Christmas in our home was exciting time with endless fuss in the kitchen and with some staple dishes on the menu: Stuffed Turkey with herbs, turkey giblets and wild mushrooms risotto on a “bed” of sauerkraut seasoned with smoked paprika; Russian Salad; Fortune Banitza - filo with Bulgarian brined sheep cheese with fortune wishes inside, and of course, our own baklava “The Star of Bethlehem”.
The baklava was a special family thing that we prepared with a great pride as it was cut in a unique way that resembles a star and we, the children, were eager to name it after the star on Christmas that marked the birth of baby Jesus. Dad would take the big trays with the turkey and the baklava and slide them with the snow sled to the Old Bakery around the corner. Those were the days that by Christmas the snow would pile up to our chest, and the Old Bakery was still working. Their ovens were wood fired and they were baking the big dishes for the local households. We use to leave there our baklava for baking, because it is an art to have it properly done on very "slow fire", which would not be always the case in our kitchen's oven... As far my Mum can recall, the recipe and the tradition of cutting was passed down by her great grand-uncle who was an adventurer, travelled a lot around the world and in his older days settled down and opened an inn.
As much as this delightful dish is famous, there is no secret ingredient. However, if there was something special to look for, that were the few little tips that we would whisper from generation to generation about the care a baklava should be prepared with – use clarified unsalted butter, bake slowly, poor hot syrup on cold baked pastries and just like in the fairytales it takes three days and three nights to be made. And here is the "road" to get to this delightful Christmas treat:
1 kg of filo pastry
500 gr of unsalted butter (clarified)
500 gr walnuts crushed
1 cup of sugar
Grated skin of one lemon
1 tablespoon Cinnamon
1 litre of water
1 kg sugar
1 whole sliced in half lemon
1 whole sliced in half orange (optional)
Divide the pastries into three portions. Divide the walnut filling into two portions. Spread gently one portion of the filo on a big round tray and cover with the mixture of nuts. Continue with the next portion of filo pastries. Repeat with the filling of walnuts. Cover with the last portion of filo pastries. Cut thoroughly into small diamond shapes using a very sharp knife.
Clarify the butter and pour it while still hot onto the cut pastry making sure that the butter goes between each cuts. Put in an oven and turn it on 125 degrees Celsius. It will take about three hours to be ready. Check occasionally and look for the distinctive golden colour. Let the baked baklava rest overnight and cool down well. The next day prepare the syrup by mixing all the ingredients and cooking on low temperature until it looks glossy and thicker (that will take about half an hour) and pour it hot over the cold baklava. Let it rest another day and then refrigerate.
This enjoyable flaky syrupy dessert is perfect to serve with your home-made liqueur or a nice coffee.
Let the Star of Bethlehem watch over you and keep you safe and prosperous in the coming New Year!!!
Till my next post!
My very best wishes,
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