It started with an urgent recipe book search, followed by a Whatsapp message to my mom,
“Hey, I’m making baklava and was thinking about yiayia’s recipe book. Did you give me a copy?”
My Yiayia Christina was a legendary cook. It’s a family fact that Yiayia and Thea Toula (her younger sister) were a culinary force. They created delicious Greek food feasts for our families, fed generations and instilled life lessons like great food is made with love (and a whole lot of butter or olive oil). Their culinary contributions are found in the 1956 recipe book, Hellenic Cuisine, created in Detroit, MI. You can read more about the history here.
This collection of Greek culinary tradition displays the way women of St. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Detroit raised funds to make change in their community.
The culinary memory of my Yiayia and Thea live on when I recreate a recipe inspired by them. Making baklava this past weekend was one of those moments.
It transported me back to the kitchen counters of my childhood, painting melted butter on phyllo sheets and chewing on raw phyllo dough when my mom wasn’t looking. I always loved the way each baklava diamond was adorned with a clove and that eating baklava for breakfast was totally acceptable. 🙂
The honey drenched crunch of baked baklava even featured at our wedding. My mother-in-law had a baklava tasting party to make sure the best one was shared with our family and friends.
To recreate baklava in South Africa meant we adapted a recipe to the ingredients we had available.
We substituted walnuts with ground up cashew, almond, brazil nut and pumpkin seeds. Raisins and cranberries were chopped in the food processor because we were lazy to pick them all out of the trail nut mix. Instead of using any sugar, we decided to use a honey and farm butter mixture to paint on the phyllo layers.
We even added organic rose water to the mixture from our friend’s at Kuhestan Farm. I couldn’t resist dipping uncooked phyllo strips in the honey, butter, rose water mixture while lining the pans with all the ingredients.
In addition to the baklava layers in a pan, I rolled some into baklava cigars for variation of shapes.
In the throws of making the sweet layered masterpiece, my mom sent an adapted recipe from the Hellenic Cuisine cook book that my dad claims, “Jackie Kennedy had a copy.”
In sharing this recipe with you, I hope you get a chance to make baklava and evolve it to your heart’s desire.
Experimenting with tradition creates new memories.
By popular demand, here is the baklava recipe:
This is the family’s secret recipe but what the heck, if you don’t share good things what else can we share…..
5 cups of walnuts, pecans, pistachio or a combination of two or more
( your choice of what you like best, I like walnuts and pistachio)
3/4 cups of sugar
2 T Cinnamon
1 T Allspice
2 Phyllo Sheets
1 Lb. sweet butter (yes, 4 sticks – do not cheat on this, otherwise the
ghosts of the past yiayia’s will haunt you)
Blend first 5 ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
Spray oil or brush butter a large 15 by 25 inch pan
Apply a sheet of phyllo and butter
Butter 6 more sheets of phyllo and then begin to sprinkle nut mixture between every 2 layers of phyllo until all nut mixture is finished.
Keep 5 to 6 pieces of phyllo for top layer
Cut excess phyllo from edge (leaving 1/2 inch) and fold outside edge under and slice whole Baklava into individual pieces (first rows lengthwise and then diagonally across rows). Apply 1 clove onto center of each piece. It looks NICE that way. Plus it adds some flavor.
Bake in 325 degree oven for about 1 hour.
Make syrup while Baklava bakes.
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
Bring to boil and simmer for 5 minutes
1/4 to 1/2 cup honey And water (after you make it couple of times, you will know which strength of sweetness you would prefer)
Simmer for 5 more minutes
1 T. Vanilla
1 T. Lemon Juice, 1t of rind
Simmer for 2 minutes
When Baklava is removed from oven immediately spread the piping hot syrup ( it should sizzle)
Allow to cool and store covered in cool place for up to 1 week.
This is the dessert you want to share, or invite your friends for a sweet party.
When I was young and energetic, I used to make 5 pans of Baklava and have a Christmas cookie exchange. This dessert was the favorite and the fastest to go.
Carry on the tradition, but don’t wait for Christmas. It is good anytime. Great with Greek/Turkish coffee too.
Enjoy in Good Health and Good Spirits!