Wider Horizons

If you'd like to indulge in a pastry fit for a sultan, empress or prince, consider creating a tray full of crispy, sweet, nutty baklava.

While its exact origins are unclear - Assyrians claim that they started eating a few layers of thin bread dough with chopped nuts and honey as far back as the 8th century B.C., and Armenians say they've been making a similar pastry for 10 centuries - the earliest written references to this sweet treat date back about 600 years. It's likely that bakers from a variety of different cultures in the Middle East, Central Asia, the Mediterranean and the Balkans all made variations of the sweet dessert for special occasions - and thankfully introduced the perfect concoction of layered butter phyllo dough, chopped nuts and honey to North America.

While baklava may have a reputation for difficulty, it is surprisingly easy to prepare. Just make sure you have all of your ingredients ready before starting and that the phyllo dough is defrosted before you start (you can defrost it in the refrigerator the night before). It should make for an irresistible treat!

Ingredients

For the pastry  
1 lb/500 g phyllo leaves, defrosted
1 lb/500 g ground nuts – walnuts, pistachios, almonds or a mixture
2 oz/60 g sugar
1 tsp/2 g cinnamon
½ tsp/.5 g ground cloves
8 oz/250 g melted butter (or a mixture of butter and oil)

 

For the syrup  
12 oz/375 g sugar
9 oz/280 g water
4.5 oz/140 g honey
2 strips lemon peel
1 oz/30 g lemon juice
1 cinnamon stick

 

Method

  1. Mix together the nuts, sugar, cinnamon and cloves.
  2. Unfold the phyllo leaves and keep them covered with a dampened tea towel.
  3. Butter the bottom and sides of a 10X15-inch baking pan.
  4. Lay one of the phyllo leaves in the bottom of the pan, letting the ends of the dough fold upward at the sides of the pan. Brush the dough with the melted butter.
  5. Repeat until there are 10 buttered sheets in the pan.
  6. Place one-third of the nut mixture in the pan and spread it in an even layer.
  7. Put in two more phyllo leaves, buttering each as it is placed in the pan.
  8. Put in another third of the nuts, another two buttered phyllo leaves, and then the rest of the nuts.
  9. Finally, lay each of the remaining leaves in the pan, buttering each, including the top one.
  10. There will be excess dough sticking up around the edges of the pan. With a knife or kitchen scissors, trim it level with the top of the pastry.
  11. Chill the pastry to congeal the butter. This will make cutting easier.
  12. Preheat the oven to 350F (175C). Cut the pastry into four rows of six squares, about 2.5 inches on a side. Then cut the squares diagonally to make triangles.
  13. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until golden brown.
  14. While the baklava is baking, combine the syrup ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, then cool to lukewarm. Remove the cinnamon stick and lemon peel. Skim off foam, if any formed.
  15. When the pastry is baked, pour the warm syrup over the hot baklava.
  16. Let the baklava stand overnight so the syrup can be absorbed.

To sample some of the delicious creations from student chefs at Lethbridge College, book a table in the Garden Court Dining Room by calling 403-382-3230.

Wider Horizons
Recipe by Chef Heng Ng / Photo by Gregory Thiessen
Original Publication Date:

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