The summer before last, I went to visit some friends in the South-West Peloponnese, a beautiful corner of Greece unspoilt by hoards of tourists. Greek food, whilst being delicious, is rather same-y. I lost count of the variations of chargrilled aubergine dip, tzatziki and moussaka we tried. They were all slightly different, some being much more palatable than others, partly due to how much garlic each chef thought was acceptable.
The dessert of choice, not being presented with many other options, was baklava, a Greek and Turkish concoction made by drenching filo pastry and nuts in an insanely sweet syrup. I became mildly addicted to it, and many balmy evenings were spent hunting down the best. It took me the entirety of the week-long holiday to pronounce ‘baklava’ correctly. The emphasis is on the final syllable ‘va’, rather than the more natural Anglicised stress on the middle ‘k’, so it is said ‘baklava’.
Pronunciation aside, here’s my take on baklava. Some of the best baklava we tried I think used honey in the syrup, rather than acres of sugar, so I’ve tried that here. I chose a mixture of pistachios, almonds and walnuts, but any nuts can be used. It is ridiculously sweet, so you only need small pieces.
Makes about 12 squares
You will need a brownie tin or small roasting tin, measuring about 30 X 30cm.
1 packet filo pastry (around 250g)
60g shelled pistachios
40g whole almonds
50g butter, melted
For the syrup:
2 tbsp runny, clear honey
2 tbsp sugar
Preheat the oven to 180C. Roughly chop all the nuts into small pieces. Cut the layers of pastry to the same size as the base of your tin. Place one layer of pastry in the bottom of the tin and spread with melted butter, then repeat with two more layers of pastry, buttering in between. Then add a layer of chopped nuts, followed by three more layers of pastry. Repeat until you have used up all the nuts (you should get about 4 layers of nuts). Finish with 3 pastry layers on top, and brush the top with melted butter. Cut the baklava into diamond shapes before it goes in the oven: cut diagonally from one corner to the other, then again the other way, then repeat the diagonal cuts until you have diamond shapes. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the top is golden brown and crisp.
While the baklava is in the oven, make the syrup. Put the butter, honey and sugar in a pan, along with 1 tbsp water. Simmer over a medium heat for a couple of minutes until thick and syrupy. When the baklava comes out of the oven, pour the syrup over while it is still warm. Leave to cool for about 30 minutes, to help them firm up and hold together.