Sticky, Chewy, Goodness

One of the first cookbooks that I ever purchased was a delicious instruction manual on so many warm, gooey, yummy dessert items. To this day, it is still one of my favorite cookbooks and I will always treasure the recipes inside. This book is Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey. I think the first thing that I made from the book was the "All Grown Up S'more". There were two reasons I picked this particular one. First, because I ADORE s'mores, and second, it had a picture, the most tempting picture in fact. And that is when I fell in love. This had a thick, crisp graham cracker crust, a milk chocolate center, and a meringue top that was toasted in the broiler. The reason it was called All Grown Up though, was because it had liquor in it. I, being under 21 was not able to buy that, or drink it for that matter, so I just decided to omit it from the recipe. It turned out great, and I loved every bit of the s'morey goodness. After that, I tackled a few more recipes, including the Mascarpone Cheesecake Pots, which I could have done without, the Everything But the Kitchen Sink Cookies, and the New York Cheesecake Milkshake. Then I made what I believe is one of the most delicious desserts ever created, baklava. This was a long time ago, but before I made it this time around, just thinking about it made my mouth water and I could actually taste it. So I decided to make it again, this time to share with you.

Baklava is no easy task. It takes a bit of prep work and a serious sweet tooth. The nuts have to be finely chopped before hand, the puff pastry thawed, and the butter melted. Even though it probably took me close to an hour to make, and then baking time on top of that, it was well worth it. The entire pan was gone in less than a week. I found the puff pastry a little hard to work with at first, and I kept tearing it and flinging butter everywhere, but after the first layer, I got the hang of it, and it was pretty simple after that. The one thing to remember though is to always keep the puff pastry covered. I bought 2 pounds, but only needed 1.5 boxes, and I left them in the individual wrappings until I needed them. Once I unwrapped one package, I laid it on plastic wrap, covered it with a damp paper towel, and worked fast. Layer eight sheets of puff pastry together with butter in between all of them. Then one cup of nuts. This is pretty repetitive, and can get very boring. But I'll say it again, it is well worth it in the end.

Also, I didn't get a lot of "in process" pictures this time around because of the puff pastry. I didn't want to stop what I was doing, wash the butter off my hands, and risk drying it out just to snap a photo, so I decided that the before and after baking shots were enough. Well, enough of me rambling now, onto the recipe. Enjoy! 

Deep Dish Baklava---recipe by Jill O'Conner

For the Pastry:
3 cups finely chopped walnuts
2 cups finely chopped almonds
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
About 2 pounds of phyllo dough--I only used 1.5
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, melted

For The Syrup:
2 cups sugar
2 cups mild honey
2 cups water
one 6-inch strip lemon peel
1vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
1 cinnamon stick

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch metal baking pan with melted butter

2. In a small bowl, stir together the walnuts, almonds, sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves.  Set aside.

3. On a clean work surface, lay 1 sheet of phyllo and brush it with melted butter.  Layer 7 more sheets of phyllo over the first, buttering each one.  Carefully lay this stack of buttered phyllo sheets in the prepared pan.  Sprinkle evenly with 1 cup of the nut mixture.  Layer 8 more sheets of phyllo, buttering each sheet, and lay this stack over the first layer of nuts.  Sprinkle the second stack of phyllo sheets with another 1 cup of the nut mixture.

4. Repeat this process until there are 5 stacks of buttered phyllo (8 sheets in each stack) separated by and ending with 1 cup of nut mixture (1 cup for each of the 5 layers).

5. Prepare the top of the pastry by layering together 35 sheets of phyllo dough, buttering each sheet.  Carefully place this stack of layered phyllo over the last layer of nuts in the pan.  The pan should be completely full of pastry.

6. With a sharp knife, score the baklava into square of diamond-shaped pieces by cutting through just the top layers of phyllo dough.

7. Bake until crisp throughout and the top layers are golden brown, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

8. While the baklava is baking, make the honey syrup.  Combine all the syrup ingredients in a large stockpot and bring the syrup to a boil over medium-high heat.  Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the mixture is the consistency of thick maple syrup,about 10 minutes.  Remover syrup from the heat and let cool slightly.

9. As soon as the baklava comes out of the oven, spoon the slightly warm syrup over the pastry.  Let the baklava cool completely before cutting all the way through the scored pieces.  Don't be nervous if the baklava seems to be swimming in the syrup initially.  As the pastry cools, the syrup in absorbed into the layers.  It is very important to allow the baklava to cool completely - this gives the syrup plenty of time to ease into the pastry layers and give the baklava its wonderful gooey-crisp texture.  Baklava will keep uncovered for 2 days at room temperature or 4 days refrigerated.

Until next time,

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