It’s official. Summer is definitely here. And although I am very grateful to be getting a second summer in a row I don’t think I was at all prepared for this. To me, a ‘hot’ day in summer is about 25°C (77F), so I was more than happy when it hit 28°C last week. The last three days have been 34°C (93F) and I actually feel as though my face is going to catch on fire, and that’s only a bit of an exaggeration.
Luckily, the beach is not too far from our place and it’s lovely. On a beach excursion yesterday I was able to cool off in my first swim in the Mediterranean and as I lay on the sand catching the last of the sun’s rays at 8pm I thought how nice it would be to be on a nice beach island in this perfect weather (surrounded by cool trendy locals [see above] as apposed to throngs of tourists).
Apparently fate is a bit of a fan of mine because whaddya know, the next day my friend in England told me that we are planning a high school reunion in September in Greece! So, I will be able to settle myself on a nice little island for a few days and do whatever you do on a Greek island with your best friends. Sing and dance along the hills like Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried? I think so.
In light of this little bit of destiny I decided to celebrate with a little cooking, obviously. Baklava is a tasty Greek treat originating from the Ottoman Empire and eaten basically everywhere around the Mediterranean. I have been in love with it ever since my Turkish uncle introduced me to it, it’s a combination of nuts with sweet pastry and syrupy sugar and is one of the easiest things to make. I made it for the first time last Christmas and I was a little bit anxious because every blog or recipe I looked at made it sound so complicated, they were lying big time!
You will need a packet of filo/phyllo pastry, about 450 grams of walnuts, a cup of butter, a teaspoon of cinnamon, a cup of water, a cup of white sugar, half a cup of honey and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. With this amount of butter and sugar it obviously goes in the ‘eat occasionally’ category!
First off, turn the oven on to 175°C, butter the bottom and sides of a decent sized tray and toast the walnuts in a frying pan with the cinnamon (DO NOT add oil or it will all turn into the world’s biggest disaster). You don’t want to burn them but you want to keep them in the pan until the have darkened, they should be crunchy the whole way through. If you have bought pre-toasted walnuts a guess just mix them with the cinnamon but that is less fun and will make you feel a lot less authentically Greek. Remember that when you’re at the grocery store.
Next you want to chop the nuts quite finely, or use a blender because it will take about 5 seconds instead of way too long.
In the buttered tray layer the pastry one sheet at a time with a layer of melted butter in between each sheet, be generous with the butter because the more butter the better it will taste! Add the chopped nuts when you have layered half the filo and then layer the rest, continuing to butter each sheet. Now cut diagonally from two of the corners, the slices should overlap to create diamond shapes, each cut should be about 4 inches apart making four rows.
Now it’s time to pop it in the oven for 50 minutes and start or the syrup.
Boil the sugar and water together until the sugar has dissolved and add the honey and vanilla. Bring down to a low heat and simmer for 20 minutes. To add another element, I added a teaspoon of chilli powder with the honey and vanilla to make it a bit spicy because I love dark chilli chocolate and I thought that this would work; it did! So feel free to borrow my secret ingredient.
When the baklava is finished baking, take it out of the oven and pour the sugar syrup along the lines you cut into it before baking, this way the pastry and the nuts will absorb the sugar and become sticky and moist and delicious. Unfortunately you have to leave it to absorb properly before you can eat it; probably the hardest part of the whole thing. Between 5 and 8 hours is what most recipes would recommend but if you have the self control to leave it overnight then that would be best.
This is what you should be left with in the end!
Just thinking about this makes me so excited to be sitting on the beach, in Greece with the largest plate of baklava ever. But in the mean time I guess I am just going to have to satisfy myself by enjoying it on my tiny balcony and spending my days looking at the beach and searching for Greek looking people.