Baklava for Comps
Tomorrow at 8:00 am a friend and colleague picks up his comprehensive exams. For the next week he will work on answering four questions, each in ten pages. He will need to successfully answer each of these questions to begin working on his dissertation. He’ll do great, but I decided to make him something that might make a rough week taste a little sweeter. He is a big fan of baklava, and I happened to recently come across a baklava recipe in a past issue of Saveur.
I started by melting one pound of butter. One pound. I only used about 2/3 of it. Oh, hell. What do I care? I’m not eating the finished product. (Note: I did try the melted butter, which might sound disgusting, but tastes so good!)
As the butter melted, I put one pound (.92 lbs. technically; the scales at the coop were off by quite a bit) of walnuts and one cup of sugar into the food processor. I bought my food processor almost three years ago. Looked up Consumer Reports top model and found it on sale at Macys.com. What a great investment! I use it all the time. I would be lonely without it.
Consumer Reports was right. Those nuts blended into the sugar in less than a minute.
When the butter finished melting, I skimmed the foam off the top, got rid of the solids, and transferred it to a small saucepan. Nothing like dirtying all your dishes. I think that the people who come up with recipes have people who do their dishes. I do not have such people.
I buttered a 9×13 inch pan and began laying one sheet of phyllo dough in at a time. I brushed some of that golden butter on top of each layer before adding the next. I kept rotating the pan because the top left-hand corner kept receiving the most butter.
The phyllo dough came in a box and was divided into two rolls. Once I was finished with the first roll – probably about sixteen layers, there was supposed to be twenty layers but I destroyed at least four – I added most of the walnut-sugar mixture and smoothed it out with my favorite frosting spatula. Love that thing.
Once the walnut-sugar mixture was level, I began adding the second roll of phyllo dough. I cut diamonds into the yet-to-baked baklava. And then I forgot to take a picture until after I put the pan into a 350 degree oven. So I quickly opened the door and took a picture. A crappy picture.
With about 15 minutes left until the baklava was to finish baking, I began making a simple syrup by cooking two cups and one cup of water over medium heat until the sugar dissolved. Then off the heat I added some lemon juice and orange water.
Then the baklava came out of the oven. But without the syrup it didn’t look right.
With the syrup, it began to resemble the professional picture. This was as close as it would get.
I packaged most of the baklava for my comp-taking friend. But since I had never made baklava before, it had to be tasted before it was passed on. It tasted like flakey butter-sugar-nuts, which is exactly what baklava is suppose to taste like.