Thursday, April 9, 2015

Maple Syrup Baklava - Let the Springing begin!

For some reason, when I hear George Harrison's tune "Here Comes the Sun" I am reminded of maple syrup season in the Ottawa Valley. The early morning sun is creeping over the horizon, zigzagging its way through a hilly grove of maple trees standing in a bed of melting snow. A hollow pinging sound echoes throughout the forest as maple sap drips from tree trunks into large aluminum pails.  Alas, winter is over and it's maple syrup season. Time for a batch of my East-meets-West Maple Baklava!

I developed this recipe a few years ago when I happily discovered that I had an abundance of maple syrup AND a lot of phyllo pastry on hand. I also discovered that phyllo is kind of impatient, just like me. It demands that you work quickly and efficiently to prevent the pastry sheets from drying out. I suggest you pretend you are a dentist or surgeon and prepare all of your tools and ingredients in advance so they are ready to go for the final pastry assembly. In addition, keep the phyllo sheets that are to be worked, covered with a damp tea towel or plastic bag to prevent the pastry sheets from drying out and tearing. Until next time.....happy baking! And remember, phyllo doesn't bite. Honest!

NOTE: See more of my phyllo pastry tips below the Maple Baklava recipe.

Maple Baklava
(Note: have everything ready before you start)
1 1/2 cups pistachios or walnuts, finely chopped
1/4 c sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
1 pkg phyllo dough (in pastry section of frozen foods) thawed
1 c melted butter

2 1/4 c pure maple syrup, heated
¼ cup water
1 ½ tsp lemon juice
1 ½ tsp lemon or orange rind grated
2 tbsp chopped nuts

Combine nuts, sugar, and spices. Brush a 9x13" baking pan with butter. Lay thawed pastry on table or large, work surface. Cover sheets to be worked with a plastic bag and damp towel until you’re ready to use them. Cut all sheets from the pkg in half width wise. Set aside 10 to work with and cover remaining pastry. Brush a sheet of pastry with butter and then layer in pan, do this with 10 sheets. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the nut mixture. Butter and layer 7 more sheets in pan, top with 1/3 nut mixture. Butter and layer 7 more sheets and rest of nuts. Top with 16 more buttered phyllo sheets and brush with remaining butter.
Important: With a very sharp, serrated knife, score and cut through the layers of pastry into 1 1/2" squares. (It will crumble to pieces if you cut it after it’s baked.) Bake at 350F for 15 min, then 325F for another 30-35 min, or until a rich golden brown. (Keep an eye on the edges for burning.) During the last 20 minutes of baking, in a saucepan mix together syrup, water, lemon and rind. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat and let simmer for 10-15 min, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. When baklava is done, immediately pour the very warm syrup mixture evenly overtop. Sprinkle 2 tbsp chopped nuts overtop. Cool in the pan for at least 4 hours and enjoy!

Phyllo tips:

  • Buy frozen phyllo dough in long rectangular boxes in the frozen food aisle at the grocery store. One 1 lb/500 g box contains 18-20 sheets pastry sheets. Folding and cutting instructions are in the box.
  • Thaw frozen dough in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Read the entire phyllo recipe before you begin.
  • Practice folding or rolling instructions with a cloth napkin, first.
  • Work fast with this pastry because it dries out quickly. Pretend you’re a surgeon: have fillings, tools and work surfaces prepared before you unwrap the pastry from the package.
  • DO NOT let phyllo sheets to be worked, dry out or get wet. Keep them well covered with a large sheet of plastic wrap and a very slightly dampened tea towel on top. (Large clear plastic lawn bags are great for this purpose!)
  • Unroll the sheets from the package. Very gently pull sheets apart. Using a soft pastry or paint brush, quickly brush each entire sheet, right out to all edges, with melted butter or oil.
  • Always cut pastry with a sharp serrated knife before baking. It will flake and crumble if you cut it after baking.