There is a proper way to eat a baklava: you must place the whole portion in your mouth in one go and flip it upside down so that the dense sticky bottom hits the roof of your mouth. Ideally you’d also sip a strong tea, the colour of “rabbit’s blood” as they say in Turkey. With a dessert so beloved across the Middle East, you see, the act of eating is almost as much of an art as the act of making.
Autumn is a time for reflection, and making baklava requires a little devotion, time to pause and reflect. I went on a quest to make the easiest (but tastiest) baklava, and asked experts from aunties to baklava masters for their wisdom. This is the result – the concertina baklava, where the layers are side by side, rather than stacked vertically; or as Auntie Zekiye calls it, “The lazy wife’s baklava.” I am no wife and I’m certainly not lazy, but I love something that’s almost magic in the way it comes together so effortlessly. It is rich and indulgent, and if you need justification to eat it, which you don’t in the east, consider it an act of sustenance for the coming cold months.
cinnamon stick 1
cardamom pods 2
lemon zest of ½
lemon juice 2 tsp
ground cinnamon 1 tbsp
filo pastry 250g (10 sheets)
ground pistachio 50g, to garnish
Prepare the syrup first, as you need this to cool completely to room temperature before you pour it on top of the hot baklava. This will ensure it fully absorbs and stays crispy.
For the syrup, combine the sugar and water and slowly bring to a simmer while stirring, ensuring the sugar is fully dissolved. Add the whole spices, lemon zest and juice. Simmer for 15 minutes and set aside.
Next, clarify the butter by placing in a saucepan on a medium heat. Once melted, bring it to a steady bubbling simmer. The milk solids will start to separate from the fat. Keep skimming the froth at the top as it rises. You will see the butter start to turn translucent and you will begin to see the milk solids at the bottom. Once you have cleared the butter of all the froth, take off the heat and drain through a metal sieve lined with kitchen paper. The whole process should take no longer than 10 minutes.
Blitz the nuts in a blender to a coarse mix about the size of couscous. Mix this with the ground cinnamon.
Now you have all of your components ready, you can bring your baklava together.
Preheat the oven to 180C fan/gas mark 6. Brush the bottom of a rectangular baking tray with your clarified butter.
Place one sheet of filo on a flat surface with the shortest side nearest to you. Sprinkle one heaped handful of the nuts all over the sheet. Now pinch the edges of the sheet with your thumb and first two fingers, and pinch by pinch, bunch the whole sheet together like a concertina.
Holding the ends of the sheet, pick it up and place it along the short edge of your tray (keeping your tray at landscape/horizontal).
Repeat the process and place the bunched sheets together in your tray side by side. You can pack quite a few in – I usually fit a total of 9-10 sheets.
Brush the top of the prepared filo generously with the clarified butter, ensuring it is all coated and the butter is absorbed.
Place the baklava in the oven for 15 minutes or until golden. The separate concertinas of filo will fuse together to create the larger rectangular baklava. Remove from the oven and ladle the syrup over the top immediately. You should hear a satisfying sizzle, of the cold syrup making contact with the hot baklava. Pour between 3-4 ladles over it. Don’t worry if you have syrup left over – you can freeze this for another time.
Garnish the top with bright green pistachios.
Melek Erdal is a food writer and a regular guest on Radio 4’s The Kitchen Cabinet