COOKING ADVENTURE # 32: Baklava
I made this purely for you guys, just so you understand. Because of my ulcer, I can’t partake in this fine Turkish culinary beauty, though I desperately wish I could. As you all know, I was unable to make this dish last week because of that gastrointestinal disaster. I’ve been subsisting on a diet of rice, rice products, crackers, canned fruit, and very, very weak coffee. It’s getting old pretty fast. I’ve been craving flavor like you wouldn’t believe. So imagine my jaw-dropping depression, when I realized that the dessert I was about to make before this happened, consisted of dough, sugar, and a life-time supply of butter? You don’t even know, my friends. You don’t even know.
I’ve been feeling pretty cruddy the last couple weeks. On top of that, I woke up today with some spontaneous shoulder pain and a random bout of plantar fasciitis in my right foot. Great, huh? And the cherry on top? Writer’s block. I have a short story that I’m supposed to be publishing in two days and I can’t even bring myself to look at it. Isn’t that pathetic? I spent the entire day staring at it (and other projects) with a squinted eye and a clouded brain. I was able to get a chapter down on my thromance… but that was it. It also didn’t occur to me until about two hours ago that, “Oh yeah, I was supposed to do my cooking adventure today!”
I jumped up off the couch and raced to my cook books. I plucked “The Joy of Cooking” from the shelf and flipped to the index to search for the Baklava recipe I’d seen in my Mom’s version. Except it wasn’t there. Wanna know why? Because my copy is older, dated to 1953. Whoops. Luckily, I was able to find it online here.
The directions begin with having you make the syrup. This is where I would have started if I’d remembered to buy the necessary ingredients. I didn’t have a lemon, nor an orange slice (for that I’d need an orange… and I wouldn’t be able to eat the remainder of it once I was done using said orange slice), and nowhere in my spice arsenal was there a single cinnamon stick. So I’ll have to forgo making the syrup until tomorrow, when I’ve picked up the items.
Instead, I started with making the filling. I pulled the rabid Magic Bullet from the cupboard and plugged it in. From my little basket on my steel rack, I found a bag of sliced almonds and measured a cup into the plastic top. Screwing on the cap, I pressed it into the Magic Bullet. The sound could only be described as being on the same pitch as a dog whistle. It screamed in my ears as I waited for the almonds to be chopped to death. Finally, I was rewarded with course creamy colored crumbles, which I hastily dumped into a blue bowl nearby. Next, I added 2 1/4 tbsp. sugar in along with 1 1/4 tsp. cinnamon and 1/8 ground cloves. Of course, my cloves were “hand crumbled” because of my decision to buy whole cloves instead of ground cloves on an earlier cooking adventure.
I mixed the magical concoction until the kitchen smelled vaguely of the scents of fall. I put bowl aside and turned my attention to the most difficult part of the recipe: the phyllo dough. This stuff comes with about 15 sheets per roll in a box with two rolls. You are supposed to layer the first 15 sheets with butter in between each of them, then put the filling, and lastly top that with another 15 sheets (also layered with butter). Don’t look now, but THAT’S A LOT OF BUTTER! The recipe called for 4 1/2 sticks of it! I think my eyes bulged to two times the size of my head when I saw that.
I’d pulled the phyllo dough out of the freezer to thaw it before I opened the first package and unrolled it. I found my 11 x 9″ stoneware baking pan in the cabinet. I decided to take two sheets of phyllo dough as one layer instead of doing just one sheet. This made the process a bit quicker (and didn’t use as much butter!). I found a brush in the silverware drawer, then melted a stick of butter in a microwave safe bowl. I laid the first two sheets down in the pan and quickly discovered that it was just a hair too small. No matter. I let the extra dough go up the sides of the pan. This was a bad idea.
The further I got with the phyllo dough sheets, the more I began to realize that not only were the sheets tilting slightly away from me, they were also wrinkling up. The extra dough began to flip over into the butter and got in the way as I tried to brush. The phyllo dough also began to dry out and crack. I was finally able to make it through the first fifteen sheets. I grabbed my bowl of nutty sugar goodness, dumped onto the top most layer of phyllo dough and spread it around to even it out. Then, I moved to open the next roll of dough. I laid one layer on top and buttered it.
It was at this point that I received a text message from a friend which then turned into a phone call. Suffice to say, I needed a break from all of the butter and phyllo dough madness and I was feeling frustrated from the writer’s block. By the time I got back to the kitchen, I realized I’d been away a bit longer than I thought I would be. The buttered phyllo dough had hardened, the edges looking crispy. I tried to add another layer of butter on the one I’d placed over the filling. It crackled and fell apart. Growling, I smeared as much butter on as I could and resumed placing layers and buttering them. I used about 1 and 1/3 sticks of butter… which is pretty good, in my opinion.
Next, I had to cut it. There were specific cutting instructions. Any more specific and I’d need the title, “Pastry surgeon” to continue. They were supposed to be cut into diamond shapes. I made each diagonal line 1 1/4 inches long. I was also only supposed to cut through the top layer to the filling and no further. I’m pretty sure I did in a few places. I turned the oven up to 375 and put the baking pan in for 30 minutes. As I waited, I did the dishes and ate a piece of pound cake. My cat stared at it longingly from the floor. Apparently, it’s a forgotten delicacy for Lemon Jelly kitties.
When the timer was up, the directions then said to turn up the temperature to 475 for 10 or 15 minutes so that the top of the baklava could brown. I glanced at my baklava. It’s top was already brown. My oven runs kind of hot. I decided to turn up the temperature regardless though but only do it for 10 minutes.
I never smelled anything. When the timer was at about 2 minutes, I opened the oven door. A plume of smoke rose out. When the film cleared, I saw my wonderful baklava staring at me like a charred blanket from inside. Quickly, I turned off the oven. With two oven mits, I yanked the pan from the oven and set it on the stove top. Smoke wafted from the dish. Worried that it was going to set off the smoke alarm, I turned on the vent and opened the door. And then, I decided to take the pan outside onto the deck with me.
Oven mits can only handle so hot a temperature. I was barely out the door before I knew I needed to put the pan down lest I burn my hands. I placed it on the railing of the deck. We’d just had rain so everything was nice and damp. As the pan hissed on the railing, I let my hands recover. Then I picked up the pan again and moved it to a new spot on the railing. After about 30 seconds, I decided that it would be a bad idea to burn down the deck with my baking pan, so I went back inside and let it sit on the stove top where the vent could properly ventilate the smoke. I went back to the directions and re-read them. 10 minutes my butt… If it had been in there a whole 10 minutes extra (let alone 15!), I’d be looking at blackened ash, barely resembling the pastry quilt I’d created. At least I’d had sense to check it before the timer went off…
When I get my syrup made for them and have delivered them to persons who can eat them ( or are brave enough to try to), I’ll update this post with a reaction to the taste. That’ll probably be tomorrow.
On my next Cooking Adventure, I’ll be creating an impromptu lunch that one can eat on a bland diet (such as the one I’m on!) A Turkey Avocado sandwich with a Tapioca Pear Graham cracker dessert will be this Thursday. Stay tuned!