Thursday, 9 October 2014

Pistachio, Walnut & Almond Baklava

I absolutely love the Great British Bake Off (GBBO) – a baking competition which is televised on BBC1. The 5th series of the programme reached its climax last night with three finalists vying to be this year’s baking champion. For anyone who has not seen it yet or is waiting to watch the repeat, I won’t reveal who the winner is… but watch it… it was hugely entertaining.
 
In last week’s semi-final, the remaining four contestants were challenged to bake their own versions of baklava. One of the offerings particularly intrigued me as it was made with a ‘breakfast’ filling which used toasted muesli and other ingredients more associated with the first meal of the day. Watching the programme definitely inspired me to make my own baklava, but I decided that for my first attempt, I would keep to the more familiar versions.
 
It has been many years since I have eaten baklava and my overriding memory was that it was very sweet and tasted predominantly of rosewater. Now; here is the thing… I really am not a great fan of recipes that incorporate the flower waters, extracts or essences. I think that the problem I find is that the taste of the particular flower, whether it be lavender, rose or hibiscus tends to overpower everything else. To be quite honest, often the smell of dishes where flowers have been used reminds me of soap, perfume or other beauty products; not something that I want to eat! But there is no denying it; the flavour of flowers is very on trend in the restaurant world these days!
 
After watching GBBO last week, I really wanted to bake my own baklava, but decided that any flower flavouring I used would be quite subtle and that I would avoid using rosewater. I carried out some research by reading a number of different baklava recipes contained in some of my cookbooks and also looked online at a variety of alternative baklava recipes and found that although rosewater is regularly used it is by no means mandatory.
 
The recipe that I give here is based in part on a couple of the recipes shown on GBBO but also largely on one by Mark Hix in his wonderful book Mark Hix on Baking.
 
I have used pistachios, walnuts and almonds as my nuts of choice for the filling of my baklava and these tasted wonderful. I ground the nuts in a food processor and would definitely recommend that you do the same rather than buy nuts already ground, as these would be too powdery – what you want is for them to retain a bit of texture! Once baked the baklava is soaked in a syrup which serves to hold everything together once cooled. I decided to confront my flower flavour issues and used a little orange flower water to flavour the syrup. I didn’t go overboard with it and I will admit that I really liked what it brought to the finished pastries!
 
Finally, unlike the contestants in last week’s GBBO, I did not make my own filo pastry. I used store-bought filo and found that it worked a treat, although it is a little temperamental to handle (you must cover any pastry you are not working on with a clean damp cloth to prevent it from drying up and becoming unworkable).
 
This baklava is buttery rich and very sweet, but there is something a little addictive about it which leaves you wanting more. It keeps its crunch for an incredibly long time if stored in an airtight container.
 

Ingredients:

225g butter, melted
16 sheets of filo pastry
125g pistachios, coarsely ground
50g walnuts, coarsely ground
50g almonds, coarsely ground
1tblsp granulated sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cardamom
Syrup:
300g granulated sugar
275ml water
½ lemon, juice only
2tblsp orange flower water
 

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Grease a 18cm x 25-28cm non stick baking tray/dish with deep sides with a little butter and line with on-stick baking parchment.
2. Place the nuts, a tablespoon of granulated sugar and the ground spices in a bowl and mix together to ensure that everything is evenly distributed. Set aside.
3. Take a sheet of the filo pastry and place on the baking parchment in the lined baking tray/dish. Brush liberally with butter and fold over any excess pastry and brush this with butter too. Place another sheet of filo on top of the buttered layer and then butter the new layer with butter. Continue doing this until you have used half up half the filo pastry. N.B. Make sure you cover the unused filo pastry with a clean damp clothe when you are not using it to prevent it drying up.
4. Sprinkle the nut/spice mixture over the buttered filo pastry, reserving 2 or 3 tablespoons for later.
5. Place another layer of filo pastry over the sprinkled nuts and repeat the buttering and layering process that you used before. Butter the uppermost layer of filo and using a sharp knife cut the baklava into small squares or triangles.
6. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes and then reduce the heat to 150C/Fan Oven 130C/Gas Mark 2 and bake for a further25-30 minutes until the pastry is a deep golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly while you make the syrup.
Syrup:
7. Place all the ingredients for the syrup in a medium sized saucepan over a moderate heat until the sugar has dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, increase the heat and bring up to the boil. Immediately reduce the heat so that the mixture is simmering briskly. Allow to cook for about 15 minutes until the liquid has reduced by over a half and has become quite syrupy.
To finish:
8. Sprinkle the reserved nuts over the baked baklava. Pour the hot syrup slowly over the top of the baklava and set aside and allow to cool completely and to give the syrup a chance to soak in completely. The baklava can be served when completely cooled.
 
Makes 20-24 small squares.