Baklava, in an Italian Recipe Box?
When my grandparents moved from Italy to American in 1896 to about 1912, they anticipated the beginnings of a better life. Living in the same areas of communities with others of their nationality seemed to give them comfort that their world would continue somewhat like the old country. In their country they came from small villages where everyone was the same nationality, religion, spoke same language, and their lives were clones of each other’s. Kids married into neighbors or friends families and arranged marriages were common in those days. The only difference was that the burden of support shifted and a new member provided another helping hand in support of the family.
In their new country they weren’t the only nationality in the community and their children had some ideas of their own. Suddenly children were bringing home friends of different nationalities and religions. Marriages sometimes broke a family up rather then bring them together. It was one thing for a child to marry a person of another nationality, but to marry outside of the religion caused, at times, irreparable breaks in relationships.
Italian food wasn’t the only food on the on the table any more. This brought new insights into other nationalities cuisine, and we didn’t need any encouragement to embrace especially the desserts. One of my uncles married into a Swedish family and an aunt into a Greek family. The results were sweet indeed as our culinary world opened up to some wonderful new foods.
My aunt learned to prepare a number of Greek specialties that we all were happy to add to our already large Italian recipe box. One in particular is Baklava. My aunt’s recipe isn’t overly sweet and for large group parties it is a winner.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour @ 350ºF
Yield: 32 pieces
1 1/2 pound package phylo dough
1 1/2 pounds butter, melted
1 1/2 lbs. walnuts, chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup superfine sugar
6 cups water
2 cups sugar
1/2 orange or lemon, zest only
1 cup honey
Combine the nuts, sugar, and cinnamon and set aside.
Brush the bottom of a 13” x 9” pan with melted butter. Take half of the phylo dough one layer at a time brushing each layer with melted butter. Spread the walnut mixture all over the top. Using the remaining phylo dough, follow the same process of buttering each layer until the complete package is used.
Before baking, cut through the layers to form triangles. Cut from corner to corner. This is done at this point because it will be very fragile after it has been baked. Cover the top with wax or parchment paper. Bake @ 350º F for 30 minutes and reduce the oven to 300ºF. Remove the paper and bake for 30 minutes more or until it is golden brown. Remove the baklava from the oven and finish cutting through the layers.
Five minutes before the baklava is done baking, prepare the syrup.
Cook water, sugar rind, and cinnamon over medium heat, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the honey and vanilla, and stir until well blended.
Pour the syrup over the hot baklava and allow it to completely cool. Let it sit for 24 hours, lightly covered, but not in the refrigerator.