THE RITUAL OF EATING BAKLAVA
Baklava is without doubt one of the most fattening foods in the world. We’re talking calorific overdose here………. If you can get over the fact one tiny morsel is probably the whole day’s calorie allowance then you can experience an epicurean delight…….but remember – once tasted you’re hooked – it’s totally and utterly irresistible!
Baklava is a firm favourite throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East and many a battle of words (and more!) has been fought as to which country has the right to be called the ‘Home of the Baklava’. I would love to do a Baklava tasting tour – just to check out each countries claim……….but it would be hard to beat the tasting experience in Istanbul
The layers of the finest rolled filo pastry, laden with melted butter, filled with nuts, scented with spices and drenched with honey syrup has to be one of the worlds gastronomic pleasures. During my stay in Istanbul, Turkey, I visited the shop and then the factory of Karakoy Gulluoglu run by the flamboyant M. Nadir Gullu, the King of Baklava to see for myself if Baklava lived up to its reputation. Five generations of his family have been producing Baklava, the luscious sweet made from the finest of Turkish ingredients.
Nadir disclosed the secrets of eating Baklava ………and it’s not as straight forward as I’d thought! Before I met Nadir I thought eating Baklava was a simple process – open the mouth, take a bite, chew and swallow. But, NO, I can still hear Nadir gasping with horror, as I tucked into the delightful samples munching away with gusto. NO, NO, NO, NO and NO!
So how do you eat it I asked?
Eating Baklava is a serious business, he replied, you must utilise the senses to maximise the enjoyment of the experience…… Before the first bite of the luscious confection, you have to dip it liberally in cream and then roll it in ground pistachio. ( My waistband groaned – as then each piece of Baklava automatically doubled in calorific content… ) Then may you begin to eat…………but not before you observe a little ritual to make the Baklava experience a pleasure, a romance, a delight!
So, with each piece you:
- Smell the Baklava
- Turn it over
- Then bite it Upside down!
- Chew each mouthful 10 times
- Expelling air slowly
- Then gently breathe in
- Slowly relax, breathe out
Whilst doing this you must use your senses thus:
- Use your eyes to enjoy looking at the daintiness and beauty of the innumerable layers of pastry, layered with finely ground pistachio and spices, with the syrup gently dribbling down the sides.
- Touch. Feel the delicacy and the lightness of the Baklava.
- Smell and taste. As you bite into the slices savour the wonderful aromas released as you crunch down onto the nut brown flakes of pastry. Feel the taste buds come alive as you release all the flavours.
- Listen to that delicious crispy crunch as you bite into the morsel
- But then the confectioners were all Masters and had spent years training to make the best Baklava possible.
When I returned home I tried to make my own Baklava – it’s not bad – but I’m positive Nadir said they used 100 sheets of pastry to make their Baklava – my recipe contains a more modest 14 sheets. Enjoy – but remember use the senses – and forget the calories!
14 sheets filo pastry
225g/8 oz unsalted butter
225g/8oz pistachio nuts
2 tbs granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
125g/4oz granulated sugar
250ml/8fl oz water
1 tbs lemon juice
10 tbs overflowing with runny honey
Dry roast the pistachio nuts for 4-5 mins to release the flavours
Do not burn
Crush or grind to a coarse constituency
Then mix together the nuts, sugar and cinnamon
Grease a 17cm x 28cm (11” x 7” baking tray) with butter
Melt the remaining butter
Lay 1 sheet of filo in the tray
Butter with the melted butter
Place another sheet on top and butter
Repeat until 5 sheets layered up
Sprinkle over 1/3 of the nut mix
Butter and layer the next 5 layers
Sprinkle with 1/3 of the mix
Repeat with next 5 layers
Sprinkle final mix over
Layer up the final 5 sheets
Butter the top sheet
With a sharp knife cut a criss cross pattern into the top layers of pastry
Pre heat oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4
Put the baklava into the oven for 20 minutes
Lower the oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2 and cook for approx 15-20 mins
Or until the pastry is puffed and golden on top
Remove and allow to cool before pouring over the syrup
For the syrup
Heat all the ingredients together
Cook until the sugar has melted and a syrup forms
Pour over the baklava
Allow to cool
Cut into diamond shapes
Tip: Serve with whipped cream and crushed pistachios. I crushed my nuts with a rolling pin. Try other nuts or a mixture – walnuts give a great taste Do not use salted nuts. Try and leave it 24 hours before eating!
This is a good starter recipe and from here you can mix and match flavours – try adding orange or rose petal essence or be creative and try glace cherries, sultanas and crushed almonds. The only limit is your imagination – and calorie count!