I’m happy to welcome author Megan E. O’Keefe! Her debut novel Steal the Sky is out from Angry Robot on January 5th. It features airships and con men and a gorgeous cover. She’s here today to share a delicious-looking recipe for baklava.
When I was first considering what to bake for Bready or Not I knew that, due to the time of year, I wanted to do a holiday bake. Something the people of the Scorched Continent would make for a winter celebration. My first thoughts were fruitcake-esque, as dried fruit is pretty much the only way people on the Scorched eat fruit, but that didn’t quite work.
You see, the Scorched Continent, as its name implies, is an arid climate. It’d be okay for growing wheat, if it weren’t for the fact the whole continent suffers a really nasty monsoon season once a year. Great for replenishing aquifers, not so great for growing wheat.
Which isn’t to say they don’t get wheat. They do – they just have to import it from their mother empire. So by the time mid-winter rolls around, wheat is looking pretty scarce. Which means no cake, unless you’re stupidly rich. There are some people on the Scorched who could afford such a luxury, but I wanted to capture a snack that the everyday populace might stand a chance of getting their hands on.
The Scorched is also home to a species of wild, oversized bee which builds massive hives. This means that honey and beeswax are both plentiful, and cheap. Another common foodstuff on the continent is a wide variety of nuts, as they preserve well and are full of protein. And what better way to make use of scarce wheat than to roll it into a very, very thin sheets?
I’d never made baklava before, but I figured hey, if I’m assuming my characters can do it, so can I! Of course my characters can also move magical gas around and take one hell of a beating, but that’s beside the point.
1 cup caster sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla
1 package phyllo dough (16oz) defrosted
1 cup butter
1 lbs chopped nuts
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
The real secret to baklava is that, to keep it crispy, you either have to combine cold baklava with hot syrup, or cold syrup with hot baklava. Hint: it’s much easier to do it the second way. So, before you even preheat that oven, combine 1 cup caster sugar, 1 cup water, and boil until all the sugar is melted.
Is the sugar melted? Coolio. Throw in 1/2 cup honey and a tsp vanilla. Well, don’t actually throw it, because boiling sugar water splash back is enough to peel skin. Pour it gently. If you’re having trouble getting all of the honey out of your 1/2 cup scoop, and if your scoop is metal, just scoop up some of the hot sugar water and swish it around until the scoop is clean. Don’t do this with plastic. If I have to tell you why, you probably shouldn’t be reading this. Mix until everything is combined, lower your heat and simmer it for 20-25 minutes until it’s begun to slightly thicken, then set aside to cool.
Get yourself a wee tiny saucepan, and chunk about a cup of butter into it, then set it on the very lowest setting to melt.While you’re simmering and melting, best prepare your nuts. You can use any kind of nuts you’d like for baklava, though the traditional varieties are walnuts, pistachio, and pecans. I used all walnuts. I’m a vegetarian and, because of that, fish are friends, not food, so I have to get those omega-3’s somehow. You can buy your nuts pre-chopped, or you can use chopping them as an excuse to eat some like I do. Either way, mix up 1 pound chopped nuts with 1 1/2 tsps cinnamon and set aside. Have you preheated your oven to 325F yet? Probably not, since I haven’t told you to. Do that now, and while you’re at it get to buttering a 9×13” pan – use some of that butter you’ve got melted.
Now it’s time for the part everyone hates: the phyllo. Depending upon who made your phyllo (and I’m going to guess it wasn’t you, because only a masochist would make that stuff themselves) you’ll either have one large roll or two smaller ones. If you have a large one, unroll it and chop it in half to fit your pan.
Now that you have phyllo that fits your pan, cover it with a layer of saran wrap or wax paper and then cover that with a SLIGHTLY damp paper towel. This helps keep the phyllo from drying out while you work – but do not get water directly on the dough. Then you’ll have mush. You do not want mush.
To create the base of your baklava: layer two sheets of phyllo (pick them up together, it’s easier than going one by one) in the bottom of your pan. Use a pastry brush to coat with melted butter. Add another two layers of dough – then butter – and another two layers – then butter. Repeat until you have a total of eight layers of pastry with butter in between every two layers. Good? Good. That wasn’t too painful, right?Now sprinkle some of your nut mixture on that, about 3 tablespoons. Cover with two more layers of phyllo, then brush with butter. Repeat the phyllo-butter-nuts routine until you have 8 sheets of phyllo left. Use those last 8 sheets to make the top, putting butter between every two layers just like you did to make the base. Brush the top with more butter, then cut your unbaked baklava into triangles with a very sharp knife while it’s still in the pan. Trust me, it’s way easier than trying to do it once it comes out of the oven.
Pop the baklava in the oven and your honey sauce in the fridge. Bake the baklava about 50 minutes, or until golden brown on top.Remove the baklava from the oven, and immediately spoon the honey sauce over the top. Let it cool, then pop it out of the pan to serve up in cupcake wrappers or something equally sticky proof. This stuff is good, but man is it sticky.
Toast your success, and vow to buy baklava from the store next time.