Baklava! Yay! I love eating baklava and I decided to finally make a version of it myself this past Saturday night. Before I go any further, I would just like to say that while I generally love spending hours in the kitchen, baklava stresses me the eff out. Picture this scene… I have just begun layering my phyllo dough and I realize I forgot to have a damp towel to cover the sheets of dough waiting to be brushed and layered and that I would greatly benefit from a second wax paper workspace… “GARRICK! I need a second workspace and towels stat.” (audible yet unintelligible reply from Gar) “What!? I need help fast!” (audible unzipping noise) “Can it wait? I’m in my new sleeping bag,” says Gar. “Get out of the sleeping bag. I need your help. I don’t know why the hell your in your sleeping bag anyways.” “You don’t want to try out your new sleeping bag?” replies Gar in a surprised tone as he walks into the kitchen. In hindsight, in less than the time it took me to get his ass in the kitchen I could have washed my hands, made some damp paper towels, and gotten out some wax paper to create another area for me to lay phyllo dough on. They say hindsight is 20/20. By the way, bless Gar for trying out one of the new sleeping bags we got for camping almost immediately after coming home from work and then sleeping in it that night. How could I not love the shit out of him?

Back to Baklava, if you have never worked with Phyllo dough then read the directions on the box. It dries out quickly and each sheet needs to be brushed individually with oil or butter or margarine. I use a 50/50 unsalted butter and olive oil mix. I have read and seen different ways of brushing sheets quickly but I have not managed to execute these effectively. I find that I can brush it out relatively quickly by doing one sheet at a time. I brush one side of a sheet, flip it over on top of the stack, and brush the other side. I also use my fingers along with the brush in order to do all of this more quickly. When I move the top sheet that is brushed, I cover the stack completely with damp paper towels, sometimes beginning to brush the top as I’m covering.

First, I combined a 5.5 oz package of chopped walnuts and a 5.5 oz package of sliced almonds with about a tsp. of cinnamon and about 1/3 cup of panko breadcrumb for the nut layers. I chose to use almonds simply for the protein but I ended up loving the addition in both flavor and texture. I thought the sliced almonds would be a nice textural contrast to the walnuts. Next, I began layering the baklava in and 8″ x 8″ glass baking dish, reserving a small amount of the nut mixture for topping after it was baked and the syrup was applied. The layers were as follows: 4 sheets phyllo, 1/3 of nut mixture, 1 sheet phyllo, 1/3 nut mixture, 1 sheet phyllo, 1/3 of nut mixture, and 4 sheets phyllo. Before baking in a 350 degree oven for about one hour (or until golden), I cut into the baklava lengthwise and widthwise to make rectangular strips. In the meantime, I made a syrup by combining 1 cup of water, 1/2 cup honey, and about 2 cups of sugar in a saucepan over medium heat until the mixture was well combined an bubbling. I think that the amounts of sugar and honey one uses should really depend on your taste and how sweet you want this to turn out or how much you want to taste the honey. You just want your syrup to cover the top and surround the edges of all the pieces. Once the baklava came out of the oven, I poured the syrup over it and making sure I got it in all of the cuts and let it refrigerate overnight.

In conclusion, was the baklava worth the stress of making it? Absolutely. I even had a friend ask to pay me for another batch… very flattering.


Spicy Pesto

(Serves 2 to 3)
1/2 cup lightly packed basil
1/4 cup mint leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/2 serrano chile, stems and seeds removed
1 dash red pepper flakes
1/2 cup raw sliced almonds, unsalted
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, add more if needed
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan or pecorino, half to mix into pesto and half for serving

Place the basil, mint, garlic, chiles, red pepper flakes, almonds, and oil into a food processor and pulse 4 to 5 times. You want a thick paste, not a thin sauce. If you are not using this immediately, pour some more olive oil over the pesto to seal out the air and cover with a tight lid. This can be stored for up to 2 weeks. If you have a blender but not a food processor you just want to be very careful not to over-mix and you’ll likely need to shake the entire thing in between pulses.

This is an alteration of one of my favorite recipes from Mario Batali’s latest cookbook. The original recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds but I’m really not a big fan of fennel. Also, I decreased the amount of serrano chile and removed the seeds the second time a made it. My first pass at this was just too spicy which is really saying something because I am a big fan of spicy. I just felt that the spice overshadowed the rest of the ingredients. I also added just a little more garlic.

I really love this pesto. It’s fresh, nutty, and has a great kick.