In a few days (March 26th, to be precise) I'll be entering the latter half of my twenties. To celebrate, Jeremy and I are heading out to the Palm Desert today to enjoy a relaxing weekend at the Highland Springs Resort where we'll do some hiking, antiquing, and partake in general merrymaking. Each year for my birthday, I like to make myself a special sweet that I know I'll love but that's also something that I've never made before. Last year I made myself a Thai tea-flavored cake with a coconut cream icing, which combined my love of Thai iced tea with my love of cake. New, yet something I was certain I'd enjoy. This year I decided to make an old family recipe from my family's cookbook, but gave it a bit of a twist. Yep, I put baklava in cake form.
Baklava is a Greek dessert made from layers of buttered filo dough alternated with a nut-sugar-spice mixture, which is then baked until golden brown and then soaked in a chilled honey syrup immediately upon removal from the oven. When done well, it tastes like a warm, buttery, nutty, and honey-tastic version of heaven. If you've ever had generic baklava, it's probably been made too dry to help keep it from being quite as sticky. Even a lot of Greek restaurants have trouble getting the syrup-to-baked good ratio quite right. Another important aspect of baklava-making is how ground-up the nuts are. You want them to be fairly ground but not completely powdery, there should be some pea-sized bits mixed in there, too. If the nut chunks are too big, half of them will fall out when you bite into the baklava because they're not fine enough to get all stuck together when soaked with the syrup. And if they're too small, you loose the nice crunch of the nutty texture. Because of my repeated commercial-baklava disappointment, I don't buy baklava anymore and only have it a couple times a year when I or my family decides to make some. And that makes it all the more desirable because the few times I do have it, it is consistently amazing, and has thus seared itself into my subconcious as some sort of super-secret dessert weapon I have access to.
|Mmmmmm honey syrup.|
I've been thinking about making a baklava cake for a long time now, so I decided to google it to see if anyone else had had success with it before, and that's when I came across this recipe from The Hungry Rabbit. She made regular cake layers and also some thinner baklava layers and alternated them, which turned out beautifully. But my Greekness did not want anything in the cake except good ol' baklava, so I went ahead and gave my dad's recipe a whirl in three separate cake pans. I used an Athena frozen filo package (which comes with two rolls of filo, you'll need both), thawed it out, folded the stack of sheets in half, cut a 7-inch circle out, and started the tedious process of buttering and layering. When I was done, I was worried that they weren't going to be tall enough to end up looking like a cake, but when they baked the filo layers puffed up a LOT and they ended up doubling-to-tripling in height, which was great! I also loved that The Hungry Rabbit baked the leftover cuttings of the filo dough and used it as a cake topper, so I did that as well except I tossed all the pieces with some of the sugar-nut-spice mix and patted them down in a cake pan so that they'd bake into a sturdy top layer.
In the end, the cake tasted just like my Dad's baklava, except there was sooooo much more of it in a single piece because of how high up it was. One thin slice of the cake was really like 3 baklava slices in one (that's not a complaint, fyi), so I tended towards eating a layer, putzing around for ten minutes, coming back and eating the other one, putzing around, eating the last layer, putzing around, cutting another slice, and repeating.
It was a good day.
And speaking of good days, today I am announcing the winner of the Craft Cocktails at Home giveaway! And the winner is......
Congratulations Laura! I will be getting in contact with you soon about your new book!
(40) 9 x 14-inch Sheets of Filo Dough (this is the package I purchased from the frozen desserts section of my grocery store)
3/4 Cup Butter, melted
1/3 lb Crushed Almonds
1/3 lb Crushed Walnuts
3/4 Cup Sugar
1 and 3/4 Teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Cloves
Honey Cinnamon Syrup
1 and 1/3 Cups Granulated Sugar
1 Cup Water
1/3 Cup Honey
1 Tablespoon Plus 1 and 1/2 Teaspoons Lemon Juice
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon or 1 Cinnamon Stick
Pastry Brush, about 4 inches wide
Sharp Small Knife, such as a paring knife
(3) 8-inch Well-Greased Cake Pans (springform is best but normal cake pans will work too)
Slightly Damp Towel, (if you can just mist it a bit with water that is best)
First, make the honey cinnamon syrup. Bring the sugar, water, and cinnamon to a boil in a small pot. Add the lemon and the honey, stir well, and lower the heat to a simmer. Allow the mixture to simmer for 10 minutes, stirring every 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate.
In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the nuts, sugar, cinnamon, and cloves until well blended. Set aside. Cut (3) 8-inch circles out of the parchment paper and place them in the bottom of each of the well-greased cake pans. Then remove the filo from the package and lay flat. Fold the entire stack in half so that it now measures 9 x 7 inches. Using a small sharp knife, cut a 7-inch diameter circle out of the stack of filo. Cover the circular filo sheets and the leftover cuttings with the towel. This will help keep the filo dough from drying out while you're working.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Take a circular sheet of filo, place it in the bottom of a cake pan, and lightly brush it with the melted butter. Repeat this process 8 times so you have 8 buttered sheets of filo dough in the bottom of the pan. Take 1/3 cup of the nut mixture and evenly distribute it over the filo in the cake pan. Repeat the layering and nut sprinkling process 3 more times, and then add 8 more buttered filo sheets over the last layer of the nut mixture. You should have used 40 sheets of filo dough. Take the small sharp knife and cut small slices into the top of the filo, going down several layers but not all the way to the bottom of the pan, and not all the way from the center to the edge. you just want a line about 3-4 inches long to help the baklava absorb the syrup later, and also to make the cake easier to cut when serving. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. Repeat this process with the second cake pan.
Lightly brush the leftover cuttings of the filo dough with butter and place them in the bottom of the third cake pan until they have covered the bottom, then sprinkle half of the remaining nut mixture over them. Continue brushing the cuttings until they're all buttered, tossing these buttered cuttings into the bowl with the nut mixture as you butter them. Toss them with the remaining nut mixture and then empty them onto the third cake pan, pressing down just a bit to help everything stick together.
Remove the other two cake pans from the refrigerator, uncover them, and now place all three cake pans in the oven. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until the filo dough puffs up significantly (doubles to triples in height) and turns golden brown. Remove from the oven and pour all the honey syrup over the pans, (pouring just a tad bit more into the two pans with the circular sheets of filo). Allow them to sit in their pans, cooling and soaking up the syrup, for at least an hour and a half.
For the layering part, I really recommend just using your hands to lift and move the filo cakes rather than a spatula because filo is brittle and you'll have a better grip on it if you just hold it yourself. (Warning, your hands will get sticky.) If you used a springform cake pan, remove the sides and layer the two circular filo cakes on top of each other on your serving plate, lining up the slice marks on top and making sure that you remove the sheet of parchment paper underneath. Now place the filo cake with the cuttings on top, again making sure to remove the parchment paper. If you used regular cake pans, just reach down into the pan and push your fingers underneath the layer of parchment paper and lift up the filo cake (thumbs on top, remaining fingers supporting underneath) and follow the same layering process outlined above. Congratulations, you made a tricky but wonderful baklava cake! Now eat and enjoy it.