Last week was the annual Clark County Master Gardener Volunteer Appreciation Night. That's quite the title, isn't it? I haven't always been able to attend the volunteer appreciation event, but this year we happened to be home, so I was excited to go. I have been a volunteer Master Gardener in my county since 2011, and this last year I reached a total of 500 service hours as a Master Gardener!
As part of the event, we were asked to bring a dessert to share. Each attendee would get to cast three votes (we were given three beans each) for their favorite desserts of the evening. I had asked my husband which dessert I should bring for the contest. After much debate on our morning walk -- a pie or a crisp or my favorite chocolate chip cookies -- his final and ultimate suggestion was baklava. This is a dessert that I have made most Easters for the last ten years or so. I came across the recipe in a Sunset magazine in 2006. It is not one I would have thought to bring, because I typically only associate it with Easter. His reasoning was that it would be different enough to stand out. As usual, he ended up being right! This baklava recipe, from a 2006 Sunset magazine, landed itself in third place for the evening. It was beat out by a blueberry-rhubarb custard and some homemade eclairs.
It's a relatively simple recipe to make. You pulse together in a food processor almonds, walnuts, sugar and cinnamon. Melt a cup of butter, have a thawed package of filo dough at hand, and you are ready to assemble the dessert. Once you layered these all according to the recipe, you use a knife to cut your squares or diamonds and slide the dessert into the oven to bake. While the baklava is baking, you combine sugar, water, honey and a cinnamon stick in a saucepan and heat to make a simple syrup. This syrup gets poured over the baked baklava. The whole dish is allowed to sit for a few hours (or overnight). It's as simple as that!
I placed individual pieces of baklava in paper cupcake liners, so that they were easier to serve at the dessert table. Really the only thing missing was a strong cup of coffee to go with these treats! If you haven't made baklava before, I encourage you to give it a try! It's a simple dessert to assemble that tastes like it took more effort than you really put into it. And who knows, it might earn you accolades with those you serve it to!
Baklava - from Sunset Magazine
- Preheat oven to 325°.
- In a blender or food processor, whirl 1/2 cup sugar with the almonds and walnuts just until finely ground (don't overprocess or mixture may turn into nut butter). Pour into a bowl and stir in remaining 1/2 cup sugar and the cinnamon.
- Unroll filo dough and cover with plastic wrap. Keep filo covered as you work so it doesn't dry out.
- Brush bottom and sides of a 9- by 13-inch baking pan with melted butter. Line pan with 1 sheet of filo (it can extend over pan sides). One at a time, layer 7 more sheets over the first, gathering each to fit into pan and lightly brushing each with butter.
- Sprinkle a fourth of the nut mixture over buttered filo in pan. Lay another sheet of filo on top, gathering it to fit into pan and brushing with butter. Repeat layering of nut mixture with filo sheets and butter until all nut mixture is used.
- Layer all but one of the remaining filo sheets on top, gathering each to fit pan and brushing with butter. Lay the last sheet flat on top and brush with butter. Trim to fit pan.
- With a sharp knife, cut a 2-inch diamond pattern about 1/4 inch deep. If desired, cut a small hole in the center of each diamond and insert a clove to anchor layers. Bake until top is golden and crisp and edges pull away from pan sides, 45 to 55 minutes. Set pan on a rack.
- Slice along cuts, almost (but not completely) to bottom. Pour spiced syrup over baklava. Let stand to absorb most of the syrup, at least 3 hours. Cut through bottom layer and serve.
- Spiced syrup: In a medium pan, mix 2 cups sugar, 1 cup water, 3 tablespoons honey, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and 1 cinnamon stick (about 3 in. long). Cook, uncovered, over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture is reduced to about 1 3/4 cups and has the texture of light syrup, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool to lukewarm, stirring occasionally, 15 to 25 minutes. Discard cinnamon stick.