Fresh baklava has to be one of the most famous sweets across the globe. Throughout the Middle East and across Mediterranean lands it is king.
Boy, do those people have good taste.
Nutty, chewy and ultimately calorific, baklava sticks to your teeth and your thighs. My philosophy is to enjoy devilishly sweet treats in moderation and occasionally in excess.*
This take on one of my favourite sweets was inspired by baklava I ate at an odd little Turkish cafe I visited in London not so long ago. It was very dark and very greasy. The cafe, not the baklava.
In fact, the baklava was amazing. It had all of the super flavours of traditional baklava with a wonderfully textured twist. I love me some twists.
Sweet rice and the traditional spiced nuts were enveloped in thin, crisp filo pastry layers, then drenched in sugar syrup and left to absorb until chewy and divine. Pouring the hot sugar syrup on when the baklava is fresh from the oven makes it easier for it to absorb into the thirsty sheets of filo and down the diamond-cut grooves.
As for that twist… Rice in baklava is amazing just in case you’re wondering.
I flavoured my rice with rose and pistachio but essentially you could use anything. Don’t go too crazy though; try to stick to traditional Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavours like orange blossom water, honey or saffron. You could even keep it simple and use plain rice, or rice flavoured with a lemon zest.
I used jasmine rice for these bakalava as I wanted it to be firm enough to keep its shape, but not so hard you could use a lump of it as a tennis ball at Wimbledon. This cannot be whetting your appetite.
Sifting through pages and pages of information in books and on the internet just leaves me more and more curious about where the origins of this dessert lie. The lands in which it was created and the etymology of the name remains unclear as the facts are perched upon blurred lines and borders. It feels rather like a family tree in which each little segment must be traced in order to view the bigger picture.
Links, lines and roots connecting people, countries and history can all be represented in a simple pastry. Amazing. I think I long, long book could be written about the cultural histories of legendary and delicious desserts such as baklava.
I can imagine kings and queens of the East, and Greek gods and goddesses gorging themselves on fresh baklava every night before bed. Hundreds of servants wheeling out golden trolleys stacked tall with sweeties. Do you think they’re hiring for servants? If they are, email me the details at: sanju(dot)modha(at)hotmail(dot)co(dot)uk
A diamond wedge of fresh baklava warm from the oven and a strong espresso may not be the ideal everyday breakfast* but to be honest, it should only really be reserved for special occasions anyway.
*Huge and delicious pieces of baklava should be devoured at the diners peril and in some cases may cause diabetes, ‘chunky butt’ syndrome and severe sweet toothism. KO Rasoi and Sanjana do not take any responsibility for occurrences of these symptoms and/or any other greed-related illnesses.
250g pistachios, ground coarsely
400ml single cream
200ml ghee (clarified butter), melted
270g frozen filo pastry, defrosted (cut it to the size of your baking dish)
120g jasmine rice
1 tbsp sugar
½ tsp cardamom powder
2 tbsp rose syrup
1 tbsp rose water
For the syrup
225g granulated white sugar
½ cup hot water
2 tbsp lemon juice (this stops the syrup from crystallising)
1. Gently boil the rice in the single cream and 1 tbsp sugar until creamy. Keep stirring it as it simmers because it will stick. When thick and luscious, add the rose water, rose syrup and cardamom powder and stir well. Set aside to cool.
2. Brush a deep baking dish with a generous amount of ghee.
3. Begin by placing a sheet of filo in the pan, butter it and cover with ground pistachios.
4. Repeat step two until you have used half of the filo and pistachios. This is a bit like layering up a lasagne. Always remember to be generous with the ghee- this is what makes the baklava crisp.
5. Halfway through the pastry layering, spread the cooled rice mixture on top of the filo. Now you can carry on layering the sheets and nuts up (always brushing with ghee) until everything is used up. Brush the top layer with lots of ghee to create a beautiful golden top.
6. Cut the baklava into diamond shapes or squares. I went for diamonds because they look very elegant this way.
7. Bake at 160 degrees Celsius for around an hour until crisp and golden.
8. Meanwhile, heat the ingredients for the sugar syrup until it is of a one string consistency (this is called the ‘soft ball’ stage on a sugar thermometer). Set aside.
9. Remove the baklava from the oven. By now it should be super crisp and smelling divine. Carefully pour over the sugar syrup and allow it to stand and absorb for at least 8 hours. I left mine for 24 hours and it was just perfect.
Tip: For super chewy baklava, return the baking tray to the warm (but turned off) oven as the sugar syrup is absorbing and leave it for 8+ hours, or up to 24 hours.
Store in an airtight container in a very cool place for up to three days. Not that it will last that long.
Serve with espresso for breakfast.