Baklava is one of those sweet treats that has never really excited me. My husband loves it, and it’s not hard to see why when this middle eastern delight consists of chopped nuts, enveloped in flaky, buttery pastry, covered in a sweet and fragrant syrup. They sell all different shapes and styles in the multiple Turkish bakeries and supermarkets in the city, and they always look appetising. Although I do eat and enjoy baklava on occasion, for some reason it’s not something I naturally gravitate towards. I’d never thought of making it until Bread Ahead released a filo pastry course where you’d learn to make this flaky, nutty, treat. I knew filo was one of the more challenging pastries, so I was curious to try my hand at it, plus I knew there would be someone close by more than willing to eat the results!
Considering baking queen and all round national treasure Mary Berry once said that life was too short to make filo pastry, I was expecting a bit of a challenge, but I wasn’t quite prepared for our frustrating it would turn out to be. After separating my dough into 9 small rounds, I rolled each one out to about 20 cm wide and placing it on a piece of parchment paper, and then stacking them on top of each other. The teacher told us to use a lot of cornflour in between the layers to prevent them sticking, but it seems I completely underestimated how much was enough, as when I came to start layering the pastry in my tin they’d all stuck together. At 20 cm wide they were fine, but when I’d rolled the stack out so that each layer would be paper-thin, the pressure had forced them together. It was a disaster. I had to go back and re-roll everything to try and have a chance of creating any layers, but of course, by this time the dough was dryer thanks to the cornflour, and a little tougher to roll. I eventually got there, but not without a few cross words in between.
I had 9 layers of pastry on the bottom, separated by some nice big dollops of clarified butter, then a thick layer of chopped pistachios, and then another 9 layers of buttery pastry. As soon as it came out of the oven looking all golden, I poured over a heavenly smelling syrup, that I’d prepared with honey, lemon, cloves, and cinnamon. I thought rose water or orange blossom water were more traditional, but as I was making it for the first time, I didn’t want to stray too far away from the recipe.
Once I took a slice, it became clear that I’d put either too much butter or too much syrup over the baklava, as the distinctive layers were missing, and it instead looked like a solid block of buttery pastry. I was a little disappointed, but a quick taste test proved that it still tasted delicious, in fact way more delicious than I was expecting, something my excited taste tester confirmed.
It’s still not something I’ll be rushing to the kitchen to grab a piece of, but every now and again, with a cup of tea, it will be perfect.