Earlier this year I left my first job out of grad school. My profession initially appealed to me as a result of its many subspecialties, and I loved knowing I could change from working in pediatric genetics to adult cancer genetics any time I chose, providing there was a job opening, of course. Leaving my previous position was a long and grueling process, and although I love my new job, (did I mention I work normal hours and still get my clinic notes finished?) I have to be honest – I think about those people every day and miss them immensely. Most of them.
You know what else I’ll miss? That honkin’ box that arrived in our suite every Christmas from Harry and David. Sure, the box had great pears and chocolate-covered blueberries, but it also had one of the sweetest of all sweets. Baklava. Had I not shared an office in a tiny pediatric clinic, I swear I would have squirreled away the entire lot. And maybe some of those blueberries too.
I won’t lie. When I saw a recipe for baklava in a recent Food & Wine magazine, I immediately took a little stroll down memory lane and thought of that lovely box. I thought of all the ways I adored baklava and its’ crunchy, rich, chewy and almost-too-sweet-for-even-a-sweet-tooth-like-me self. I could almost taste it and couldn’t wait until December. Until I realized that part of leaving that job included leaving baklava. That made me very sad.
Then I got a bit frightened. And by his point I was sweating and shaking just thinking about the stuff. I looked like Jason Patric in Rush. I was also a little frantic just thinking about making this delicacy, but I knew at this point there was no turning back. I’d already crossed the line and geez Louise that’s a line you can’t back-cross. Not when baklava is right around the corner. And so I set up my baklava-making station and to work I went.
It’s not that I’m terrified of phyllo dough. I’d used it a few times. In fact, one of Chris’ favorite dishes is a Morroccan pie made with a phyllo crust. It’s just that my memory of baklava was held in such high esteem and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to satisfy that pedestaled taste.
But by golly. Need I say more? I mean, just look at it.
Adapted from Food & Wine, July 2009; makes 24 pieces
As if baklava weren’t good enough the classical way, this recipe has chocolate in it. Eeep!! And rather than the traditional (just ask my buddy J Simps) pistachio filling, this uses hazelnuts. I’m willing to bet you could substitute any nutty combo although I’ve thought long and hard and just can’t think of a better choice. But maybe hazelnuts aren’t your bag.
ps: baklava freezes like a dream. Just wrap it up and stow it away. I took some out over Labor Day weekend and it was good as new.
1 lb hazelnuts
12 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 2/3 cups sugar
2 T cinnamon, divided
1 lb phyllo dough, thawed and ready to use
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups honey
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread nuts on baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes, until skins are blistered; let cool for a few. Transfer to kitchen towel and rub off the skins, then transfer to food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Note: the de-skinning might take a while, so sit down for it 😉
2. Add chocolate, 2/3 c of sugar, and 1 1/2 T cinnamon to processor and pulse until finely chopped and of equal consistency.
3. Unwrap phyllo and cover with sheet of plastic wrap. Generously butter a 9×13 metal baking pan. Butter and stack 8 sheets of phyllo. Note: it’s ok if some break during this. You’ll use most of the sheets but if some are just horrendously broken, discard it. You have to move fast with the phyllo and keep it covered when you aren’t using it. Trim the edges of the phyllo so they don’t stick together (just a tad). Ease stack into the pan (there will be overlap). Sprinkle about 2 cups of filling over phyllo. Butter and stack 2 more sheets; fold them in half cross-wise and place over filling (should fit perfectly into pan). Sprinkle another 2 cups of filling. Butter and stack 2 more and repeat with folding and filling. Butter and stack 3 sheets and fold crosswise over filling. Fold in overhang from bottom layer and brush generously with butter. Cut into 12 squares, then cut each in half to make 24 triangles.
4. Bake baklava 25 minutes, then lower temp to 300 F and bake for 50 more. Will be golden.
5. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, bring water, honey, sugar and 1/2 T cinnamon to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat for ~10 minutes. Immediately ladle hot syrup over hot baklava (right when it comes out of the oven) and let stand until completely cool, at least 4 hours but preferably overnight. It does not need to be refrigerated.