Tunisian baklawa (aka baklava)
From Turkey to Morocco, baklava finds its way in the cuisine of many. Originating from the Ottoman empire, baklava is a dessert made of layered phyllo dough filled with nuts and covered in sticky syrup. As such, it can often be cloyingly sweet (and soggy) but there are many exceptions. When I visited Istanbul 4 years ago, I tried şöbiyet baklava at a tiny pastry shop that took baklava to another level. The phyllo layers were paper-thin with just the right crunch and inside was a filling of the best chopped pistachios and creamy kaymak (thick buffalo-milk clotted cream) I had ever tasted.
The North African version, known as baklawa, doesn’t contain kaymak, though if you have access to it where you live, it certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea to include it.
Makes 60-80 pieces
For the pastry:
2 boxes phyllo dough (chilled)
1 cup pistachio (lightly toasted) (this can also be a half-half mix of pistachio/pine nuts)
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla sugar (if can’t find, use regular vanilla extract)
½ cup orange blossom water
5 cups (lightly toasted almonds)
Small bowl of melted butter
For the simple syrup
3 cups sugar
2 cups water
2 tsp lemon juice
¼ to ½ cup orange blossom water
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.
In a pan, very lightly toast the nuts. *note: there should be very little browning and some spots should retain their raw color/texture)
Remove them from the heat and allow to cool.
While the nuts are cooling, make the simple syrup:
In a medium pot, stir together water, sugar, lemon juice, and orange blossom water.
Cook on medium low for 30 minutes and set aside.
In a food processor, process almonds into coarse consistency (like thick couscous).
Process the pistachios next, these should be more coarse than the almonds, for best results, chop them by hand with a knife.
Place all the chopped nuts in a mixing bowl. Add sugar and vanilla sugar. Mix together with clean hands or a fork. Add the orange blossom water. Stir well and set aside.
Unwrap phyllo dough at your work space. Cover with plastic and a kitchen towel to keep from drying out as you work.
Brush the bottom of your pan with melted butter. Lay down your first two sheets of dough onto the tray. One on each side to fully cover your tray. Brush the sheets with melted butter.
Continue to layer 2-3 sheets sheets of dough at a time making sure to brush each layer with more melted butter until you have 15 sheets of dough laid down finishing the last layer with melted butter.
Empty the nut mixture onto the dough and gently spread it evenly with a fork to fully cover the dough.
Begin the layering process again making sure to brush each layer with melted butter until you have another 15 sheets layered on top. Make sure to brush the last sheet evenly with the melted butter.
Using a sharp knife, carefully cut the baklawa into diamond shapes and bake in the oven until golden brown.
Note: It is best to use a sharp knife for this and stand it up straight while cutting. To get even pieces, begin by cutting the whole tray in two halves. Then each half into half again, continue until you have about one inch columns or whatever desired size you prefer. Then cut individual diagonal lines down each column to complete your diamond shapes. Alternatively, you can also just cut baklawa into squares or rectangles.
Take out of the oven and pour the warm simple syrup evenly over the entire thing.
Note: The simple syrup can also be mixed with 2 cups of real honey. This gives the baklawa even more sweetness and a thicker, stickier consistency you commonly find in Tunisia and Algeria.
Let it sit overnight (or a few hours at least) to fully absorb the syrup then run a knife through your original cut marks to help you remove the baklawa pieces.
To serve, place in paper baking cups and arrange on a serving platter.