After several posts about what’s been happening at our house and in our (Macedonian) kitchen, I figured it was time to call in the expert…my mother-in-law.  The thing with cooking in the Balkans is that everything is ‘original’ and yet everything is also borrowed.  For example, today we made baklava.  Baklava is EVERYWHERE in Macedonia.  It’s actually Greek.  I mean Bosnian.  I mean Persian.  No, wait, it’s actual from Azerbaijan.  No, from Afghanistan.  No, Cyprus.  Ok, it’s Turkish.  Essentially everyone under the Ottoman Empire has their own version and since everyone is claiming it I guess that means I get to make it however the heck I want.  Well, not exactly, I get to make it the way Violeta wants.

This is Violeta, Aleks’ mom (with his sister this spring).  She is a pretty awesome cook.  Later, you’ll have to check out the stuffed zucchini she made for lunch today.

This is our baklava.  Phyllo dough, almonds, pistachios, sherbet, butter, lemon, cinnamon, cardamom.  Yummy.

Making baklava is easy.  No one actually makes phyllo dough at home anymore (ok, some of you might, but not most of us–so don’t argue).  So, after you buy your phyllo dough, if you think you can layer it in the pan with some nuts you’re going to be ok.  Once you find out how much sugar is in baklava though, you are not going to be ok.  No, not ok at all.

Baklava

So, here’s what you need.

600 grams of phyllo dough

500 grams of almonds

200 grams of pistachios  (You can mix and match the nuts any way you like.  Walnuts are traditional, but I am allergic..)

250 grams (2 sticks) butter

200 mL vegetable oil (a cup is around 240 mL)

1 lemon, sliced

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 L of water

2 tbs honey

1 kilo (2.5 pounds!!!!) of sugar  (I told you that you weren’t going to be ok with this…)

Spices of your choice–we used cinnamon, and I snuck (come on, it sounds so much better than sneaked) in some cardamom too!

If you have ever eaten baklava you can probably figure out what to do next, but one time I had someone ask me for a recipe for potato salad, so apparently a list of ingredients does not equal a recipe…

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius/390 degrees Fahrenheit.

To make the baklava, take a little oil and sprinkle lightly onto the bottom of the pan.  (You’re  pretty much going to need the biggest pan that will fit in your oven).  Then lay down the first layer of phyllo dough.  Add a little more oil, sprinkled evenly over the dough, and add another sheet.  After you have repeated this three times, begin to add a very thin layer of nuts to each layer.  Remember, the distinctive texture of baklava comes from the many layers, so don’t go crazy with too many nuts on a single layer.  Keep layering phyllo dough, oil and nuts until you have only three sheets of phyllo dough left.  Add one of the last three layers, and lightly sprinkle your spices on top. Add the next two layers (separating with oil) and add another sprinkling of spices.

Cut the baklava into small pieces, the easiest way is to cut vertically and horizontally across the pan to get little squares, and then cut diagonally so you are left with just bigger than bite-sized triangles.

Now comes one of the fun, albeit painful, parts.  Melt the butter in a small sauce pan on low heat, when it is completely melted pour the entire pan evenly over the baklava.

Put the baklava in the oven.  When it starts to brown, after about 10 minutes, lower the heat to 170 Celsius/340 Fahrenheit.  Let the baklava bake for almost an hour, until it’s fully browned and flaky.

In the meantime, combine the water, honey, sugar, lemon slices, vanilla in a small sauce pan over medium heat it until the sugar dissolves.  Remove from heat.

After the baklava is finished baking, (this is the second painful part) pour all of that sugary syrup you made over the baklava.  Violeta uses all of it, but I am guessing you could cut back a little and have the same overall effect.  I’ve also tasted baklava that had a stronger honey flavor and a little less sugar.

Turn your oven off and put the baklava back inside to allow it to cool slowly.  (It takes a while for all that sugar to soak through to the bottom.)

With all this sugar, it’s necessary to serve baklava with a strong cup of Turkish coffee, or a tall glass of water!