We have a dinner club with a couple of my gal pals. The hostess picks the theme, and the rest of us decide whether to bring dessert or an appetizer. Most recently, my friend chose a Lebanese theme and dessert fell to me – someone who considers herself a mashed potatoes kind of girl. However, I can and do make a mean dessert, so I rolled up my sleeves and got to work on one that’ll knock your sweet tooth loose.
The arrival of an early summer in certain parts of the country is what got me started. Where I am, it’s hot! I pictured sitting on my front porch, fanning myself with an old magazine. The ice melts in my glass as the lemonade (a cool pitcher of lemonade, by the way, goes perfect with baklava) quenches my thirst. I reach for that little sumthin’ sweet and here it is: a sticky, buttery, rich bite of nuttiness. It may have its origins in the Lebanese kitchen, but this baklava has a lot of Southern soul too.
I wanted this dessert to reflect my own American roots, but stay true to its Middle Eastern origin.
I researched and found that Lebanese kitchens often offered their version of baklava as the sweet meal ending dish. In Lebanon, baklava is made of phyllo dough sheets filled with nuts (pistachios, walnut, cashews, pine nuts, almonds) and steeped in “Atir” (ka-tr) syrup made of orange blossom honey or rose water and sugar. It is cut in triangular, rectangular, diamond, or in square shapes. The city of Tripoli in Lebanon is famous for its baklava products.
Finding a recipe for traditional Lebanese baklava was tough. Once I did, I realized that I had to blend the traditional with a bit of Southern soul. The phyllo dough stayed. But…I added pecans to the nut mix and replaced honey with Sorghum syrup. You’ll see from the cooking instructions below, that it’s pretty darn good and a lot easier to prepare than you might think.
Yields about 2 dozen pieces
30 Minute Prep; 40 Minute Baking; at least 2 Hours to Cool
½ pound frozen phyllo dough, thawed
2 cups walnuts
2 cups pecans
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup butter, melted 2 sticks
½ cup butter, 1 stick
2 cups sorghum syrup
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Thaw the phyllo dough in the fridge overnight or by leaving the package (rolled up) on the counter top for about 2 hours. Do not unroll it until you are ready to rock and roll!
Place the nuts into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to form coarse crumb size pieces. Add the cinnamon and nutmeg, and pulse one to two times more.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Melt two sticks of butter. Use a pastry brush to butter the bottom and sides of an 11 x 7 x 2-inch baking pan.
Dampen a clean dish towel. Roll out the phyllo dough on your work surface and cover with the damp towel. (Phyllo dough is a bit tricky. If you leave it out, it can dry up and become very difficult to work with. Keeping a damp towel on top of the sheets will prevent this.)
Brush the top sheet of phyllo with butter. Use the sheet below it to help you lift both sheets into the pan, butter side down. Repeat this process so that you have a total of 6 phyllo sheets in the bottom of the pan. Now, cover the remaining phyllo sheets with your damp towel.
Cover the phyllo sheets in the pan with a layer of chopped nuts. Remove the towel from the unused sheets, and brush the top sheet of phyllo with butter. Again, use the sheet below it to lift two sheets of phyllo on top of the nuts, butter side down. Do this again, so that you have four sheets of phyllo on top of the nuts. Cover the remaining phyllo dough with your damp towel.
Keep layering buttered phyllo sheets and nuts until all the nuts are gone; you should have 4 sheets of phyllo left. Brush the top sheet of phyllo with butter, and use the sheet below it to lift the two sheets into the pan, butter side down. Repeat with the final two sheets, but this last time leave the buttered side up.
Use a sharp knife to carefully cut the baklava into pieces. Start in one corner and cut to the opposite corner. Repeat the process to create an “X”. Continue to cut diagonally, creating 2-inch diamond shape pieces. Bake until the baklava is golden brown, about 35 to 40 minutes.
Make the syrup by placing 1 stick of butter, sorghum syrup, granulated sugar, vanilla and ½ cup water into a sauce pan over medium heat. Cook until the butter melts and the sauce begins to boil. Reduce the heat to very low and simmer for 5 minutes. The syrup will turn a caramel color and thicken slightly. Keep the sauce warm until the pastry comes out of the oven.
Remove the baking pan from the oven. Pour half of the syrup over the entire pan of baklava. Wait a minute or two while the pastry sucks up the syrup. Pour the rest of the syrup over the pastry. Let the baklava cool in the pan, uncovered for several hours. Slice the pieces again, using the same cuts you made earlier. Carefully remove the pieces to a serving platter. Try not to lick your fingers until after all the slices have been removed!
You know what’s awesome about Christmas? It’s all those late night chats or early mornings in the kitchen with someone who’s come to visit. Picture it, you’ve got your hands wrapped around a steaming coffee mug (decaf or regular depending on the hour), and the center piece of the conversation is this Cherry Nut Crumble Cake.
The orange zest in the recipe gives it a little refreshing kick; the cherries are a bit ahead of season, but you shouldn’t have any trouble folding them into the batter as frozen berries work just fine here. This recipe hails from my Coffee Mates chapter in Sunday Best – isn’t it a gooey, mouthwatering marvel just before it goes into the oven?
There are so few days to go before the big day arrives. I would love to know what kind of sweet treats you serve in the weeks leading up to, and on the day of Christmas. I’m sure you have a tradition. Delicious pastry happens to be one of mine. See all my annual traditions (but translated into food of course) in my new cookbook, SUNDAY BEST DISHES. Once you add it to your collection, you can sing “my true love gave to me”, the gift of YUMMMEEE….
Chop the cherries on a board with a sharp knife and place them into a bowl. Stir in the sugar and orange zest.
6 tablespoons butter, melted
¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ cup chopped walnuts, about 3 ounces
¼ cup brown sugar
Place the flour, walnuts and brown sugar into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse briefly to combine. Pour in the melted butter and pulse 2 or 3 more times.
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups butter, room temperature, 3 sticks
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
Preheat the oven to 350°. Coat a 9-inch square cake pan with vegetable oil spray.
Whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Use an electric mixer to combine the butter and sugar until fluffy. Stir in the eggs. Spread half of the batter into the pan.
Drain excess juice from the cherries and spoon over the top of the batter. Dollop the remaining batter over the top and spread with a spatula to somewhat cover the cherries. This doesn’t have to be perfect! Run a knife through the batter to swirl everything together. Sprinkle the streusel on top. Bake until the coffee cake is golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 55 to 60 minutes.
Summer wouldn’t be summer without bursting berries…
Love a pastry with a delicate, tender crumb? Then it’s time I shared my recipe for Very Berry Muffins. These are from my book, Sunday Best Dishes (print edition coming soon). The recipe is a delightful mix of blueberries, raspberries or just about any other berry you have on hand – and you probably have a few this summer. I use a combination of pastry flour with all-purpose flour, which gives these muffins just enough texture to remind you of blueberry cobbler. If you don’t have pastry flour, you can use equal portions of cake flour and all-purpose flour.
You might have noticed the huge array of flours that are taking up more and more space in the grocery and specialty markets. You can find coconut flour, almond flour, gluten-free flours, whole grain flours… the list goes on and on. It’s an excellent idea for you to experiment with different flours when you are baking to get the best possible combination for your taste buds.
Join the celebration and surprise your family with these easy-to-bake muffins on Blueberry Muffin Day on July 11th…. or any day you want to celebrate the muffin!
Very Berry Muffins
Got berries? These should do just fine in your muffins 🙂
MAKES 12 MUFFINS
When you open the oven door, the aroma of berry cobbler wafts through the kitchen. Served warm at breakfast, these muffins are a bona fide dessert! You may want to serve them with a slather of protein rich almond butter for a long-lasting energy boost!
Preheat the oven to 375 °. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.
Whisk together both flours, the baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the melted butter, sugar, eggs, milk, orange juice and zest.
Coarsely chop the berries using a knife or by briefly pulsing in a food processor. Stir the berries into the wet mixture. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined. The batter will be thick.
Drop the batter into the muffin tins using a 3-inch ice cream scoop. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with sugar. Bake until the muffins are golden and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes and remove the muffins to a rack.
This basic muffin recipe screams for your inventiveness. You can use any fresh fruit that you like; all berries, chopped peaches, apples and bananas are perfect. You can incorporate oats, nuts or chocolate chips; add flavorings like vanilla, instant coffee, peanut butter – it all works.