Some experiences have to be repeated. Such as the baklava we had on the scenic terrace of an unassuming bakery on Corfu Island, in Greece.
Isn't it usually bright cocktails, dripping beers, or spritzy champagne, that one enjoys when looking over a blue-blue ocean puzzled with jags of green and gold island? Yes, but this was breakfast, and at 10:43am we opted for something sensible, like a coffee and pastry.
The wasps - the island's version of the pestering fly - crowded around as soon as the big-haired server clattered the plates onto our table, and we multi-tasked swatting them away with tasting our first, and our best, baklava in Greece.
Maybe it was because of the chef's generosity with the sweet, sticky syrup, or maybe it was the hint of what I guessed to be rose water, running through each morsel like an undercurrent of a blooming spring. Maybe it was how the baklava, verging on sickly sweet, balanced out with the soft acidity of Greek coffee - where the grounds sink to the cup's bottom and lie there, like a dormant bed of compost, as you drink - gulped between bites. We ordered another two coffees and a third slice to share between us; remaining a fragment reasonable was the only thing stopping us from ordering a fourth.
We sought the same experience in another bakery, and at multiple restaurants, only to be disappointed by the dryer, or colder, or chewier, or less fragrant, baklavas we found there. The solution, then, was evident.
But when we went back to the unassuming bakery, we found that there was no baklava on offer that day. I asked the same big-haired server when they'd be making baklava again. She calls across the store in raucous Greek, then smiles at me reassuringly, as if to say, "don't worry, I'm saying nice things", and a woman with a baby on her hip materialises. "Saturday," she tells me (and we went back that Saturday, our last day, and had two slices of baklava - each). I tell her how much we love her baklava and she bounces her baby with more enthusiasm, rendered happy by my compliment. I don't add the second thing I want to say, though, which was, "And I would love to have the recipe". Perhaps she would have been happy to share it, but, still, I didn't feel like putting her in the awkward position of having to say no to me.
I've had to try figure out the flavour balance myself, then, and, unfortunately, I haven't managed to replicate it yet. Still, this baklava - recipe below - comes close. And served with a cup of strong coffee I can come a little closer to the taste experiences we had on the bakery's seafront terrace.
Easy baklava recipe
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cooking time: 50-60 minutes
For the pastry and filling:
- small knob of butter for greasing
- 250g unsalted butter, melted
- 350g walnuts, roughly chopped
- 150g ground almond
- Generous pinch salt
- 1 tsp ground cardamon
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 16 sheets filo pastry
For the syrup:
- 250g sugar
- 200g water
- Juice half a lemon
- 1 tbsp orange blossom water or 1 tbsp rose water
Pastry and filling method:
- Preheat oven to 180C (350F). Grease an oven tin that's a good size to accommodate the filo pastry sheets (otherwise you can trim down the pastry sheets a bit, like I do). In a bowl, mix walnuts, almond grounds, salt, cardamon and cinnamon and about 5 tbsp of the melted butter.
- Place a layer of filo on tin's bottom, brush with melted butter, and do the same for another 4 pieces (5 in total). Put one third of the nut mix on top, and then layer on 3 sheets of buttered filo pastry. Follow with the second third of nut mix, layer another 3 sheets of buttered filo pastry on top, then add the final third of nut mix, and finish with 5 sheets of buttered filo pastry on top.
- With the sharpest knife you have, cut through the layers, first vertically, and then horizontally (see my photos). Place in oven on middle shelf. After 20 minutes turn temperature down to 150-160C (300-325F) and leave for another 30-40 minutes.
- In a saucepan, bring sugar, water and lemon juice to a boil. Remove from heat and add a little of the orange blossom or rose water and then taste. Little by little, adjust with more orange blossom or rose water to suit your taste.
- Remove baklava from oven, pour the syrup over the top, and return it to the oven for another 5 minutes.
- Let it cool for a little and serve.
Can keep in an airtight container for several days.