"Baklava is actually a generic name for all these kinds of sweets originating in the Ottoman Empire," Srulovich explains. "It’s a whole world."
"'Baklava' means a whole lot of pastries," Packer confirms. Our guests' focus, then? Phyllo dough. Simply made of flour and salt, it's a largely flavorless dough that, when brushed with fat (like say, olive oil or melted butter), crisps up in a big way. Which is why it's the ultimate blank canvas for savory and sweet fillings alike.
Packer and Srulovich give you their blessing: Nobody should be making translucent, paper-thin sheets of phyllo at home. That's OK. Because the dough is so simple (flour, salt), it's hard to go wrong between the store-bought brands. Thin sheets are a good sign (especially if can see your hand through them), but if the sheets you buy are a bit thicker, don't worry! Just know to expect a harder crrrrunch when baked up.
Phyllo needs fat to add crispness and flavor to an otherwise lackluster dough. Butter's unique composition of fat and water make for optimal crisping and airiness, but any oil will work (Packer and Srulovich love using ghee while baking).
See a tear? Have no fear. It’s a forgiving dough, especially as you're often working with multiple sheets at a time. No matter the fat you choose, it will help fuse tears.
Whether you go savory or sweet (or both!), just be sure to cool the filling to room temperature before assembling. Hot filling will melt away your chance of crisp layers.
Packer sweats onions in oil with a dried chilli and cinnamon stick, then adds coarsely grated squash (pumpkin, carrots, and sweet potatoes would also all work here), finely chopped sage, and ground coriander. She magnifies the natural sweetness of squash with a touch of honey and sprinkling of salt.
This baklava—rich with pistachios and cream—is inspired by sweets the Packer and Srulovich encountered on their travels, and the lime zest is Packer's own fresh addition.
Approximating double cream, Packer whips heavy whipping cream to soft peaks, mixing that into the lime– and cardamom-scented mascarpone. Meanwhile, Srulovich coarsely chops nice, high-quality pistachios. It's important to use high-quality pistachios here, as they feature most prominently in the pastry. Josh caramelizes plums on the stove, to be served alongside.
To perfume and finish the snails, Packer makes a sugar syrup infused with orange zest and rosewater. Syrups, Packer explains, are a traditional way outdoor market vendors extend the shelf life of baklava—the shellacking prevents against drying out, keeping baklava crisp—but moist—up to a day longer. When finishing pastries with a sugar syrup, remember: use a hot syrup on cold pastries, or a cold syrup on hot pastries. The temperature difference will encourage absorption.
"You know what we say—Everything you bake looks like you," Packer laughs. While Packer and Srulovich show how to fold snug pies and cozy snails, if you're more of a "square-with-clean-sides" person, you can also layer whole sheets directly in a sheet tray, to be divided later. But, remember to cut before baking—this will yield clean, non-shardy slices.
Lay your rectangular sheet of phyllo so a short end is closest to you. Place a scoop of filling in the bottom left corner of the short end of the rectangle. Give your filling a little ledge—tuck about a 1/2-inch of the left long side of the sheet over, to keep the filling from spilling out. Fold the left corner over towards the right, aligning the two edges, and encasing the filling in a triangle. Fold the triangle up and over itself again and again, tucking in the filling each time, until the entire sheet has been folded up.
Layer two sheets with melted butter. Spread with a light layer of filling. Lightly flick the long side of the dough over itself, trapping air into the rolled phyllo, and loosely coil into a snail, with the tail tucked under. Pack into a walled sheet pan, keeping the pastries nestled to prevent them from unraveling.
Space the pastries out on a baking sheet—they won't spread, but do need a bit of elbow room to puff properly, and brush with more melted butter. Bake at 425°F, or until the pastries are shatteringly crisp, crackling when prodded. They taste best right out of the oven—"life changing," Genius Recipes columnist Kristen Miglore called it between bites—but can be reheated until crispy. Those coated in sugar syrup will last a bit longer; store all baklava at room temperature for best texture.
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