Now, let me start with…I don’t have a hint of Greek in me. I’m born and raised American with Polish, Prussian, German, French-Canadian and Native American ancestors. Quite a mix, but no Greek to be found.
Nevertheless, yesterday I learned to make a very traditional Greek treat, Baklava.
My mom’s friend Trudy comes from a Greek background and has been making Baklava for years. As a child, she learned from her Yaya and has kept the tradition alive since. She came to our house on Monday morning with a bag of materials and the recipe stored safely in her head. This baffled me, as I almost never bake without a set recipe in front of me. Trudy, on the other hand, goes off of what feels right and the motto, “this is how Yaya made it!”
To start, we needed: walnuts, sugar, cloves, cinnamon, butter (LOTS of butter!), lemon peel and honey.
We started by grinding the walnuts with a nut grind. I’d never seen one of these before but apparently you can buy them at any home goods store. By using a hand-powered nut grinder, you get just the right ratio of walnut pieces to walnut powder as well as more consistently sized walnut chunks.
Next, a pound, yes, a POUND of butter was melted in a microwave-safe bowl.
From there, the layering began! To save time, we used premade Phyllo, or Filo, dough that was cut and ready to go. We buttered the pan and added 6-8 layers of Phyllo dough with, of course, butter between each layer.
Then, sprinkled the nut mixture evenly and added two more layers of dough. Nuts, Phyllo, butter, nuts Phyllo, butter…repeated until the nut mixture ran out. Then it was on to alternating Phyllo and butter until the Phyllo was gone.
As the baklava baked we created the simple syrup for the top and between the layers. While water, 4 cups of sugar and cinnamon sticks boiled on the stove, we took whole cloves and stuck them into lemon peels. This eliminated the problem of fishing the cloves from the mixture later.
After the syrup came to a boil, it had to reach 220°F before adding in the honey.
Once the baklava came out of the oven, we poured the honey mixture on top to fill in all the crevices. Unfortunately, this sweet treat has to sit overnight so the pastry could thoroughly absorb the honey mixture.
So, we had baklava for breakfast today, which was totally worth the wait! The sweetness of the honey mixture with the spiced nuts and flaky dough was the perfect way to start this cold, December day.
Thank you Trudy, for sharing your family recipe with us during this holiday season!