Gaby's Bakery - Baklava & Challah

December 14, 2021

Gaby's Bakery - Baklava & Challah

This week’s recipes reflect our two merged cultures which Michael tells me are not so different. Something about the familial bonds of the Mediterranean diaspora. According to Michael, “most people have never had great Baklava”. And he insists, “it should be pronounced properly with the emphasis on the first or last syllable. Florid gesticulation of the hands is optional,” he says. “But most importantly it shouldn’t be confused or sound anything like Balaclava”. Whatever!


So much of the taste and pleasure comes from the contrasting textures. Where the multi-layers of filo pastry on top, stay flaky in contrast to the succulent honey infused morass of nuts and pastry below.

Most people’s experience of Baklava is either out of a packet – overly sugared and sitting for months, or, in a restaurant where even if it were made properly to start with, it has languished for days and all becomes sodden. Texture and the timing of flavour release, massively affect taste experiences. Were it not so, we’d all just eat jars of baby food. Try this recipe for a completely different experience.

500gms filo pastry                                                     
500gms chopped nuts (I use pistachios, walnuts and almonds)
250gms melted butter
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground cloves

The syrup:                                       
250mls water
300gms sugar
50gms honey
Zest of 1 lemon
1 cinnamon stick

Melt the butter. Prepare a baking pan by brushing with some of the melted butter. Make the nut mixture by chopping all nuts (I tend to give them a slight blitz in the food processor) and then mix them with the cinnamon and cloves in a bowl.

Start placing a few layers of the filo pastry in the pan, cut to fit the pan, and sprinkle each layer with the melted butter. After the first 6-8 sheets, sprinkle a layer of the nut mixture over the whole surface, then go back to layering the pastry, sprinkling each layer with butter. After a few layers add a nut layer and repeat until you use up all the nuts. Layer the top of the baklava with another 4-6 sheets of pastry, sprinkling each layer with butter.

Once this is done, place the baklava in the fridge for about 15 mins and preheat oven to 170⁰C. Take the baklava out the fridge (this step has just made it easier to cut through). Score through the baklava almost to the bottom, then sprinkle with water, (this should stop the edges from curling) and place it in the preheated oven.

Bake for appx 50-60 mins, or until golden on top.

The Syrup
Prepare the syrup about 10 mins before the baklava comes out of the oven. Place all the ingredients into a saucepan and bring to the boil for 2-3 mins until everything is dissolved, then let simmer for a further 5 mins. Take off the heat to cool slightly.

Once the Baklava is ready, take out the oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Slowly ladle the syrup evenly allowing it to absorb. Let the baklava cool completely before serving.

Friday night bread

Not dissimilar to Greek Easter bread or French brioche, this is easy to prepare and the boys like making mini versions themselves.

570gms white bread flour
200gms lukewarm water
75mls sunflower oil
80gms caster sugar
13gms quick yeast
3 eggs – 2 eggs plus 1 yolk for the bread, (egg white to be used for the egg wash)
1 tsp salt
Sesame seeds (for topping)

Mix all ingredients except the sesame seeds in a large bowl, (yeast and salt should be placed apart) and mix everything together with your hands. Once mixture begins to resemble dough place it on a lightly floured work surface and knead for appx 8 mins until it is smooth and elastic.

Lightly oil the mixing bowl and place bread back in. Cover with lightly oiled cling film, cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place for an hour or more, (or until doubled in size)

Preheat oven to 175⁰C

Once dough has risen, knock back/knead and divide into 2 equal pieces. Divide each half into 3 pieces and then roll into long sausages. Using 3 lengths for each loaf, braid them. Put both loaves on a lined baking tray, leaving space between them, and leave for 20 mins in a warm place.

Egg wash both the loaves, then sprinkle sesame seeds on top and place in the oven for 20-25 mins, they will be darkish brown on top and should sound hollow if tapped on the underside.

Gaby Van Clarke

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