Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Puff Pastry Baklava Bites

You wouldn't think there'd be a large Greek population in a place like the westernmost tip of the Florida panhandle.  When we lived there we called it "Lower Alabama".  Or perhaps you've heard of the "Redneck Riviera"?  Living in Pensacola in my early 20s was a lot of fun- great bars, great beach.  It was like spring break all year round.  But I definitely felt a lack of culture there (in every sense of the word).  The only real sense of diversity from the deeply Southern folks living there was a little pocket of Greek families that came out en masse once a year to celebrate their heritage.
The Greek Festival was something to look forward to- just like watching the Blue Angels fly their show over the beach or tailgating on the bridge over the water on the 4th of July.  The dancing, music and food were all good enough to make you want to spend the whole day wandering the festival in the hot Florida sun.  We even spent some time looking at the beautiful artwork in the Greek Orthodox church nearby.  The best part for me was always the food.  I love Greek food.  The feta, yogurt, oregano, juicy grilled meats....and best of all, baklava handmade by little Greek ladies from the church.  To this day, I haven't had better (and believe me, I've searched).  There's just something about all those layers of butter soaked phyllo surrounding finely ground nuts and drowned in the stickiest syrup ever that makes my heart go pitter pat.
I've made baklava before and it certainly a labor of love.  It takes patience to deal with those paper thin sheets of dough, and all that butter- oh the butter!  I had an inkling that a batch of baklava would be great with our Easter dinner this year, so I set out to make some. That's when I discovered that the box of phyllo that I thought I had in my freezer was in fact puff pastry.  I decided just to roll with it- puff pastry is just lots of buttery pastry layers which is just what I was going to do with the phyllo, right?- and these little beauties were born.  Quicker than the traditional and just close enough to the real thing to satisfy a craving.  Not too shabby.  The little Greek ladies would be proud, I think.
Puff Pastry Baklava Bites
Makes 9 generous cookies.  Syrup recipe from Warm Bread and Honey Cake, by Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra.
For the printable recipe, click here.

I've used both pistachios and walnuts when making baklava.  They are both traditional, depending on the origin of the baklava.  Pistachios tend to be more Persian and walnuts are most often used in Greek baklava.  I like both, but used pistachios for these cookies.  The other ingredient of note here is the rose water.  It isn't essential, but if you do use it you will have a syrup that has just a hint of the exotic to it.  You can't get more traditional than that.  You could use orange blossom water as well.  You'll find both in a well stocked grocery store, a good kitchen store (like Sur la Table) or a Middle Eastern market.

2 sheets puff pastry, thawed, but kept cool (use all butter pastry if possible)
1 cup finely chopped unsalted pistachios
1 tbs butter, melted
1 cup cooled sugar syrup, recipe below

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Lay one sheet of puff pastry on a lightly floured work surface.  With a sharp knife or pastry cutter cut the pastry into 9 equal sized squares (in a 3 x 3 grid).  Lay the squares of pastry on the parchment lined baking sheet leaving at least one inch between them.  Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of chopped pistachios in the center of each pastry square, leaving a 1/4 inch border around the edge.

Cut the second sheet of puff pastry in the same way as the first. Using the tip of the knife, cut a slash diagonally through the center of each pastry square, taking care not to go all the way to the corners. Lay the second pastry squares on top of the pistachio covered ones on the baking sheet, pressing a bit around the edges.  Brush the tops with the melted butter.  Place in the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes, until the tops are slightly puffed and golden.

Remove the cookies from the oven and while still hot, brush with a layer of the sugar syrup.  Let the syrup soak in completely and then brush the tops with the syrup again.  Repeat at least two more times.  Let the cookies cool completely.  They will keep for 2-3 days in an airtight container.

Sugar Syrup

1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup water
1 tsp lemon juice
2-3 drops rose water

Place the sugar, water and lemon juice in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a boil, stirring, to dissolve the sugar.  Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the rose water.  Let the syrup cool completely before using.  It can be kept in a covered container in the refrigerator for two weeks.

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