Happy September, everyone! Wow, I cannot believe fall is upon us. It is my absolute favorite season, and I am just over the moon excited about sweater weather, fall beer, and all those lovely fall baked goodies. So I’ve come up with this thing. I’m calling it Middle Eastern Month. Basically for the month of September, I will be doing nearly all Middle Eastern-inspired recipes on the blog!
This all started because I was thinking of fun things I could do for the blog. Things experimental and different. I thought about a how-to baking technique series (which I think I’m going to do in the winter), writing more about photography tips (which has already started, and you can expect more frequent posting there!), and focusing on a specific cuisine.
So in focusing on a specific cuisine, I wanted to start off with my absolute favorite cuisine, Middle Eastern food. From Turkish to Armenian to Israeli to North African, it’s going to be flavor-packed and absolutely delicious.
Some recipes will be more traditional (Persian Love Cake and Ma’amoul), and some will be more flavor-inspired (Tahini Brownies and Pistachio Nougat). And I’ve thrown in a few of my absolute favorite dips and spreads in there, too (hello Muhammara, you glorious thing).
We start today with one of my favorite takes on a classic, this Hazelnut Chocolate Baklava from my old employer, Sofra’s, cookbook Soframiz. When I worked at Sofra years ago, I was in charge of cutting up the baklava into those perfect triangles. The result was always messy because I created so many little crumbs, and always delicious because I got to eat so many little crumbs. It feels so right to start off this month with a recipe from my employer who was my true introduction to the world of Middle Eastern food, after all.
What is baklava?
Baklava is arguably one of the best Middle Eastern desserts. Many Americans think baklava is Greek, but it actually originated in the Middle East! It’s a gooey, dense dessert that’s made up of layers of flaky phyllo pastry and ground nuts. The whole thing is then soaked in honey and baked. Good baklava is crisp on the outside and ooey in the middle. There really is nothing else like it, and it’s something you absolutely must try at least once in your life!
How to make baklava
This hazelnut chocolate baklava isn’t hard to make, per se, but it does take quite a bit of time to assemble. You first need to make the honey syrup that’ll be poured over the pastry. The syrup in this recipe is made with a combination of water, sugar, honey, cocoa nibs, and cinnamon. Everything is chucked in a pot and left to boil for about 15 minutes before being removed from the heat and strained.
Once the syrup is finished, it’s time to start assembling the homemade baklava. This recipe uses store-bought phyllo, because making phyllo yourself is a big task in and of itself. To make baklava, you brush butter between each layer of phyllo dough. Once you’ve put down a few layers of buttered phyllo, smooth some of the chocolate nut mixture on the dough. Repeat this process until your baking dish is full (make sure you end with a layer of phyllo dough!).
After the hazelnut chocolate baklava has baked, ladle the honey syrup over top and let it rest until fully cooled and set. Don’t eat the baklava while it’s still warm! You’ll scald the roof of your mouth and the texture won’t be right.
Happy Middle Eastern Month, you guys! I, for one, cannot wait!
12 ounces extra bittersweet chocolate (I used 84%), coarsely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
About 9 oz / 12 sheets phyllo
12 oz melted clarified butter
To make the syrup, combine the water, honey, sugar, cococa nibs, and cinnamon sticks in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once boiling, lower the heat and keep at a low boil for 15 minutes. Set aside to cool. Strain; you should have 2 1/2 cups of syrup.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
To make the filling, spread out the hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Bake until toasted, 12-15 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly. Keep oven going at 350°F.
Using a food processor, pulse the hazelnuts until finely ground. The texture should resemble tiny pebbles. Remove from food processor and place in a large bowl.
In the same food processor, pulse the chocolate into similarly sized pieces to the hazelnuts. Remove from food processor and add to the bowl of chopped hazelnuts. Add in cinnamon and stir to combine. Set aside.
Cut the phyllo into 9″ X 13″ pieces, Generously butter the bottom and sides of a 9″ X 13″ baking dish.
Place one sheet of phyllo in the pan and somewhat generously butter the top using the melted clarified butter and a pastry brush. Repeat until you have 8 sheets of phyllo for the bottom layer.
Spread 2 cups of hazelnut chocolate filling evenly over the phyllo. Layer and butter four sheets of phyllo.
Again spread 2 cups of hazelnut chocolate filling evenly over the phyllo. Again layer and butter four sheets of phyllo.
Spread the remaining hazelnut chocolate filling on top. Layer and butter ten sheets of phyllo for the top layer. Let sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes, so the butter solidifies a bit.
Using a ruler, cut the baklava into 3″ X 3″ squares; this will leave a small amount at one end. Cut each square diagonally into two triangles.
Bake at 350°F for 25 minutes, then lower the temperature to 300°F and bake for an additional 45-50 minutes, until golden brown and the top layers of phyllo appear separated.
Remove from oven and ladle the cocoa nib and honey syrup evenly over the hot baklava. Set aside to cool for at least 2 hours, preferably 3-4.
Remove the baklava by carefully sliding a thin spatula down and under the sides of the pan. ENJOY!
Recipe from Soframiz, the unreal cookbook by my former employer!