January 13, 2015
I had once seen a movie that featured people of Greek descent. (Guess which movie it was.) It got me thinking about Greek food and a conversation I had a couple of years ago with a fellow pastry chef about phyllo dough. My colleague was of the opinion that phyllo is passé, an opinion that I do not share. Now, food trends come and go, but when a dish is truly delicious it endures. People come up with variations, but the basic components of a classic dish are still the same.
Baklava is one of those dishes. The basic recipe has been around for centuries — layers of crisp buttery phyllo dough and honey-sweetened nuts. This is my Texas version. It satisfies my yen for sweet, a bit of crunch, and a spicy kick.
- 1 lb. phyllo pastry
- 1 lb. chopped pecans
- 3 tablespoons cinnamon, divided
- pinch of ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 New Mexico Hatch chiles, roasted, skinned, de-seeded and chopped
- ¾ lb. butter (3 sticks)
- 1 cup honey
- Juice from 1 lemon
- 1 package fresh blueberries or 1 cup frozen blueberries, thawed
Mix the pecans, 2 tablespoons of the cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, brown sugar and the chiles. Divide into thirds and set aside. Divide the blueberries into thirds and set aside.
In a saucepan, melt together the butter, honey, lemon juice and 1 tablespoon cinnamon.
If you bought frozen phyllo dough, let it thaw in your fridge overnight.
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Set up your work area with all ingredients, keeping the area dry. Butter a 9x9x2 or larger casserole dish. Begin layering the phyllo dough in the dish. With a pastry brush, brush on enough of the butter mixture to coat but not saturate each sheet of phyllo dough. After 4 layers of dough and butter, sprinkle one-third of the nut mixture in an even layer. Sprinkle one-third of the blueberries evenly the nut layer. You can alternate this (four sheets phyllo dough with butter between each sheet, then another layer of nuts and another layer of blueberries) two more times, finishing with a top layer of buttered phyllo sheets. Cut diamond shapes into the top layer. Do not cut all the way through. The scoring just makes it easier to cut.
Bake at 350°F. After about 50 minutes, check the Baklava. It needs to be nice and brown, which can take up to an hour. When it is nicely browned, remove it from the oven and pour the rest of the butter honey mixture on top. Let it cool at least an hour before serving.
Now, I know what you are thinking — chiles in a dessert? Don’t worry. Hatch chiles are mild but very flavorful. You’re not going to burn your mouth. I may love spicy food, but even I don’t like it too hot. If extreme heat is your cup of tea, however, you can add Tabasco sauce to the honey mixture. Just don’t get carried away. Baklava is a delicious dessert, and the chiles are meant to complement the sweetness – not overpower it. I add the blueberries for a nice contrasting flavor, you can add other berries or chopped fruits like pears or peaches. The pecans, I just prefer them to walnuts.