Switched on Baklava Transcript

The Food Gallery

    Good evening, and welcome again to the ever-swelling menagerie of maleficent comestibles known as The Food Gallery. Tonight we stroll a peculiar hall which houses foods much feared, not for their flavors, but for the struggles required to put them to plate.
    The dreaded desserts are here, such as the confoundingly contradictory Baked Alaska, the tempestuously temperamental tarte tatin. And then, of course, there's my favorite. Behold, the notorious baklava, a seemingly impossible amalgamation of nuts, syrup, and phyllo dough. Yes, phyllo. Many modern cooks won't allow this dangerously finicky dough into the house for fear of finding in its unfurling pages of crackling, crinkling horror, a foe insurmountable and inedible. But I would argue that phyllo's nasty reputation has been falsely generated by manufacturers, intent upon selling you their spanakopita, their boureki, their baklava.
    I say the cook who fights this fear with solid science, righteous technique, and a handful of decent ingredients will surely be rewarded, not just with dessert, but with ...

[Good Eats Theme]

The Kitchen

    Okay, before we take one step into the wonderful world of baklava, we're going to get something straight, okay? And it's this. Phyllo is nothing to fear. I mean, look at it. Just look at it. It's, it's bread. I mean, you're not afraid of bread, are you? You're not afraid of loaf bread or baguettes or challah or sourdough or pizza, huh? Okay. Well, I'll admit, pizza dough can be a little intimidating. But you get the point. Phyllo is just bread. Sure, it's as thin as a page from the family bible, but it's still just bread.
    Look, if phyllo has gotten a bad rap, it's because people want to fuss over it all the time, and we're not going to do any fussing, okay? Phyllo, bread, not scary, no fussing, done. Good. Let's go shop.

Harry's Farmers Market
Marietta, GA 10:15am

    Luckily for all, nearly every megamart freezer case in the country offers up frozen boxes of phyllo. And personally, I wouldn't buy it any other way. But remember, this stuff is very, very sensitive to time and temperature abuses which can leave it dry, crusty and clumped together. So I suggest you either grab from the very back of the stash, or shop at a market where high turnover is guaranteed, such as a Middle Eastern or a Greek market.
    Now bring a cooler and pack in between other frozen goods, like ice cream and, well, ice cream. Now, this has bought us some time. But we need to get into the home freezer as soon as possible.


GUEST: Nomadic Turk

    Now although "phyllo" means "leaf" in Greek, and many Greek restaurants feature dishes wrapped in its delicate crunch, baklava was actually born far to the north, where once upon a time nomadic Turks dined on unleavened griddle breads called "yufka" while the Persians next door, like this careless carpet-flyer, snacked on nut and honey concoctions. The way I figure it, one day a rogue sirocco blew up, and sent one pilot down to a tasty fate. [sounds of "engine" failure as the carpet descends]


NOMADIC TURK: Pardon, but I believe you've got a great dose of your gooeyness onto my yufka.
PERSIAN: Perhaps it is you who has inserted your breadiness into my nutty goodness.
NT: Mmm, that's not bad.
  P: Boy, howdy. Hey, have you seen where my carpet landed?
CAMEL: [growls as he chews on the carpet]
AB: [voiceover] A historic day, to say the least.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Nebuchadnezzar
            Queen of Sheba
            Emperor Vitellius

    The nut phase is simple, yet very much reflects the true Middle Eastern soul of the dish. Take, for instance, six ounces of pistachios. This drupe was probably born in Northeastern Iran or Afghanistan and was such a favorite with Nebuchadnezzar that the Babylonian king planted the trees in his legendary hanging gardens.

NEBUCHADNEZZAR: [enters, smirks, kisses his ring, exits]

    Legend also holds that the Queen of Sheba passed a law declaring pistachios to be a royal food, forbidden to common folk.

QUEEN OF SHEBA:  [enters and takes AB's container of pistachios]

Don't worry. I've got more.
    Now, let's fast-forward to Rome, 30 A.D. The Emperor Vitellius introduces pistachios to the city-states. And from what they say, he loves them so much, he finishes every single meal with a big old handful.

VITELLIUS: [enters, chomps on pistachios, exits]

    Next, six ounces of walnutsalso from the Middle Eastalso featured in the hanging gardens of Babylon. But in this case, there is a strong Greek connection, the mysterious woman named Carya...

CARYA: [enters]

... who was loved by the god Dionysus.

DIONYSUS: [enters and embraces Carya]

And when she died ...

C: [she dies]

... he turned her into a tree.

D: [a tree pops up where C once stood]

Wacky lovers, those Greek.
    Of course, the Romans also dug walnuts, as the name itself stems from "Jovis glans", or loosely translated, "the royal nut of Jove." Who was the, of course, the Roman version of Zeus, who I'm sure had some great nuts, too.
    Now although American black walnuts would do here, I prefer the Persian varieties, because they're meatier, they're more authentic to the recipe, and, well, they're just about the only commercial type available. Last but not least, six ounces of blanched almonds, and I've got [looks around the pantry], well, I've got raw almonds. Oh, well, we'll adapt.

    And it couldn't be simpler. Simply place six ounces by weight of raw almonds in a small pot, and cover with two cups of water. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. It should take about three or four minutes. When the water is good and boiling, kill the heat and drain the almonds into a colander. Spray with cold water to cool them down and then simply pinch them right out of their skins. Easy as that. Use immediately, or allow to dry and store in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer for up to three months. 6 Ounces Raw Almonds +
2 Cups Water

75% of the world's almond supply is produced in California's Central Valley.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Thing

    Spices. Further proof that baklava was born along the old Mideast trade routes is the fact that most classic recipes call for both cinnamon and allspice, which were very precious commodities back in those days. Now we would never, ever reach for dried, pre-ground megamart spices for a dish like this, would we? Especially when grinding our own is easy. This is especially true of allspice. That is because the little berries of Pimenta officinalis are very regular in shape and size. So we'll simply count out 15 of these guys when we go to the grinder. Now cinnamon's a little trickier. I mean, sure, you could grab one of these [cinnamon sticks] and say, "Hey, I've got myself whole cinnamon." The problem is, most of what is sold as cinnamon in this countryshort, thick, heavily curled dark pieces like thisare actually Cinnamomum cassia, okay? Which is very, very harsh in flavor and aroma. Kind of a single-note perfume; not complex, just loud. What we want for this dish is true cinnamon, Cinnamomum zeylanicum, okay? And that generally comes in quills like this. You'll notice that it's lighter in color than cassia, okay? Always lighter. You can also get it from Vietnam in the larger economy size. This is taken from the bottom of the tree. Or if you drop off in Indonesia some place, you can get one suitable for making a dugout canoe. But you don't have to do that. Just make sure when you go to your local spice vendor, you look for the true cinnamon for this dish. To the grinder!

[places these ingredients in a spice grinder and grinds them together] 15-20 Whole Allspice Berries
1 5-Inch Piece of Cinnamon
[places these ingredients and the spices above into a food processor and pulse chops them into coarse meal] 6 Ounces Pistachios
6 Ounces Walnuts
6 Ounces Blanched Almonds
2/3 Cup Sugar
    Good. Now the next phase is the spritz. And for that we need just a good, clean spritz bottlepolycarbonate is my choicewith a quarter of a cup of clean water, and a teaspoon of rose water. Cup Water +
1 tsp. Rose Water

THING: [presents AB with a vase of roses]
AB: Aw, thank you, Thing. They're lovely. But I said "rose WATER."
  T: [reappears holding just the vase of green water, sans roses]
Actually, rose water is a byproduct of distilling rose oil, which is used in perfumes. [looks at the vase of water] Blecch.

    The highly floral water is used as a finishing touch in many a Middle Eastern dish, such as marzipan, Turkish delight, and, of course, baklava. [finds a bottle of almost empty rose water] Now traditionally, Damask roses are distilled ... Oh, yeah. I usually, uh, I pick this up at an international market down the street. But, oh what the heck. Let's just make our own.

    First we'll need a really big pot. A canning kettle is perfect for the job for many reasons you'll see shortly. Inside goes a nice clean brick right down into the bottom, and then rose petals. We've got about a quart here. And by the way, you can get these really cheap, if not free, from a florist. They don't have to be pretty. They just have to smell good. Next, the solvent, water, about half a gallon or whatever it takes to come right up to the edge of the brick. We want to make sure that the petals are all submerged. There we go. And to catch the distillate, we need a stainless steel bowl right down on top of the brick. And it needs to be a little bit more narrow than the kettle itself. Then we're going to get the lid of the kettle, turn it upside down, and fill it full of ice. That way the steam will hit the lid and of course condense back down into the bowl.

Don't try this at home unless you know for sure that your roses are chemical free.


    Now in about an hour, we will have somewhere between a cup and a pint of fresh, delicious, fragrant rose water. Now would purchasing a bottle be easier? Absolutely. Just make sure that what you purchase is indeed 100% pure rose water. Otherwise, you're going to have to do this.
    [continues the process of making rose water] Okay, so the ice has melted. So I'm just going to kind of carefully pour that down the side of the pot, making sure not to get it, of course, in the stainless steel bowl. And there we have our rose water. And remember, for our entire recipe, we'll only need 1 little teaspoon. It's strong stuff, you know.

    [at the refrigerator] I have seen hundreds of recipes call for simply melting butter and brushing it onto the phyllo layers. But let us keep in mind that the average stick of butter is 8% water by weight. And that is a lot of wetness to make those phyllo layers get sticky. So we are going to clarify butter. We'll need eight ounces, two sticks.

    [back at the stove] So our butter goes into a small saucepan over high heat. And melt it until it actually boils. And that is, of course, the water percentage cooking out. Then slowly start turning the temperature down until the milk solids start to separate out. Eventually, they'll sink and turn a little bit brownwhich I like. Although technically, you could call that ghee. But that's another show. 8 Ounces Unsalted Butter

    All right, I'm going to let this cool for a few minutes before using. I should mention that, tightly sealed and refrigerated, clarified butter will keep for about a hundred years, give or take a month or two. Now everything's done. Time to put together our assembly area.
    Well, it appears that our station is in order. We have our nut and spice mixture here. Our clarified butter is standing by, nice and cool. Our rose water spritz here, a 9 x 13 pan for construction, and a nice, big, clean area for our phyllo, plus a knife to trim it with. All we need now is a basting brush.

In parts of Greece, baklava is often made with
hard roasted chickpeas instead of nuts.

The Kitchen

    [AB is painting] Most cooks don't think too much about basting or basting brushes, despite the effect that they can have on the final appearance, flavor, and texture of many foods. Now let us consider the options, beginning with shapes. All right, now round brushes are ideal for distributing shortening into nooks and crannies of pans, say, a Bundt pan or an intricate kugelhopf. It's a blunt tool, meant to be jabbed and poked, rather than brushed.
    For brushing, we have the classic flat paintbrush style, which comes in varying widths and lengths. And like the hardware store models that they resemble, they smoothly apply low to medium viscosity liquids. You know, things like melted butter and barbeque sauce.
    Now the other shape I call a mop, which is meant to slop and plop barbeque sauce and the like onto big old hunks of hog and other critters. Not exactly precision tools.
    Now let's talk about materials. Natural bristles, or hogs' hair brushes, they load well. That means that they soak up a lot of material, and they neatly apply a wide range of viscosity liquids. But they tend to be hard to wash. They can pick up and hold strange flavors. And as they age, they start dropping bristles into your food which is never good eats.
    Now nylon bristles can load up very, very, well, badly. They're vulnerable to heat damage. They're a pain to clean. And near as I can tell, besides being cheap, there are really no pros to nylon brushes.
    Now if you hang out in a cooking emporium or have over the last few years, you've no doubt noticed silicone basting brushes like this, and like this, and like this. They completely monopolized the racks of stores now because of their goofy shapes and their candy color schemes. Now silicone is easy to clean, it's dishwasher safe, can tolerate temperatures in excess of 600 degrees, which means they can stick their little floppy heads way down into the grill. And of course, they're perfect for, you know, like tickling things. [tickles himself and laughs] But silicone loads lousy, and that means making a lot of drippy trips back and forth, you know, if you get my drift. Now I would have given up on these things entirely if it were not for one small advance. Certain models now sport these kind of little flat paddle areas right in the middle of the bristles, okay? And it's full of holes. And when dipped in something like butter, they fill up, kind of like the bubble wands you used to play with as a kid.
    Now I still keep around a few other brushes for various tasks. But for butter, there can be only one. [indicates the last brush he just covered] There. [indicates the painting he's been working on] I think that's about finished. Ha-ha-ha-ha. [reveals the painting which appears to be a self-portrait]

    Time now to face the phyllo. Okay, one whole package, a pound, straight from the freezer into the microwave on high for 60 seconds. I know, most recipes call for thawing in the fridge. But that inevitably means moisture buildup, and moisture leads to gummy phyllo, which is nigh on impossible to work with. Trust me on this! 1 Pound Phyllo

    [at the counter] Now the phyllo is going to be a lot easier to work with if it's the right size, so just lay your pan on across the stack, and use it as a guide. Trim with a sharp knife. [cuts the phyllo down to the size of the bottom of the pan] There.
    Now traditionally, a moist towel is laid across the phyllo stack to keep it from drying out. Hogwash, I say! Just work quickly and you're not going to have any troubles whatsoever.
    Okay, first step, brush the pan with [the clarified] butter. And make sure you get the corners. That's important. There. Now we'll bring on the first sheet. You'll notice that I like to lift away, bring it over, and then lay it down towards me. It's almost like, you know, I'm putting a new sheet on a bed. And now we'll butter the top. Now I like to just kind of sprinkle the butter around first and then smooth it out, spread it, always moving towards the sides so I don't fold it up on itself.

    Now we repeat this with nine more sheets, with butter between each of them. That's a total of ten. Okay. Now the first installment of nuts, one third, evenly distributed. Now you don't want to pack them down, but you don't want air pockets either. Good. Now the spritz with the rose water. And don't be alarmed if the room suddenly smells like your grandmother just walked in. This is, after all, the signature aroma of old women everywhere. 10 Sheets of Phyllo + Butter

1/3 Nut Mixture

    Okay, now six sheets of phyllo go on just as before, with butter between each layer. Ahh, okay. Now a second installment of nuts and a second spritz. 6 Sheets of Phyllo + Butter

1/3 Nut Mixture

    This we will follow with another six sheets with butter between every layer. Okay, the last installment of nuts goes on. And the final installment of eau de old lady. It tastes good though, believe me. 6 Sheets of Phyllo + Butter

1/3 Nut Mixture

    And we top that with eight sheets of phyllo with butter in between. So that's a total of 30 sheets. 30 sheets all day, each one with a little bit of butter in between. 8 Sheets of Phyllo + Butter

    [at the oven] All right, into the 350-degree oven for 30 minutes. Then we will remove it, cut it into portions, and bake another 30.

350 Degrees

Baklava formula:
10 sheets & butter
1/3 nuts + spritz
6 sheets & butter
1/3 nuts + spritz
6 sheets & butter
1/3 nuts + spritz
8 sheets & butter

The Kitchen

    [buzzer sounds] Ahh. Good, even browning. Now we cut. Just use a plain old paring knife for this, non-serrated, and saw straight up and down. Don't worry about cutting through every bit of dough. We'll take care of that later. And don't worry if the top layer shatters a little bit as you cut. It'll all come back together later, when the syrup comes home to roost.

    Ahh. There. Now back in, and we'll bake for another 30 minutes. Meanwhile, we will construct phase four, the syrup.

350 Degrees

    Sugar from cane really didn't make it to the Middle East until the 10th or 11th centuries, which is why most of the classic desserts of the region are sweetened exclusively with honey. Now our application will make use of one and a quarter cups of orange blossom honey. But because I find honey overpowering in large amounts, because sugar-based syrups set more solidly, I will use the same amount of good old Citizen Cane.

    So one and a quarter cup each honey and sugar goes into a four-quart saucepan, along with one piece of cinnamon and a nice piece of orange zest, and a cup and a quarter of water. Now bring that to a boil over high heat, stirring every now and then. And when it gets to a boil, let it stay at a boil for a solid 10 minutes. Then remove the bits and pieces, and use immediately. Or if you let it cool, make sure you reheat it before adding it to the baklava. 1 Cup Honey +
1 Cup Sugar

1 Cinnamon Stick +
Orange Peel +
1 Cup Water

    [at the oven] Ahh. Good. Exactly what we want to see. Now let this cool to room temperature before introducing the syrup to the party.
    [at the counter] All right, two hours are up. It is time to re-perforate our baklava. Before you do this, if you made your syrup ahead of time, go ahead and put some heat to it, so it'll be nice and steamy when it goes onto the dough. So let's just retrace our steps, shall we? [recuts the baklava and adds the syrup]
    Now I realize at this point, that it looks like there's just way too much syrup. But believe me, over the next eight hours it will all be absorbed. Yeah, eight hours. Well, look, I said it was good, and I said it was easy. I never said it was fast.

The Food Gallery

    And so in the end, we see that, when armed with a little understanding, the fear falls away and we can see baklava for what it really is. Fun, easy to bake, a snap to build, a delicious piece of history on a plate. Which may be worthy of placement in a museum, but also deserving of a place in our kitchens, not to mention on Good Eats. Good night.

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

Hit Counter

Last Edited on 08/27/2010