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Greek baklava is a densely layered dessert that is made from very thin dough called filo, in addition to nuts and honey syrup. This dessert is believed to have originated in central Asia or Turkey. Some historians suggest roots in Mesopotamia, but most evidence points to central Asia. Greek Baklava originally was a delicacy prepared for royalty and the wealthy.
Paper-thin filo dough, walnuts and sugared honey syrup make up the basic ingredients for Greek baklava. Filo is an unleavened dough that is as thin as tissue paper and is made from flour and water, and it appears frequently in Greek and Middle Eastern cuisine. The dough's name comes from phyllo, the Greek word for "leaf." Filo is often available in supermarkets, depending on their location, but an experienced cook can carefully create the thin sheets by using a long roller on prepared dough and stretching it until it reaches the desired thinness. He or she adds flour to the dough while working to keep it from ripping.
Greek baklava differs from other versions because it traditionally features only walnuts. Other variations feature pistachios, almonds and other ingredients, such as berries. The honey sauce typically is made from a mixture of sugar, honey, water, some sort of citrus fruit or zest and spices.
A cook making Greek baklava begins by making his or her own filo or purchasing it. He or she must work quickly when using filo, because it is extremely brittle when dry. The dough is unrolled, and a damp cloth or napkin is set atop the stack of sheets immediately before use. Walnuts can be toasted and are typically finely chopped and perhaps mixed with spices such as cinnamon and cloves. About eight sheets of filo are individually brushed with butter and set atop one another in a greased baking pan.
The cook spoons a clump of walnut mix over the first stack of filo sheets, spreads it out, then layers another five to seven filo sheets, depending on taste. Each filo sheet is individually buttered. The cook continues to alternate several layers of brushed filo with the walnut mixture. The dessert is topped with a final layer of filo and baked for an hour or so, until the baklava is golden brown and flaky.
Greek baklava typically is cut into triangle or diamond shapes, whereas in other countries long tubes may be used. Syrup ingredients are cooked in a saucepan for 10-15 minutes, then either cooled and poured over hot baklava or poured hot over cooled baklava. The dessert typically is served at room temperature after the sauce has set into the dough and filling.
I have found commercial Greek baklava in the bakery section of some grocery stores, but it doesn't measure up to the homemade variety. Good baklava practically explodes with honey when you put it in your mouth. The texture of the phyllo dough is difficult to explain, but it is a very satisfying blend of pastry and nuts and spices.
The article got it right when it said that not all baklavas are alike. I've had some that were very spicy, and some that had dried fruit in the mix. I still prefer traditional Greek baklava whenever I can find it.
My first job was at a Greek restaurant, and the owner's wife was in charge of making the desserts, like baklava and rice pudding. I helped her make the ground walnut filling and the hot honey syrup. It was very labor intensive, but the end result was worth all the work. She gave me a large piece of Greek baklava to take home, and I thought it was the best dessert I'd ever eaten in my life.
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