My mother’s birthday came as the ideal opportunity to test my cooking on the food perfectionist of the family. My mum is a very good cook: precise and talented at difficult feats in the kitchen. It was therefore time to impress.
For Sunday lunch, I made a three-course meal consisting of Crushed Petit Pois & Ricotta Bruschetta, Cider Glazed Salmon, and Baklava with Vanilla Ice-Cream for dessert. It was a leisurely lunch eaten outside, a relaxing birthday celebration.
I had never made baklava before but its stickiness and sweetness has always appealed to me. I settled for a Claudia Roden recipe from my Mum’s cookbook collection. I halved the ingredients as 30 pieces of baklava would have been an indulgence too far!
Adapted from Tamarind and Saffron: Favourite Recipes from the Middle East by Claudia Roden
Makes about 15 pieces
250g filo pastry (about 12 fine sheets)
90g unsalted butter, melted
250g pistachio nuts or walnuts, medium to finely ground
For the syrup:
½ tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp orange-blossom water
Prepare the syrup first. Put the sugar, water and lemon juice in a pan and simmer for 5-10 minutes until the syrup thickens just enough to coat a spoon. Stir in the orange-blossom water and simmer for a few seconds more. Allow to cool, then chill in the refrigerator.
Brush a large square baking tin, a little smaller than the sheets of filo, with melted butter. Lay half the sheets one at a time, one on top of the other, in the tin, brushing each with melted butter, pressing it into the corners and letting the edges come up the sides of the tray or overhang.
Spread the nuts evenly over the sheets. Then cover with the remaining sheets, brushing each, including the top one, with melted butter. With a sharp-pointed knife, cut parallel lines 4-5cm apart, then cut other parallel lines diagonally so as to have diamond-shaped pastries. Cut right through to the bottom.
Bake the baklava in a preheated oven at 180C for 30-35 minutes hour, or until it is puffed up and golden. Remove from the oven and pour the cold syrup all over the top of the hot pastry, especially along the slashed lines.
When cold and ready to serve, cut the pieces of pastry out again and lift them out one by one on to a serving dish, or turn the whole pastry out (by turning it upside down on to a large sheet and then turning it over again on the serving dish) and cut out again along the original lines.
As the pastry at the base of the baklava was saturated with syrup, it was quite flat. To serve, I therefore put together two pieces base to base creating a (large) sweet, sticky and nutty dessert!