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I was first exposed to Greek food many years ago when my best friend, Laura, and her parents, the Brokamps, took me to the Panegyri Greek Festival in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Greeks have always known how to throw a party, and the festival is a barrage of fun activities: music, dancing, amusement rides, raffles, games, and, of course, food.
The succulent smell of lamb wafts through the air at Greek festivals, but it’s the sweet and sticky Greek pastries that really win me over. There’s usually a host of Greek moms and grandmas selling these honeyed, flaky treats, and I can’t leave the party without at least buying an assorted box of them. That first festival year, Laura and I even took a cooking class where we learned to make that much loved Greek treat: baklava.
There’s a real art to making baklava. The delicate, papery sheets (phyllo) that make the baklava so tender and flakey can easily dry out if you’re not careful. Preparation is half the battle here, so make sure and have everything ready before you put the phyllo dough out on the counter. Also, put the phyllo sheets on a piece of wax paper and cover with a damp towel to keep them from drying out in between use.
But what is baklava exactly? It’s layers of the aforementioned phyllo dough bathed in butter, sugar, and crushed nuts, and then baked. When it comes out of the oven, a spicy-sweet glaze gets poured over that oozes into the layers as the baklava cools. The result is the most amazingly moist, chewy and multifaceted little dessert triangle you’ve ever had. The homemade version blows every dry restaurant riff completely out of the water.
After our cooking class, Laura and I went home to conquer the baklava on our own, and I think the one we made turned out to be the best baklava I’ve ever had. We used a mixture of walnuts and pecans in our filling and dumped the glaze over the pastry instead of slowly drizzling it on as the instructions had called for. The result was a baklava revelation. This week I’m bringing you the more gourmet version of that baklava, one studded with beautiful green and purple pistachios and slathered in a orange-cardamom glaze. Only one thing’s for sure: It’ll make you want to yell, “OOPA!”
Pistachio Baklava with Orange-Cardamom Syrup
This gorgeous pastry balances crunch with chew, sweet with savory. This recipe is adapted from Molly Wizenburg, and originally appeared in the January 2010 issue of Bon Appetit. Baklava can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature. Makes about 30 pieces; 222 calories, 12.4 g fat, 1.7 g fiber per serving. For a print copy of this recipe, click here.
1¾ c. plus 8 tablespoons sugar, divided
1¼ c. fresh orange juice
1½ tsp. ground cardamom
12 oz. shelled pistachios, toasted (scant 3 cups)
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
30 14×9-in. sheets fresh phyllo pastry or frozen, thawed (from one 16-oz. package)
Powdered sugar (optional)
Make syrup. Simmer 1¾ cups sugar and orange juice in saucepan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Boil over medium heat until reduced to 1 ½ cups, about 8 minutes. Add cardamom. Cool syrup.
Prepare nut mixture. Place nuts and 2 tablespoons sugar in processor. Using on/off turns, process until most of nuts are finely ground (the largest pieces should be the size of small peas). Mix nuts, 6 tablespoons sugar, and cinnamon in medium bowl.
Layer baklava. Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish with some of melted butter. Place 1 phyllo sheet on bottom of dish. Brush lightly with melted butter. Repeat 9 more times with phyllo and melted butter. Sprinkle half of pistachio mixture (about 1 1/2 cups) evenly over phyllo. Place 1 phyllo sheet over nuts; brush lightly with butter. Repeat 9 more times with phyllo sheets and melted butter. Sprinkle remaining pistachio mixture evenly over. Place 1 phyllo sheet atop nuts; brush with butter. Repeat 9 more times with phyllo sheets and melted butter.
Using sharp knife, cut diagonally through top phyllo layer from top left corner to bottom right corner. Cut top layer of phyllo into 1-inch-wide rows parallel to both sides of first cut. Turn pan and cut rows about 2¼ inches wide, forming diamond pattern.
Bake, cut, and serve. Bake baklava until golden brown and crisp, 40 to 50 minutes. Drizzle syrup evenly over hot baklava. Cool in pan on rack. Re-cut baklava along lines all the way through layers. Sift powdered sugar over, if desired.