Last weekend my husband and I spent the Saturday afternoon in Kingston. He needed to visit a triathlon store there to get some kit for his first triathlon competition in a few weeks time. I was looking for an outfit for a wedding. After a successful afternoon shopping we made our way to a Turkish restaurant where I had made a reservation for dinner. It was a great evening and the food was superb and very good value. We opted for the mezze set menu which was £19.50 each and included a starter, main and dessert. The starter was a variety of dips with some fresh homemade bread and also mini lamb kofte's and lambs liver. For main we then had a selection of chargrilled meats and kebabs with rice and salad. The chargrilled taste on the meat was really delicious and there was a really good selection of meat and lots of it. We had an assortment of Turkish desserts. They were thankfully quite small portions to share as I was still full from the main course!
One of the desserts was Baklava. This is layers of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts (usually walnuts or pistachios) and sweetened with syrup or honey. I have always wanted to make it myself at home but thought it was quite hard to do. However this week I found a recipe in one of my River Cottage cookbooks (Hugh Fearnleys Three Good Things) and decided to have a go. It is a lot easier than I had thought, especially as you use ready made filo pastry. I like Feulles de Filo which is a French brand. It comes in a pack of 12 thin layers. The important thing to remember with filo pastry is that it dries out very quickly so while you are preparing the dish you should keep it covered with foil or a damp tea towel. Hughs' recipe uses walnuts, lemon zest and sugar for the filling. Walnuts are an excellent source of healthy fats. They are high in monounsaturated fats and essential omega 3. Just 25g of walnuts a day provides 90% of your daily intake of these essential fats. They are also an excellent source of Vitamin E, B, and Iron. The recipe uses 90g of butter which you use to brush the filo pastry with before layering them in the dish. As butter is quite high in saturated fat I was intrigued to see whether I would be able to use a little less butter but without compromising on the taste. I decided to melt only 45g of butter and see how far this would spread over the layers of pastry. In the end I found that I actually only used 25g of butter. While the pastry is cooking you make a syrup using sugar, honey and lemon juice. This is then poured over the cooked pastry. You then need to leave it to cool and for the syrup to completely soak into the pastry. Hugh recommends 8 hours. So if you are making this for a dinner party you would need to bear this in mind.
The finished dessert was delicious and it didn't seem to affect the taste or flavour using only a quarter of the butter from the original recipe. Baklava freezes well. Cut into slices and wrap in baking parchment and foil. It needs only a short time to defrost before serving (30 minutes is more than enough) and I found it can even be served straight from the freezer. It is nice served with Greek yogurt or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Makes 9-12 slices
25g of castor sugar
Finely grated zest of a lemon
25g of butter melted
125g of ready made filo pastry
For the honey syrup
75g of honey
75g of castor sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
Preheat the oven to 160C/Gas Mark 3
Put the walnuts, sugar and lemon zest in small blender and pulse a few times until the nuts are fairly finely chopped
Brush a little of the butter over the base of a dish or baking tin. I used a pyrex dish that was 18 cm square but Hugh says to use a baking tin about 15cm by 10cm. Obviously that meant that mine was slightly shallower and needed less cooking time but it still worked fine. So you can choose one or the other depending on what you have available
Lay half the filo sheets in the pan, brushing each layer with butter and folding them over and tucking them so that each layer fits neatly
Spread the walnut filling over it
Layer the remaining pastry over it, spreading with butter as before
Cut the last couple of layers of pastry so that they fit neatly on top
Brush with a layer of butter
Use a sharp knife to cut through the first 2 layers of pastry into squares, triangles or diamonds. I cut mine into 9 squares. Bake for 20-40 minutes until crispy and golden
Meanwhile make the syrup. Put the honey and sugar in a small pan
Put the lemon juice in a jug and make up to 150ml with water
Strain through a sieve into the pan
Bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil for 5-10 minutes until the syrup is reduced and thickened
When the pastry is cooked, remove it from the oven and pour the hot syrup evenly over it
Leave in the tin for 8 hours for the syrup to soak and settle
Cut into slices using a serrated knife
Serve with greek yogurt or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.......Delightful.