Monday, June 27, 2011

June Daring Bakers' Challenge - Baklava

Every once in a while, when the Daring Bakers' Challenge is announced, I get the brief thrill of thinking "hey - I have made that before!" Which is usually followed by realizing that what I made was the short version. The easy version. Like when we made tiramisu. I'd layered up a tiramisu before, but the challenge had us making our own, well, every single component of a tiramisu. I had a similar experience this month, when the announcement came for this month's challenge.

Erica of Erica’s Edibles was our host for the Daring Baker’s June challenge. Erica challenged us to be truly DARING by making homemade phyllo dough and then to use that homemade dough to make Baklava.

At first reading, I though, cool! Baklava! It's delicious, and I've actually made it before. Then I read the part about homemade phyllo dough. In case you are not familiar with phyllo dough, it is a very, very, very thin, very, very, very delicate pastry. When I made baklava in the past, I'd purchased a frozen package of phyllo dough. The pastry sheets were so fragile, tore so easily, and dried out so quickly if not handled correctly that I pretty much figured that making them at home would be out of the question.

Until now.

And you know what? I was excited. Nervous, too, but mostly really excited.

Making the phyllo dough is a very straightforward process. Actually, making the dough itself is surprisingly easy. The only "surprise" ingredient (to me, at least, for a pastry dough...) was apple cider vinegar. But the process, especially employing the assistance of a trusty KitchenAid mixer, is very easy. Sift dry ingredients, add wet ingredients, knead, knead, knead and, voila! A beautiful, soft, smooth dough.

At this point, the dough was sprayed with oil, wrapped in plastic wrap and left to rest for a couple of hours. Which was good, because I used that time to hit the hardware store to buy the appropriate tool for rolling out the dough later. Yes, you read that right - the hardware store. For a kitchen tool.

You see, Erica had shared with us a description, photos and even a video demonstrating the best way to roll out super thin sheets of phyllo dough. And the best tool for the job is a wooden dowel. So off to Lowe's we went, and after a little sanding (and a lot of subsequent washing and drying), I had my new rolling pin, er, dowel.

In case you didn't watch the video, the process involves wrapping the dough around the dowel, vigorously rolling it back and forth, unrolling it, rotating it slightly and repeating. In the video, the lovely older woman makes this look amazingly simple. She barely pays attention to what she's doing, chats with her friends, and effortlessly turns out sheet upon sheet of beautifully rolled out dough.

That is not how the process went here. I tried, I really did. I wrapped. I rolled. It stuck to itself, making it impossible to unwrap. I added flour. It still stuck to itself. Try as I might, I am no old Macedonian woman. A video of me attempting this process would not have been pretty. Or appropriate for young viewers. I managed to roll out a couple of sheets after, well, quite a while, which all then managed to stick together. Yeah. I was a bit frustrated.

I then decided to figure out my own method for rolling out the dough. One that involved lots of flour, lots of rotating of the dough, lots of patience, and even a little bit of help.

And this time we put a sheet of waxed paper between each rolled out sheet of dough.

Between me, daddy and little miss, we managed to roll out twelve rather large (around 11" x 17") sheets of beautifully thin phyllo pastry. So thin, in fact, that I could clearly see the waxed paper box through my rolled out pastry. How cool is that? Which just told me what a great dough this was, and that my initial difficulties rolling it out were 100% due to, well, me.

Dough prepared, it was time to work on the filling. Traditionally, baklava is filled with chopped nuts, and walnuts usually play a very strong roll in the filling. Daddy is allergic to walnuts, so that was out. Knowing that I would have to make that one substitution, I asked the family if they had any preferences for my filling. Little miss immediately requested chocolate. "Mommy, can you make chocolate baklava? It can be choc-lava!" Seriously, how in the world do you say no to that?

So, into my mini food-processor (a cool attachment for the awesome immersion blender I received for Christmas - have I mentioned how much I love that thing???) went some pecans:

And then some chocolate chips:

A little sugar, a few shakes of cinnamon, and we had our baklava filling.

Then came the fun part - actually constructing the baklava. We actually had quite a process in place. I'd put a sheet of rolled out pastry onto the cutting board, put the pan over the pastry, use my pizza cutter to cut the pastry to the size of the pan, then carefully place the now-correctly-sized pastry sheet into the pan.

In addition to the pastry sheets and filling, the other ingredient required for the construction of the baklava is butter. Melted butter. Lots and lots of melted butter. First the pan, and then each individual sheet of phyllo pastry, is brushed with melted butter, a process that little miss was more than happy to help with.

After four sheets of pastry, one third of the filling mixture was sprinkled on top, and then the process was repeated. Four sheets of phyllo, filling, four sheets of phyllo, more filling, four sheets of phyllo, the rest of the filling, then four more sheets of phyllo. And don't forget the butter. Definitely don't forget the butter. For anyone keeping count, that is 16 layers of phyllo. And if you remember, I said I'd rolled out 12 sheets. The good thing about having rolled out such large sheets of pastry is that, once the 11" x 17" sheets were cut to fit the 9" x 9" pan, I could piece together additional layers (which I hid in the middle, where they wouldn't show!), giving me enough dough to make so many layers to this dessert.

The baklava was then cut and put into the oven, during which time I prepared the final element of the dessert - the sweet syrup that would be poured onto the baked baklava. The syrup was a simple combination of honey, water, sugar, a cinnamon stick and a piece of lemon peel. The whole thing was brought to a boil, then allowed to cool.

As soon as the baklava came out of the oven, the cooled syrup was poured onto the piping hot baklava, and, well, that was it! At this point, the dessert rests overnight to absorb the syrup and, well, attain its full yumminess.

Having planned for this wait period, I made the dessert on a Saturday, so that I could bring it as dessert to dinner at my in-laws' house the next night. See, my mother in law loves baklava, so I was super excited to share this challenge with her. And it did not disappoint. The addition of the chocolate to the filling made this a super rich dessert, but the combination of the chocolate, nuts and cinnamon was delicious. The syrup was very sweet, but worked really well with the dessert. And the phyllo sheets were awesome. I was amazed with the flakiness of them, and so proud of myself for having rolled them out so thin.

The baklava was enjoyed by all. And the leftovers definitely did not last long.

It was so delicious that I'd actually hoped to make a second during the challenge month, but the rolling process was very time consuming, and I didn't have the opportunity to do that again this month. But I promise, I will be making this again.

Erica, this was an absolutely amazing, awesome challenge. Thank you so much for providing me with the opportunity to make a real baklava and to make my own delicious, flaky phyllo dough!

I highly recommend checking out the beautiful creations of the other Daring Bakers this month - I have never seen so many beautiful, tasty baklava variations!! Take a look here.

I can't wait to see what next month's challenge is!


  1. I am so impressed. You really mastered this one. I have a sweet treat linky party going on at my blog till Monday night and I'd love it if you'd come by and link your baklava up.

  2. I'm so impressed by your super thin phyllo. Your choc-lava looks wonderful - gooey, nutty chocolate heaven. I agree - you can't say no to that at all!

  3. Wow, you rolled them out like an expert!

  4. Your phyllo pastry is impressive wondrously thin and that photo of the cut slice is even better lovely work. So glad that it was such fun for you and that the rest of the family enjoyed it so much. Bravo!

    Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

  5. Wow, you got your pastry real thin..mine was still thicker. The filling sounds divine, looks delicious.

  6. Wow...I loved your choclava :) name steps and all :) I was super impressed by how thin you rolled it :)

  7. Mmmm wow looks delish your layers look so flaky and light, great job!

  8. Your phyllo looks fabulous, and I love the fact your daughter named it "choc-lava," wonderful take on the challenge!

  9. Now that you've got the dowel, you can make this every week!
    I couldn't get the dough to wrap around my rolling pin either, and it was tricky enough enough using my tapered pin. I love all the process photos and I'm glad this was such a success for the whole family!

  10. Looks delicious. Great job on the challenge!

  11. It looks luscious, I love chocolate, your combinations sound just great!!!, congratulations

  12. Wow, excellent job! And the addition of chocolate has made me conclude that this is one of the best baklavas I've seen!

  13. yes you've definitely mastered the phyllo rolling - good on you for sticking at it and getting a fab result!

  14. Bravo! Bravo! Bravo, Shelley! I'm always amazed at how successfully you manage to accomplish your challenges. This was no exception. The addition of chocolate was a wonderful idea from Little Miss! She's definitely very talented!
    Your pastry looks so flaky and delicious! Thanks for stopping by and leaving and lovely comment, you're so sweet :)

  15. Your phyllo is perfect, and I'm so impressed that you kept persevering until you hit it. I copped out in the sticking, ripping part. The more blogs I read, the worse I feel!!! LOL In any event..I love that you made a chocolate pecan baklava ..your little miss has great taste (everything is better with chocolate!) It looks beautiful, Shelley! That slice with a bite out of it is positively drool inducing..major food porn!

  16. Wow Shelley! I am so impressed with your super-thin, amazing looking pastry. And good on you for trying the method with the dowel!
    I love the chocolate combination - Little Miss is a genius! If I ever make Baklava again, I am going with your recipe. Beautiful!

  17. Good choice for filling, wonderful job accomplishing the challenge. Congrats!

  18. ROTFL, when we made Cannoli, I hit the Lowe's for Oak Dowel rods I had them cut into 4" lengths for me}:P They worked perfectly.

    Who knew hardware/home improvement stores could be so kitchen gadget friendly.}:P

    I think next time, I'm adding chocolate to mine as well. It looks delicious in yours!

  19. choco-lava sounds awesome, although, not so awesome that it would make me want to roll my own phyllo again! congrats on the challenge, you rocked this one :)

  20. I had exactly the same problem with the pastry, even had a piece of dowel but because I got to the challenge really late this month I just didn't have the time to do it again. Wax paper was a really good idea - that's when my layers all stuck together despite using lots of flour - yours looks fantastic - wonderful work :)

  21. That picture of the half-eaten piece of baklava with all the flaky layers makes me want to dive right in... Chocolate in the filling is definitely the way to go! Great post, and great job on the challenge :)

  22. I had to laugh at the way you described the rolling process…I also tried the video thing and I had the same experience. Your baklava came out beautiful! I love the idea of chocolate but I went the traditional route! Great job on the challenge!

  23. Fantastic job!! Your baklava looks to die for, and your phyllo looks nice and thin! Yum yum yum!! I made an 8x8 pan, and it is GONE! I did manage to give a few pieces away, but, yeah, the two of us ate the rest of the pan!!! Yikes! (None for the little lady...)

  24. Just like you, I had the roll, wrap, roll and then can't unwrap episode with my phyllo. Just frustrating... but basically roll and keep rolling is pretty good enough to make it as thin as possible...

    Well, your final baklava is wonderful, I could see how flaky the phyllos are especially the top layers :-)

  25. Great job, Shelley! I read your post earlier but am just now finding time to comment after getting home from a camping trip. Your baklava looks great! I too made chocolate (nutella) and it was a great pairing with the nuts and the flaky crust. Nice job on the challenge!

  26. I am so glad you enjoyed the challenge so much! your baklava looks perfect, amazing job on the phyllo!

  27. Your baklava turned out well - fab job!


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