Thursday, February 23, 2012

Nutrageous Gift Pack: Walnuts, Almonds, and Pistachios

Finally, rounding out the gift pack were two desserts I thought MLJ would love.  Both desserts are traditional, but one traditional to MLJ and one traditional to others.  I wanted to incorporate more nuts into the gift back.  What dessert incorporates nuts? Lots of nuts?  Is all about nuts?  One dessert came to mind, Baklava!

I have made baklava several times before, but I am not sure if MLJ has ever had my baklava.  Though she is a nut lover, I am not sure if she is a fan of baklava.  I decided to give it a try anyhow.  Baklava can be the conduit for nearly any type of nut.  When I looked at my list to determine what nuts I had not included that would be good for Baklava, I came up with almonds. I traditionally use almonds and pecans in my baklava (I call it southern style).  I already used Pecans in another dessert, so I thought of going old world traditional with pistachios.  I never used pistachios in my baklava.  This would be new for me.

Now, walnuts are another traditional baklava nut which I have never used in my baklava as well.  But, I already had a recipe with walnut that I knew MLJ would love, so I decided not to use them in the baklava.  With the walnuts I made Super Walnut Brownies.  On many occasions MLJ and I have discussed how brownies do not have enough nuts.  Some places stir a few nuts into the batter, while other sprinkle a few on top.  I chose to give MLJ the best walnut brownies of all.

I used my favorite Bakers One Bowl Brownie recipe (subbing out some flour with cocoa powder as done here), stirring one heaping cup of walnuts into the batter.  Then after spreading the batter in the pan, I sprinkled another 1/2 cup (or so) of walnuts on top of the brownies.  Once completely cooled, make sure to use a sharp knife to cut the brownies into bars.  You want clean cuts through the nuts.

Now back to the baklava.  Baklava is one of my favorite things to bake.  It take time to prepare, but is not super difficult, just slightly technical.  Preparing it really requires little measurement.  I made the syrup while my phyllo dough came to room temperature out of the fridge.  For the syrup I combined 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, and 1/4 cup orange blossom honey.  This made the perfect amount of syrup for me as I do not like my baklava syrupy, drippy, or runny.

I also decided to only make an 8x8 pan of baklava.  I ground approximately 4 oz of pistachios with 4 oz of almonds. I mixed in 1/2 cup of sugar and 1 tsp of cinnamon with the nuts.  I also used two stick of melted butter along with the phyllo dough.  Considering the size of my pan, I ended up with six nut layers!  The most I have ever done.  I was nervous that it would fall apart, but the baklava held its shape better than any other baklava I ever made.  I used five phyllo sheets for the base, three phyllo sheets between the next three nut layers, two phyllo sheets between the next 2 nuts layers, and 4 phyllo sheets on the top.  I started to reduce the number of sheets because I did not want to baklava to be too top heavy and topple over after de-panning.

The baklava came out wonderful, definitely one of the best I have ever made.  The dessert was crunchy and not too sweet.  (Even after begin wrapped in plastic wrap, it retained its crunch.)  The pistachios took on a nice toasted color around the edges of the pan.  The whole dessert married perfectly together.  I am glad this was a batch I was sharing with a potential first time baklava tryer-outer.  Another friend, an ol’ time baklava enthusiast, loved it as well.  In her words, she “crushed it.”

So, this is last post in the Nutrageous Birthday Gift Pack series.  I am sure MLJ has received the gift by now.  I anticipate her savoring the delightfully nutty treats, trying to keep her mother and sister for pilfering them all, and cursing my name (in a good way) for sending her so many baked goods :-)