“P” is for Paklava
My first blog post – yipee! This has been long time overdue. I’m so glad I finally got up to speed and joined 2013!
I have hundreds of recipes and ideas that I have been creating and collecting over the years, and I can’t wait to share them with you all. But I wanted my first post to be extra special. It didn’t take me long to decide that Paklava deserved the honor of being my inaugural entry on Floating Kitchen.
Yes, I wrote Paklava with a “P”. It is not a typo. I did not mean to write Baklava. Paklava is the spelling/pronunciation used by many Armenian families, including my own. And today I want to bring you the traditional Armenian Paklava that I grew up making and eating. For Armenians, Paklava is a staple that adorns almost every family gathering and holiday. It looks intimidating and complicated – all those flaky, buttery, nutty, sweet layers. But it’s really quite simple once you get the technique down. And it actually requires very few ingredients. Give it a try – you won’t be disappointed!
My Great Uncle Vosken always said that my mom made the best Paklava in the whole family. This is the recipe that I learned from her many years ago (thanks Mom!).
- For the Paklava
- 1 lb walnuts (4 cups)
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp. ground clove
- 1 lb phyllo dough, thawed (follow the directions on the package to thaw)
- 2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (20 tablespoons)
- For the Simple Syrup
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 1/3 cups water
- 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
- Cinnamon stick
- Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. Get out a 9 X 13 baking pan (glass or ceramic) and set aside. Also get out a pastry brush with natural bristles (i.e. not a silicone pastry brush, it is too rough and will tear the phyllo dough).
- In a food processor, finely chop the walnuts. Add in the granulated sugar and spices and pulse a few times to combine. Transfer to a large bowl.
- Melt the butter and set aside.
- Open and unroll your package of phyllo dough. Now don’t dilly-dally through the next steps or your phyllo dough will dry out and become impossible to work with.
- Using your pastry brush, lightly brush the baking pan with the melted butter. Lay one sheet of phyllo dough in the pan, brushing with melted butter, and folding to make the entire sheet fit. Repeat this with 4 more sheets of phyllo dough, always buttering the layers. Sprinkle on ~1/4 of the ground nut/spice mixture (should be ~1 cup) and spread evenly.
- Now repeat that process 3 more times, but this time only using 3 sheets of phyllo dough for each layer. So that would be: 3 sheets of phyllo dough (always buttering in between each sheet!), 1/4 of the ground nut/spice mixture, 3 sheets of phyllo dough, 1/4 of the ground nut/spice mixture, 3 sheets of phyllo dough, 1/4 of the ground nut/spice mixture. At this point, if you have any leftover ground nut/spice mixture, you can just add it in with this last layer and spread evenly.
- To make the top, layer 4 sheets of phyllo dough, always buttering the layers. Using a very sharp knife, make vertical cuts through the Paklava. I usually make 3 vertical cuts (so you end up with 4 rows total). Then cut diagonally across the pan to make diamond shapes. If you have any butter left over, pour it between the cut marks.
- Bake in pre-heated oven for 30-35 minutes. You want the Paklava to be a light golden color – not too dark. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.
- While the Paklava is baking, make your simple syrup. Combine all ingredients in small sauce pan. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, let cool slightly and strain.
- Pour the simple syrup between the cut marks of the Paklava. I don’t usually use the entire batch of simple syrup for this. I find using ~2/3 of the simple syrup recipe gives about the right sweetness level to the Paklava (you can save the rest in the refrigerator for ~1 week for another use).
- Allow the Paklava to sit in the baking pan for 1-2 hours to give the simple syrup time to soak up into the layers. When ready to serve, you can transfer individual diamonds to doilies or cupcake liners and arrange on a serving platter. Enjoy Paklava at room temperature.
1. Different ethnicities use different combinations of nuts (almonds, pistachios) and spices (cardamom). Feel free to play around to suit your tastes.
2. Phyllo dough dries out very quickly. Once this happens it will start cracking and falling apart and generally be a mess to handle. Make sure everything is prepared and your work station is ready to go before you open that package! One trick: about half way through making the layers “flip” your stack of phyllo dough to ensure you have some good middle of the package sheets (which tend to stay more moist and intact) for the final top layer, which is the most visually important.
3. I alternate which direction I lay the phyllo dough so the “fold” alternates between being at either the top or the bottom of the long edge of the baking pan. This way, one edge doesn’t get too bulky.
4. I find cutting the Paklava to be the hardest part of this whole process. If some of the layers gets a bit messed up, I can usually gently coaxed them back into place with my buttered pastry brush or finger. Also, once the Paklava is cooked and cooled, I run my knife through again to make sure everything was cut all the way through to the bottom. Not all the pieces will come out as perfect diamonds. This is frustrating for perfectionists like myself. But those are the pieces I usually just keep at home to eat for myself – so no real loss there!
5. Once the Paklava is baked and cooled, you have two options. (1) Paklava can be covered and stored “dry” at room temperature for several days. This is my preferred method for storage if you aren’t going to be serving the Paklava right away. This give you the option to make your Paklava well in advance. Or (2) the simple syrup can be added. Once you add the simple syrup you must store the Paklava in the refrigerator and ideally it should be served within 1-2 days. It will still be delicious for several days after this, but it starts to get a bit soft. I prefer to add the simple syrup to the Paklava the day I will be serving it.