from water, sugar and lemon juice. I have to say I had a hard time fighting the idea of adding some spices to it, but fortunately I was strong enough to overcome them all and stayed true to the tradition. What a good decision (see Verdict)!
Here's where I became stupid! I wanted to make my baklava in a round baking form and 'cause I only have round spring form with removable bottom I thought "Okay, perfect, that's gonna work," and it did until I pour the syrup onto my baklava. I guess now you know what happened. Yep, you're right. The form wasn't waterproof and the syrup started running out from the form. Fortunately, I managed to stop it and my baklava was so thirsty that it soaked the syrup really fast and there were no major losses. God, thanks!
Wow, sometimes I'm really surprised (or shocked?) at how long articles I'm able to write. I wouldn't wonder if it were too boring for you :D Anyway, here is the recipe for traditional Turkish baklava. Enjoy!
150g (2/3 cup) butter, melted for brushing
about 250g (1-2/3 cups) cornstarch for flouring
125ml (1/2 cup) warm milk
100g (1/2 cup) vegetable oil
1,5 eggs, lightly beaten
50g (1/5 cup) plain yogurt
460g (3-2/3 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 tsp salt
1,5 tsp baking powder
100g (1/2 cup + 1 tbsp) ground unsalted pistachios
100g (1/2 cup + 1 tbsp) walnuts, ground
100g (1/2 cup + 1 tbsp) hazelnuts, ground
300g (1-1/2 cups) granulated sugar
335ml (1-1/4 cups + 3 tbsp) water
5 tsp fresh lemon juice
Dough: In a large bowl combine sifted flour, baking powder and salt, make a well in the middle. Combine oil and milk in a small bowl. Now pour milk-oil mixture, eggs and yogurt into the flour and mix with wooden spoon until incorporated. Use your hands to make a soft dough. Transfer the dough onto a floured (use flour!) surface and knead for about 25 minutes until you get smooth elastic dough. Pick up the dough and through it down hard on the counter a few times during the kneading process. Shape the dough into a ball and lightly cover with oil. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let rest at least 30 minutes (I let mine overnight). Unwrap your dough and divide it into chunks slightly larger then a golf ball (25g balls worked for me the best, I got about 40 balls). While you are rolling be sure to keep the other dough covered so it doesn’t dry out. Now you'll use the CORNSTARCH for flouring! Be sure to flour your hands, rolling pin and counter. As you roll you will need to keep adding, don’t worry, you can’t over-flour. Roll out the dough ball a bit to flatten it out. Wrap the dough around your rolling pin/dowel. Roll back and forth quickly with the dough remaining on the dowel (see this video for a visual, it's much easier then it sounds). Remove, rotate and repeat until it is as thin as possible. If you get rips in the dough, as long as you have one perfect one for the top it doesn't matter. Carefully pick it up with well floured hands and stretch it on the backs of your hands - this helps make it thinner. Roll out your dough until it is transparent. Set aside on a well-floured surface. Cover your rolled dough with a wet cloth so that it will not dry out. Repeat the process until your dough balls are used up. Between each sheet again flour well.
Assembly: Brush bottom and sides of your baking form (use either 23x23cm square or 26cm diameter round form) with butter. Trim your phyllo sheets to fit in your pan. Place first two phyllo sheets into your buttered form. Drizzle with butter. Repeat 3 times ending with butter (you should have 8 layers of phyllo now). Sprinkle with walnuts (use them all). Cover with two phyllo layers, drizzle with butter and repeat twice (you should have 6 layers). Sprinkle with pistachios (use them all). Again cover with two phyllo layers, drizzle with butter and repeat twice (you should have 6 layers). Sprinkle with hazelnuts (use them all). Cover with two phyllo layers, drizzle with butter and repeat 3 times (you should have 8 layers). On the top layer, make sure you have a piece of phyllo with no holes if possible, just looks better. Once you have applied the top layer tuck in all the edges to give a nice appearance. With a sharp knife cut your baklava in desired shapes and number of pieces. Don't cut all the way through, you will cut again later. Brush with a generous layer of butter making sure to cover every area and edge. Bake in preheated oven to 180C for 10 minutes, lower the temperature to 150C and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cut again this time all the way through. Continue baking for another 20-30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately pour the cooled (will still be warmish) syrup evenly over the top, taking care to cover all surfaces when pouring. Allow to cool to room temperature. Once cooled cover and store at room temperature. Allow the baklava to sit overnight to absorb the syrup. Serve at room temperature.
- You need a thin rolling pin to be able to roll out the dough into paper-thin sheets. You can use anything that resembles rolling pin and is thin - e. g. wooden dowel, tube etc. I used our old iron tube that holds curtains (well-washed).
I felt a bit sorry because I was making baklava with no spices, flavourings etc. but after the first bite I knew it had been the right choice. The pastry is rich, juicy and not overly sweet at all to my own surprise! The taste is full bodied with strong nutty flavour, a touch of buttery deliciousness, lightly chewy with crispy top layer of flaky dough. I won't lie, it's pretty hard to say which layer of nuts is the strongest one in taste - I only can feel the complex nutty flavour, but it's sooo good. The dough is not soggy at all, but has the right level of juiciness from the syrup as well as sweetness, its texture is still firm and nicely chewy at the same time. I can see me making some future variations on this basic one, but not any time soon (don't want to become Rambo :D) and why would I tweak something that is exquisite on its own?