Best Baklava

Baklava

As you read in my previous post, I made two desserts for Erev Rosh HaShana and because my brother and niece both keep kosher and I made a meat main course, my desserts had to be vegan. I’m a pretty harsh critic when it comes to using substitutes for things like butter and cream and simply refuse to make something unless I feel it will not suffer for their lack. Both the Apple Frangiapane Tart and the Baklava were truly amazing. Now, of course, YOU can make them with butter if you wish but if you don’t eat dairy either for health, religious or ethical reasons, these desserts are sure to wow anyone who is lucky enough to eat them.

Unlike the tart dough, working with phyllo dough requires speed and a little skill. Once you get the hang of working with these thinner than paper sheets of puff pastry, there are so many wonderful things you can make with it – everything from appetizers to main courses to dessert.

Whenever I am going to make something for the first time or its something I haven’t made in awhile, I read and re-read the recipe. When you are working with something as tempermental as phyllo dough, you need to have EVERYTHING ready or your efforts are doomed before you start. I’m not trying to scare you away – this is not rocket science – but you do need to be mindful. Follow these directions exactly and you will never think of baklava in quite the same way again.

Best Baklava adapted from The New Jewish Holiday Cookbook by Gloria Kaufer Greene

Yields: About 40 pieces, depending on how you cut it

Ingredients:

9 x 13 x 2 inch baking pan (I like to use glass – it doesn’t seem to stick and it bakes evenly)

2 tea towels (or thin dish towels) soaked in warm water and rung out

Filling:

4 cups (about 1 pound) finely chopped walnuts, pistachios or blanched almonds (I used walnuts)

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 rounded teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Honey Syrup:

1 cup water

1 cup granulated sugar

Zest of one large lemon

1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons honey (I used Atika Greek honey, but a nice orange blossom or clover honey would work. Do NOT use anything as dark in flavor or color as buckwheat.)

Juice of one large lemon (about 3 Tablespoons)

Pastry:

1.5 sticks of Earth Balance Vegan Margarine, melted (you can use butter if you prefer)

1 pound of phyllo sheets at room temperature

Directions:

  1. In a medium sauce pan combine the sugar, water, 1/2 cup of honey and lemon zest. Slowly warm themixture over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves. Then bring the syrup to a boil (watch it here!) and boil it gently, uncovered and undisturbed (no stirring) for 10 minutes. Remove the syrup from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and remaining 2 Tablespoons of honey. Set the syrup aside to cool to room temperature.
  2. It is easiest to finely chop the nuts in a food processor. They should be at room temperature and if you mix them with the sugar and spices, you will not form a paste with the nuts. Chop by pulsing so you can control how finely they are chopped. Set aside
  3. When you are ready to asemble the baklava, heat your oven to 350 degrees F.
  4. Carefully remove one packet of phyllo dough (mine comes in two packets per pound) and unroll in onto one damp towel. Immediately cover it with the second damp towel.
  5. Brush the bottom of your baking dish generously with melted margarine. Now quickly and carefully peel off one very thin layer of phyllo, cover the rest and place the thin sheet in the bottom of the dish. Don’t get hysterical if the sheet breaks. You can patch it with another sheet. Only the very top sheets should be whole and by the time you get there, you will have figured out how to handle the stuff. Trust me! Carefully brush the sheet with melted margarine. Repeat this until you have 5-7 sheets of phyllo. Do not be lazy – you must brush EACH sheet with the margarine for it to be flaky.
  6. Now take 2/3 cup of the nut mixture and spread it over the phyllo in the pan. You can use your hands (they are impeccably clean, right?) to make sure that it is evenly distributed.
  7. Stack 2-3 more sheets of phyllo on top of the nut mixture, brushing each sheet with margarine. Remember to keep the phyllo that you are not immediately working with covered with the damp towel. It dries out VERY quickly.
  8. Spread 2/3 cup of the nut mixture over this. Keep repeating steps 7 and 8 until all of the nut mixture has been used. Top th efinal layer of nuts with 5-7 sheets of phyllo dough, brushing each layer with margarine. Pour any remaining margarine over the entire top.
  9. With a very sharp knife, carefully make a large “X” across the pan of dough. Cut about half-way down into the layers. To make the traditional diamond shapes, then make parallel cuts about two inches apart. YOU will have a few triangles along the edges but that’s fine. People will still eat them.
  10. Sprinkle a few drops of water (or use a misting bottle) lightly across the top of the pastry. Bake in the oven for 1 hour.
  11. AS SOON AS the baklava comes out of the oven, pou the syrup all across the top. Everything will sizzle and you will think you have ruined it or have way too much syrup. You are wrong. Again using your sharp knife, now cut through carefully all the way to the bottom of the pan along the score lines that you made before it went into the oven.
  12. Leave the pan to cool and rest at least 4 hours but preferably overnight. Once it has cooled, lightly cove rit with aluminum foil until you are ready to use it. It will last for up to one week. Actually I really can’t imagine that anything will be left after a couple of days, but in theory, it will last up to a week.

NOTE: If you had any remaining phyllo dough and it hasn’t dried out, you can use it for something else or you can try rolling it up between waxed paper or plastic and freezing it.

Vegan Dessert to die for – Apple Frangipane Tart

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This past week was a series if highs and lows and highs again. We all attended the funeral of my husband’s father and Matthew’s grandfather. It was a time to celebrate a long life, well-lived and of the sadness to know that he was no longer there.

We are now at the beginning of the High Holidays, a time of great excitement and hope for the new year to come – a time when we each hope that we are sealed in the Book of Life.

While our Matthew and Frances do not live near us, we are nevertheless fortunate to have some very close family nearby. Last night we hosted Erev Rosh HaShana with my 92-year old mother, my sister, brother and his wife, cousin and my niece, nephew and our two wonderful godchildren. Our diningroom was burstsing at the seams, but we would have gladly made room for Matthew and Frances had they been able to join us. Instead, we texted photos of our goodies back and forth. This post will only include recipes for my apple frangipane (almond cream) tart, but over the week, I will include other recipes from our joyous holiday dinner. For menu ideas and for a preview of posts to come, I’ve included the full menu here.

My holiday menu:

Greek red lentil soup

Antipasto al sole

Eggless challah crowns with raisins

Roasted eggplant dip

Homemade pickled cauliflower and red cabbage

Kale sunshine salad

Brisket in BBQ sauce with Oatmeal Stout

Sweet potato, carrot, butternut squash and fruit tzimmes

Apple frangipane tart

Homemade walnut Baklava

Apple Frangipane Tart

Yields: 10-12 servings (This is a very rich dessert so only small amounts are VERY satisfying)

Ingredients:

For crust:

1.25 cups, unbleached all-purpose flour

8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted Earth Balance buttery vegan margarine, very cold

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

2 Tablespoons blanched almonds – whole or slivered

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (if you have it, use lemon thyme) or French lavender (optional)

2 Tablespoons Soy milk (vanilla or plain)

5 Tablespoons ice water

For the filling:

1 recipe of eggless frangipane (there will be some left-over which can be used up in small tarts or if you are into making almond croissants or as a filling between two simple shortbread-type cookies or even stuffed into dates after the pit has been removed)

2 flavorful baking apples like Golden Delicious, peeled, cored, rubbed with lemon to keep from browning and thinly sliced

1/2 lemon for keeping the apples from browning

2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 Tablespoons Earth Balance buttery margarine for dotting the apples

Apple jelly for glazing, melted in a microwave or gently on the stove

Frangipane:

1 stick of Earth Balance buttery vegan margarine, room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

2.5 cups of finely ground blanched almond meal (I like Bob’s brand)

6 Tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

1 teaspoon pure almond extract

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

4 Tablespoons vanilla soy milk

Directions:

  1. Prepare the crust using a food processor. Pulse the flour, sugar and Earth Balance, salt, herbs if used and almonds (you can make this with butter if you prefer) until the buttery pieces coated with flour are about the size of frozen peas. Whisk the soy milk into the water and add to the flour mixture while the processor is running. Mix just until the dough starts to form a ball on the end of the blade. Do not overmix. Form into a ball and then flatten into a disk and wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.
  2. When ready to bake the tart, make the frangipane. In a food processor or powerful blender, add all of the ingredients for the frangipane and pulse until smooth and everything is incorporated. Do not refrigerate.
  3. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. I used a rectangular fluted tart pan with a removeable bottom, but you could use a 9 or 10-inch round tart pan. If you have the room and like making tarts, it is worth making the small investment in a rectangular pan.
  4. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured board or pastry cloth to be about 1 inch larger than the pan you are using.
  5. Generously and carefully spread about 3/4 of the frangipane across the bottom of the pastry. In an attractive pattern, lay the apples, slightly overlapping, on top of the frangipane, covering the entire tart. Apples will shrink in baking so be sure to cover the entire filling.
  6. Sprinkle the apples with the sugar and cinnamon.
  7. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet in case any of the buttery goodness oozes out.
  8. Bake for 10 minutes at 425 degrees F and then reduce the temperature to 375 degrees F. Bake for another 45 minutes or until golden.
  9. Remove the pan to a cooling rack and brush carefull with melted apple jelly. It is worth finding apple jelly, but you can also make your own glaze using the apple peels and cores, cooked in water with about 2 Tablespoons of sugar until it is thickened and fragrant. Strain the liquid and you have a glaze to use.
  10. Allow the tart to cool in the pan entirely. When ready to serve, carefully remove the tart from the pan and place on a covered cutting board or plate.

apple frangiapane tart

AMAZING! Preferably do not refrigerate left-overs. Lighlty cover the cut end with foil or plastic wrap.

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Harvest Food: Rhubarb Cake

So while reading the Financial Times weekend edition, I came across their food column describing the foods that were traditionally served in rural France to all those toiling for the wine harvest.  

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It sounded so idyllic — recreating the “I Love Lucy” sketch to crush the grapes beneath my feet while being fed leg of lamb and this rhubarb cake.  When the reverie was over, I recognized that being out in the fields in the hot September sun was probably not something I would have enjoyed, but it didn’t stop me from making this delicious rhubarb cake in my air conditioned apartment.

When I first read this, I thought, “alas” the rhubarbs have packed up and moved on since they’re more of an early summer kind of act.  However, I then ran across to the grocery store, and lo and behold, and entire stack of rhubarb stems already trimmed of the poisonous leaves (who knew?).

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My husband laughed with me as I hoarded all of the rhubarb stalks in sight, and I’m pretty sure I can now confidently say that I cleaned out the last of the rhubarb.

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When making the batter, I thought — surely I just didn’t measure all the grams out correctly (while also thinking, why do I subscribe to a British newspaper with all their grams!!!) since the batter was so small in volume, and barely covered my 9″ springform pan (or the 23ish cm pan as the recipe calls for).
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However, rest assured, it is just the right amount, and the result will be a wonderful cake where the batter rises and the rhubarb falls to blend into each other with a wonderful, rustic simplicity.

This recipe is supposedly from the Rhône region of France, known for its dry and delectable wines (think Viognier, Cinsault, Carignan).

Ingredients*

110g (3.88 oz) plain flour
60g (2.12 oz) caster sugar
3 tbsp milk
2 tbsp cooking oil (a light olive or sunflower oil is suitable)
1 egg
1 tsp baking powder
750g-1kg (~2 lb) rhubarb, trimmed and cut into short equal lengths
For the caramel sauce:
125g (4.4 oz) sugar
90g (3.17 oz) butter
1 egg

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 445-450 degrees F. Mix all the ingredients, except the fruit, together in a bowl to make quite a soft, almost runny, dough.
  2. Butter a 9″ round springform tin. Sprinkle with flour. Spread the mixture into it. Place the rhubarb pieces on top of the mixture. It is a little difficult to be accurate about the amount of rhubarb, which can give off a lot of liquid — but bear in mind it is a very soft cake. The sharpness of the rhubarb will be offset by the caramel.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, until golden. (It will rise a little.) Meanwhile, prepare the caramel sauce. Melt the sugar and butter together in a small pan. Remove from the heat, cool a little, then stir in the egg. When you take the cake out of the oven, pour this sauce over it.
  4. Put it under a hot grill for two minutes or until the sauce has caramelized. Watch it carefully, as it burns easily. Leave the cake to cool. It may be eaten warm or cold.

From the Financial Times.

Note: I used a scale and measured everything out in grams, but I included the exact conversion to ounces here.

Macaron Party

About a year ago, a friend and I decided to make macarons in preface to a group dinner party.  After reading through the recipe when she showed up, it was one of those moments where I realized exactly how much of a production macaron making could be.   The macarons turned out… okay — I mean, they were pink and tasted good, but if we’re being perfectionists, the shells had started to crack and they weren’t exactly sized very evenly.

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A year later, in my own kitchen, we decided to celebrate that same friend’s birthday by doing macarons part deux.  This time I assiduously studied allll the steps, read them a few times through, printed out the directions and made notes.  It was like prepping for finals.

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I aged the whites, made sure we had all the pastry bags and tips and even made an extra filling (chocolate ganache) instead of the one that was in the recipe I’d read.  Food Nouveau has a wonderful recipe that has step by step instructions on how to make the perfect macaron.

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I basically used this one but added some vanilla extract, and then used both buttercream and dark chocolate ganache fillings.

I didn’t quite manage to capture all the steps since I was rather nervous about making sure the eggs white peaks did not collapse and that the shells didn’t crack while baking.

But the rest of the baking went well and the macarons were so good that we couldn’t stop eating them!

Ingredients

3 egg whites (from large eggs), separated at least 24 hours in advance and kept in the refrigerator
210 g powdered sugar
125 g almond meal
30 g regular granulated sugar

Directions

  1. Measure the powdered sugar and almond meal and put them in the bowl of your food processor. Finely grind the two together for a minute or two. Stop the processor, scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl, and process again for a minute.
  2. Put the egg whites in a cold stainless steel bowl. Start beating them at medium/high speed with your mixer. Once they start to get bubbly and white and you see the whisk is lightly leaving marks, add a tablespoon of the granulated sugar.
  3. Continue beating and add the remaining sugar slowly over the next minute or two. The eggs will now be white and fluff but not stiff enough. Continue beating at high speed until peaks form.
  4. Fold the dry ingredients into the egg whites, slowly a bit at a time.
  5. Transfer the batter into a pastry bag with a 1/2″ tip, and pipe into 1″ circles on a parchment sheet covered baking sheet.  Let them rest for at least 20 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Once the maracons have rested for 20 minutes, bake for 14 minutes.
  7. Let the macarons rest for at least 10-15 minutes out of the oven, and then fill with whichever filling you would like!

Adapted from Food Nouveau.