One of the great things about all of the baking and exchanging of cookies this time of year is finding out about what is treasured enough to get baked up in other people’s kitchens every Christmas.
We’ve always loved Ellen Fata’s Italian glazed anise cookies, Fran Casper’s sour cream cinnamon cakes, Aunt Sheila’s fudge. I don’t mind asking for recipes (big surprise) and only rarely have been turned down. Oh yes, some are protective of those homemade gifts, saying what then can I give you if you go and make them yourself? A generous refusal!
So: I would so love to know about what’s baking in your kitchen for Christmas this coming week. Probably you’ve done plenty already and are wrapping it up by now. I’m just getting started over here, and as usual my to-bake list is longer than the time available to bake them.
That’s okay though; I’ll get rolling and keep rolling—especially these beautiful riffs on our baklawa.
Traditionally made in Lebanese home kitchens with walnuts (and walnuts only), I’ve always wanted to try almond baklawa in the form of thin, crisp little fingers of the sort sold by the commercial bakeries in Detroit.
Those are good, but I’ve suspected those bakeries use oil/not butter, and so suspected they could be truly excellent, made small-batch at home. This being a year for doing things I’ve always wanted to do (like this and this), I figure it’s high time for the almond baklawa to make its showing.
These pastries are so perfect, so buttery orange-blossom heavenly, that I’d consider generously refusing to share the recipe with you just so I could gift you a plate each year, and they’d be my own sort of hallmark gift that I suspect you’d be waiting by the front door to receive. But since that’s sadly probably not going to work out, I’ll go ahead and share the recipe, in hopes that you might take a minute to share one of your favorites–at least just the title!–with me (and all of us here!) too.
Happy baking, gifting…and eating!
- For the syrup:
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup water
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon orange blossom water
- For the pastry:
- 1½ cups blanched almonds, toasted
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 1-pound package phyllo dough (9 x 14-inch), room temperature
- ¾ cup clarified butter, melted
- Make the syrup: in a small heavy saucepan, bring the sugar, water, and lemon juice to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the orange blossom water. Transfer the syrup to a heatproof container and place it in the refrigerator to chill.
- Preheat the oven to 325°F.
- Grind the almonds in a grinder or food processor until they resemble coarse crumbs, taking care not to make them too fine. In a small bowl, combine the ground almonds with the sugar.
- Set up your workstation with the melted clarified butter, pastry brush, and 13x9x2-inch pan. Note that you can use a larger or smaller pan as long as one side is at least 9 inches. Brush the bottom of the pan generously with clarified butter. Open one of the sleeves of phyllo dough and lay the phyllo flat on top of the plastic it’s wrapped in. Cover the phyllo with a very slightly dampened clean kitchen towel immediately, to keep it from drying out.
- Pull back the towel and carefully pull one sheet of phyllo off the top of the stack and place the short side facing you on the work surface. Recover the phyllo stack with the towel. Brush the phyllo with the clarified butter, first buttering the edges of the phyllo and then the rest of the sheet. Repeat this with another sheet of phyllo. Spoon a narrow line of almonds along the 9-inch/short side of the phyllo in front of you, leaving an inch of space along the 9-inch edge and about ½ inch of space on the side edges.
- Along the 9-inch edge, carefully lift the phyllo up over the nuts, and roll the nuts up in the phyllo in a tight, compact log. Place the log, seam-side down, into the prepared pan across the 9-inch width. Brush the log generously with clarified butter.
- Repeat this process, buttering two layers of phyllo and rolling up the nuts into logs, until all of the phyllo in the stack is used. Feel free to open the other package of phyllo and continue making more, but the 13x9x2-inch pan won’t hold all of the logs. In that case, use an additional pan for any overflow. It’s also fine that the logs don’t fill the pan entirely. Using a sharp chef’s knife, cut the logs into 3-inch fingers (make two cuts evenly spaced apart lengthwise across the pan).
- Bake the baklawa for about 30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown and fragrant. Remove it from the oven and immediately pour the cold syrup evenly over the hot pastry, making the all-important sizzling sound that means everything is working out perfectly.
- Cool the baklawa for at least two hours. Garnish them by spooning a bit of the ground almonds down the center of each row of fingers while they’re still in the pan, and serve. Store the baklawa in the pan until you’re ready to serve them, lightly covered with a sheet of wax paper.