Monday, November 28, 2011

Sassy Sweets: Harlot's Baklava

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It's time for my third round of Cook the Books!  I was thrilled when I learned this installment would feature Patricia Davis' book "Harlot's Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece".  I love Greek food and there's a great little Greek restaurant in our old neighborhood that John and I would frequently visit.  I knew that this book, making me test some of my kitchen skills with Greek foods, would be a crowd pleaser!

Ms. Davis is from Long Island (like me!) and is Italian (like me!) so it was easy to relate to her.  But you can also really relate to Ms. Davis because she writes her book in hindsight which allows you to look deeply into her life in a unique way.  For instance, there are many times where you can tell looking back allows her to tell a story more comically (like getting caught nude on a Greek beach) than it was at the time.  Even when she finds a huge bug in her hotel room in Greece and stands outside in her towel rather than confront the bug alone (totally something I would have done, by the way), you can tell she was terrified but you also get to laugh and it seems you are laughing along with her, not at her. 

This type of writing really spoke to me because, after all, John and I have been through a lot this year.  Between his broken ankle, packing and moving in a rented U-Haul through the streets of Boston, and now re-packing and starting new chapters of our lives separated (for a while, at least), it hasn't been the easiest period in our relationship.  Some of these stories we have already gotten to the point where we can laugh (like eating dinner on a big box in our empty kitchen).  Others, I think well, might take some time.  Ms. Davis gave me hope that at some point, we will be able to smile at all the memories--good and bad. 

Originally, I wanted to make her "harlot's sauce" recipe which the book was named for and as an homage to my grandparents.  In the end, after visiting Ms. Davis' website, I decided ultimately on a sweet instead.  Baklava is a very traditional Greek sweet and I think its a good note to end not only her book (which while having ups and downs, ends happy), but also this year of my life (which we have to do in November because Cook the Books next pick is due in January).  There will always be ups and downs but in the end, its nice to be able to look forward to something sweet!
Harlot's Baklava (adapted from here)
Serves:  6-8
Syrup:
1 cinnamon stick
5-6 whole cloves
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
Baklava:
3/4 cup butter, melted1 pound fresh filo dough
1/4 cup fine sugar
1 1/2 cups finely chopped almonds
1 1/2 cups finely chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves

Make the syrup first.  Place all the ingredients in a saucepan and stir over medium heat until all the sugar has dissolved.  Then, bring the liquid to a boil.  Boil over medium heat for about 10 minutes.  Remove cinnamon stick and cloves.  Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Open the filo dough.  Unroll the sheets so they are flat; do not separate.  To help keep the filo dough moist, cover with a moist dish towel.  Use a pastry brush to brush some of the melted butter onto the base and sides of a 13x9 baking pan.  Place ten sheets of filo at the bottom of the pan, one at a time, brushing each lightly with melted butter.  Mix nuts, sugar, and spices together.  Spread half of it over the filo sheets.  Top the nut mixture with three more sheets of filo, brushing each filo sheet with butter again.  Then, top with remaining nuts.  Place all remaining filo sheets on top brushing each of these sheets also with melted butter.  If there are edges of the filo that are hanging off the sides, trim them before continuing.   

Sprinkle water on top of the filo dough and moisten the edges to keep it from curling.  Score the top layers of filo diagonally with a sharp knife (I used a steak knife at Ms. Davis' suggestion) making diamond shapes.  As the filo bakes, it will be "pre-cut" into the shapes of the baklava.  Bake the baklava for about 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, place the pan up one shelf in the oven and bake another 30 minutes.  Make sure that the filo has cooked all the way to the bottom layers.  If the top filo browns too quickly, cover with tin foil. 

When the baklava is done, spoon syrup over the baklava and let steep for several hours.  Then, cut into portions using the diamond shapes cut above as the guide.  John ate this alongside a strong coffee at Ms. Davis' suggestion.  It was delicious (with or without the coffee)!
I'm pleased also to say Ms. Davis will be judging our entries this month!  I love that she gets a chance to respond to our thoughts on the book.  As a collective club, I am always interested to see who takes what out of each book!  Check out all the entries for yourself. 

Until the next time my oven is on...

16 comments:

  1. I hope your days are sweeter from now on just like this terrific baklava! Great post for Cook the Books!

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  2. What a lovely post. As you can tell cooking through memories is my favorite method too. Everytime I eat a loved recipe it takes me back to where I first ate it. Thank goodness it is usually a good place. I love baklava!

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  3. Baklava is a great pick for this book--something sweet and delicious! ;-)

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  4. It sounds like the book really spoke to you. I'm glad you made something sweet. Your baklava looks divine. Great post.

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  5. Thank you for posting this lovely testimonial. SO glad you enjoyed the book, and I hope you also enjoyed the baklava! Best wishes to you in this rough time of your life. YES! The way to think of it all and get through it more easily is to think, "Hmmm, maybe this will make a funny story some day." Warm regards and best wishes,
    Patricia

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  6. I do hoe you feel better soon. A baklava is a good way to do it!

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  7. That really is beautiful baklava! I hope the tough times you are going through pass quickly and become funny stories.

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  8. Nice job with your baklava. I second the other commenters' wishes for brighter days ahead.

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  9. Your baklava looks so yummy, now I wish I would have gone for a sweet as well : )

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  10. Hi, this is Ann from La Buona Cucina, I made the Pizza Puttanesca and you asked about the brown crust. I achieve this by using a pizza stone which creates an even heat on the top and bottom, my favorite is Pampered Chef. I also use a very very high heat, 550 with a convection fan turned on. Hope this helps!

    ReplyDelete

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Welcome! I'm Dani (aka the Growing Foodie), just a girl balancing her career and passion for all things edible in NYC. I hope you'll join me in my adventures in life, through food. (Click for More)
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