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Tag Archives | baklava

Baklava 101 from the Masters & Tips to Make the Real Thing at Home

baklava with pistachios, walnuts - even with chocolate!

baklava with pistachios, walnuts – even with chocolate!

Baklava remains as one of the most popular desserts for most of us and we were delighted to have a chance to observe how the real thing is made during our culinary tour in Istanbul, back in April. Our destination was Gulluoglu Baklava in Karakoy, the master of baklava makers since 1800’s.

The irresistable baklava; we will have a go at it during my CM Turkish cooking class

The irresistable baklava; we will have a go at it during my CM Turkish cooking class on 2nd August

What impresses me is the love and passion the Gulluoglu family have for their product and thrive to make each and every baklava an unforgettable experience. “Hear the crack”, says the 6th generation baklava maker Murat, from the Gulluoglu family, as he divides the piece of baklava with his fork while we tour around the production line; “that cracking sound is the sign of freshness, a sign of the finest baklava; a must for us. Good baklava leaves a heavenly taste in your mouth; it shouldn’t be very sweet and heavy; on the contrary it should be light enough to tempt you to eat a small plateful.”

Hundred years of tradition; baklava masters, ustas, perfecting their art.

Hundred years of tradition; baklava masters, ustas, perfecting their art.

Karakoy Gulluoglu runs baklava demonstration sessions at their factory in Karakoy and watching the ustas, masters of baklava in action, is an unforgettable experience. When I say Masters, I mean it; each of the Ustas, Masters, spend 8-10 years at each phase of baklava making to perfect it; rolling the dough; turning the dough into the paper thin sheets of pastry, making the syrup, baking at the right heat..

Clouds of flour worked in baklava dough to make the paper thin sheets of pastry

Clouds of flour worked in baklava dough to make the paper thin sheets of pastry

The very first thing that greets you here is the clouds of flour in the air to make that paper thin sheets of pastry for baklava, all “opened”, stretched by hand with an oklava, rolling pin.

Each sheet of baklava pastry is so thin that you can read the newpaper behind it

Each sheet of baklava pastry is so thin that you can read the newpaper behind it

Once the pastry is paper thin (2mm width), the Ustas, masters, start layering them on a buttered tray. The hand rolled pastry is so thin that you can read the newspaper article behind the pastry sheet.

Paper thin sheets of pastries piled to go on a well buttered tray

Paper thin sheets of pastries piled to go on a well buttered tray

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Emerald colored finest Gaziantep pistachios spread generously on the baklava sheet.

The baklava master layers 20 sheets of pastry ( and sprinkles melted butter on every 4 sheets) then generously spreads finely crushed Gaziantep pistachios – finest and only type used at baklava here-  (or at some cases walnuts) on the 20th layer.

The Usta, master cuts the sheets first horizontally and poured melted butter over them

The Usta, master cuts the sheets first horizontally and poured melted butter over them

Once the next 20 layers of sheets added on top, the master, usta cuts the sheets first horizontally and pours melted butter over them – cutting helps the butter to penetrate every level. He then cuts vertically and splashes another dose of melted butter all around. The baklava is now ready to be baked in the oven at 165 C – 330 F.

We also had a go at baklava with clotted cream and pistachios; kaymakli, fistikli bohca baklava

We also had a go at baklava with clotted cream and pistachios; kaymakli, fistikli  gelin bohcasi

We also had a go at baklava pockets with clotted cream and pistachios; kaymakli, fistikli  gelin bohcasi, another amazing treat.

Having a go at fistikli gelin bohcasi; baklava pockets with thick clotted cream, kaymak, and pistachios

Having a go at fistikli gelin bohcasi; baklava pockets with thick clotted cream, kaymak, and pistachios

While baklava was baked in the oven, the syrup is prepared, consisting of pure cane sugar, lemon juice and water. In Turkey,  there is no honey added in to the baklava syrup.

In the traditional baklava syrup in Turkey, there are pure cane sugar, lemon juice and water – no honey in it-

In the traditional baklava syrup in Turkey, there are pure cane sugar, lemon juice and water – no honey in it-

Once cooked, the hot syrup is poured over the relatively cooler baklava, and then baklava tray goes back to the oven for another 5 minutes or so to soak up the syrup. After this, the baklava is rested at a cool area.

Syrup poured on baklava; now ready to go back to the oven again
Syrup poured on baklava; now ready to go back to the oven again

 And here is the real thing; wonderful, melt in the mouth delicious baklava. It is so light that you feel like eating ta plateful! I hope you get a chance to try the baklava in Turkey.

Fistikli ve cevizli baklava; baklava with pistachios and walnuts - what a treat

Fistikli ve cevizli baklava; baklava with pistachios and walnuts – what a treat

History of Baklava – Baklava Parade during the Ottomans

There are many theories as to the origin of baklava; but there is one thing for sure, that baklava was perfected at the Topkapi Palace Kitchens during the Ottoman Period and it was the Sultans’ favorite dessert. The importance of baklava at the Palace was not only because it was accepted as the token of wealth and sophistication ( as in the mansion houses) but also because it was a State tradition. The baklava parade that started at the end of the 17th century or at the beginning of the 18th century is example of this tradition.
When soldiers were getting their trimonthly pay from the Sultan, they were offered a big feast and on the 15th day of Ramadan they were treated to baklava. On the 15th day of Ramadan when the Sultan visited Hırka-i Serif (the cloak of Prophet Mohammed kept in Topkapı Palace) as a Caliph , baklava from the palace was sent to the Sultan’s Janissary soldiers. It was one tray of baklava for ten soldiers. The delivery of baklava to the soldiers and carrying the baklava to the barracks had then became an imposing parade.

Round tray baklava, cut in triangular slices

Round tray baklava, cut in triangular slices

Testing the Baklava

Here are some of the tests the masters, ustas at Gulluoglu carries out for a perfect baklava:

Hearing Test 
When you place a fork into a baklava you should hear a rustling sound. This means that the thin layers of dough are really thin and baklava is well cooked. The thinner the layers of dough the better the baklava.
Smelling test
When you lift to your mouth, you must smell the butter and the nut or peanut used as a filling. A good baklava should have fine ingredients.
Tasting test 
You can feel the good baklava in your mouth. Good baklava leaves a heavenly taste in your mouth and does not hurt the stomach.

My home made baklava with walnuts; delicious and easier than you think

My home made baklava with walnuts; delicious and easier than you think

I hope all these inspire you; would you like to have a go at making baklava at home? I make it with filo pastry sheets; it is easier than you think and very satisfying. My version is a little less sweeter and fragrant with a touch of lemon taste, here is the recipe  if you would like to have a go. The real thing shouldn’t be very sweet and heavy; on the contrary it should be light enough to tempt you to eat a small plateful. I think this version achieves that.

Enjoying boreks and baklavas in Gulluoglu Karakoy, Istanbul

Enjoying boreks and baklavas in Gulluoglu Karakoy, Istanbul

I will be demonstrating how to make baklava at my next Turkish Cookery class, at Central Market Cooking School, Austin – Texas on 2nd August.

The Blue Mosque, Sultanahmet Camii, Istanbul
The Blue Mosque, Sultanahmet Camii, Istanbul

9th July marks the start of the holy month of Ramadan this year; best wishes to all observing Ramadan; Ramazaniniz Mubarek Olsun. Baklava is one of the traditional desserts enjoyed during Ramadan, I hope you enjoy this special treat and have a chance to make it at home.

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A Culinary Delight; Gaziantep Cuisine – Bulgur Meatballs with Squash and Chickpeas, in Yoghurt & Mint Sauce – Yogurtlu Bulgurlu Kofte, Gaziantep Usulu

Gaziantep Spices; photo source – Gaziantep Mutfagi 

Have you ever been to Gaziantep? Did you ever have a chance to sample its delicious cuisine reflecting a rich culinary heritage? The last time I have been to Gaziantep was a few years ago; the aromas, spices, the red pepper paste, dried peppers and aubergines adorning the markets.. all still fresh in my mind. With my roots going back to Antakya, I am familiar with these wonderful aromas and spices, and now delighted to get know this delicious cuisine a bit better, I hope you will feel the same way too.

Dried peppers, aubergine, okra features often in Gaziantep Cuisine

Gaziantep cuisine reflects a rich culinary heritage of various civilizations dating back to thousands years ago and with the regional flora and fauna, from Central Asia to Anatolia, the Balkans, Europe and Caucasus. During the festivities, the kitchens of Gaziantep produces the delicious and traditional Yuvarlama  -or Yuvalama in local dialect— ,Gaziantep’s favorite dish. On the three-day Bayram Festivities at the end of Ramadan, it is served in every home, rich or poor. Rolling the tiny ground rice dumplings is both easier and more enjoyable when family members and neighbors get together to share the work. The dish is accompanied by rice pilaf with vermicelli. Yuvarlama is a marvelous combination of different flavors and textures.

Yuvarlama or Yuvalama, Gaziantep’s favorite dish. Photo source: Gaziantep Mutfagi 

How about Gaziantep’s world famous baklava? Please have a look at the story of Gaziantep’s melt-in-the-mouth baklava and how it’s made, featured at Gaziantep Mutfagi . Gaziantep is a culinary delight, a feast for all senses, hope you make it there sometime.

Gaziantep’s famous baklava; source: http://www.gaziantepmutfagi.org, by Tuba Satana http://www.tubasatana.com

Now, a little bit of information on Gaziantep, one of the oldest settlements in the world and the sixth largest city of Turkey. Gaziantep, carrying the imprints of Chalcolithic and Neolithic ages, Hittite, Assyrian, Persian civilizations, Alexander the Great, Seleucid, Roman, Byzantine Empires, Islamic, Turkish-Islamic and Ottoman periods, is home to works of art belonging to all of these ages, civilizations, empires and states. Gaziantep is also the gateway of Silk Road opening to Anatolia; the road of tradesmen, wise men, ideas, religions and cultures, starting from China and leading to Europe.

Magnificent ruins of the ancient city of Zeugma, which has stayed buried beneath the pistachio groves for nearly two thousand years.Source: www.zeugmaweb.com

The traditions, rituals are an important part of Gaziantep’s culinary heritage and it is lovely to see that it is still a big part of the daily life in Gaziantep. The richness of traditional culture has given way to the emergence of a rich culinary culture. The events such as birth, marriage and death have important effect on the local culture, and this has caused the occurrence of an oral culture. For instance, among the catering activities carried out during birth events, kuymak (soft and mushy pilaf), which is believed to increase the amount of breast milk, and loğusa şerbeti (lit. puerpera juice); festive dishes such as Yuvarlama and many other special foods and drinks are some examples of the integration of traditional life style and culinary culture.

During my visit to Istanbul last summer, I was delighted to get a copy of the “Gunesin ve Atesin Tadi” – Taste of the Sun and Fire”; cookery book for the Gaziantep Kitchen. Very true to its title, Gaziantep Kitchen reflects a rich culinary heritage, takes its power from its rich soil, seasonal, sun kissed produce. Then, this seasonal produce, whether cooked on charcoal fire or in the bakeries, reflects the wonderful aromas of sun and the heat. This wonderful cookery book, edited by Aylin Oney Tan, contains Gaziantep’s regional recipes written by 5 local food historians. Gaziantep Chamber of Commerce has been a big part of this project and their website, Gaziantep Mutfagi, -Gaziantep Cuisine- is a very  valuable source into this rich, wonderful cuisine.  My heartfelt thanks to Ms Senay Copur from Gaziantep Chamber of Commerce, for letting me share the lovely photos and culinary heritage of Gaziantep. For more information, please visit Gaziantep Mutfagi,  aimed to promote the Gaziantep Cuisine. Also a big thank you the wonderful blog Aintab Sofrasi on Gaziantep Cuisine,  for letting me use their  Gaziantep market image.

Gunesin ve Atesin Tadi Cookery Book; a great resource on Gaziantep Cuisine.

Stews with yoghurt has a special place in Gaziantep kitchen; one of the richest regional cuisines in Turkey, with the use of yoghurt in their dishes. I recently had a go and re-created Gaziantep’s Stew with bulgur meatballs, in yoghurt and mint sauce – Yogurtlu, bulgurlu kofte -. The traditional recipe also has lamb in it, in my version I omitted the extra meat and added the seasonal squash to  the dish – It is also common to add seasonal vegetables to these yoghurt based stews in Gaziantep kitchen. The chickpeas worked really well in the stew too; not only very healthy, but brought a different texture and wonderful flavor. The dish turned out to be a very satisfying  and substantial meal yet surprisingly light, just as described.

Bulgur meatballs with squash and chickpeas in yoghurt and mint sauce, my variation of Gaziantep’s delicious yogurtlu, bulgurlu kofte.

This recipe calls for fine bulgur wheat. If you can’t get the fine bulgur, perhaps you may blitz the coarse bulgur a couple of times to get the finer version. My bulgur meatballs weren’t as tiny as the traditional ones – and I greatly admire skillful locals making those gorgeous chickpea sized balls in almost no time-, but still very tasty and impressed the family. Next time, I look forward to trying this dish with the chunks of lamb in it. I hope you can give a go to this satisfying, delicious dish.

Bulgur meatballs with squash and chickpeas, in yoghurt & mint sauce

Serves 8-10

1 cup dried chickpeas (or 1 can of 400 gr/14 oz chickpeas, drained and rinsed)

1 squash, cut in small chunks

3 cups strained yogurt –( thick and creamy yoghurt, brand Fage works well)

1 egg

1 teaspoon salt

For the bulgur meatballs:

4 cups fine bulgur

600 g lean minced (ground) meat

1 onion, finely chopped

1 egg

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground red pepper flakes

¼ teaspoon black pepper

For the dried mint sauce:

1  tablespoon dried mint

2 tablespoons butter

 If you are using dried chickpeas, soak them in plenty of cold water overnight. Drain the chickpeas, put them in a pan with plenty of cold water. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and partially cover the pan. Simmer the chickpeas for about 45 minutes or until tender. Drain the chickpeas in a colander and set them aside.  If you are using a can of cooked chickpeas, simply drain its juice and wash the chickpeas in a colander, leave them aside.

Bulgur meatballs mixture; if you can’t get the fine bulgur, you may blitz the coarse bulgur a couple of times to get the finer version.

To make the bulgur meatballs, combine the chopped onion, bulgur, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes and 1 cup of water and put through the food processor twice. Add the ground meat to the mixture and put through the food processor again (it is also possible to knead the mixture by hand, but that requires extra time and effort). Add the egg to the mixture and knead by hand until it is as smooth as bread dough. Prepare the bulgur balls by dipping your hand in water, taking a tiny lump of dough the size of a chickpea and rolling into a ball.

Traditionally, these bulgur meatballs are made to the size of a chickpea – I greatly admire locals making those tiny balls in almost no time – mine came out bigger than that, though still very tasty.

Pour half a liter of water into a heavy pan and bring to the boil. Balance a strainer on top of the pan and place the bulgur balls inside. Cover with a lid and steam for 15 minutes. Remove and place in a large shallow dish to cool.

 Beat the egg and the strained yogurt in a saucepan, place over a low heat and stir constantly in the same direction

To prepare the yoghurt sauce, add 5-6 cups of water and bring to the boil and stir in the chunks of squash, season with salt and pepper. Cook the squash for 15-20 minutes, until it starts to get tender. Beat the egg and the strained yogurt (brand Fage works well as it is) in a saucepan, place over a low heat and stir constantly in the same direction. Occasionally add a tablespoonful of the hot water and once the yogurt comes to the boil, combine it with the hot water in the pan.

Just before serving add the bulgur balls and the chickpeas to the mixture and heat through. Do not add the balls before this stage or they will soften and lose their flavor. Check the seasoning and add salt and ground black pepper to your taste.

Bulgur meatballs with squash and chickpeas, in yoghurt & mint sauce; a very satisfying, delicious meal yet surprisingly light.

For the dried mint sauce; melt the butter in a small pan. Remove from the heat, add the dried mint and drizzle over the serving dish. Serve immediately.

Afiyet Olsun,

Ozlem

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A Very Festive dessert; Syrup Soaked, Cheese Filled Pastry Strands – Kunefe

Glorious syrup soaked, cheese filled pastry strands, Kunefe, a centerpiece for special occasions.

This glorious syrup soaked, cheese filled pastry strands, Kunefe, is one of the signature dishes of my hometown, Antakya, and it was one of the highlights at my Turkish cooking class last Saturday, on October 20th.

Proudly showing and sharing the kunefe at my Turkish cooking class on October 20th – many thanks to dear Nadia for the photo!:)

I spent many happy holidays in Antakya in my childhood; I can still remember getting the freshly baked Tel Kadayif (the pastry strands) from the local bakery, watching the delicate strands forming from the huge sieve from Long Market (Uzun Carsi) in Antakya. And the golden memories of my grandmother cooking Kunefe in her stone oven in her garden, and, we, her grandchildren excitedly waiting for any leftovers of the butter soaked pastry strands is still vivid in my memory, glorious days.

The Master at work in Long Market, Antakya. The dough is pushed through a sieve to form delicate strands, called Tel Kadayif.

Tel kadayif is a dough, pushed through a sieve to form delicate strands, which looks like vermicelli and when soaked in butter and baked, resembles golden shredded wheat. It is the basis for many desserts but this is the most impressive. The hot cheese should ooze out giving an interesting contrast to the syrup soaked, crunchy casing. Any unsalted cheese which melts easily can be used – fresh mozzarella works well. I also like to add a little clotted cream; my mother would add the wonderfully thick cream we get in Turkey, called Kaymak.  Kunefe can be baked in one big pan or smaller ones as individual portions.

Kunefe can also be baked in individual portions, like Sultan Sofrasi in Antakya does wonderfully.

You can get Kadayif, packs of pale strands that look like vermicelli- in Middle Eastern stores (like the Turkish Food Market in Cheam, Surrey – England), online Turkish supermarket Tulumba also carries it.

This festive dessert is easy to make, looks impressive and so delicious, great for entertaining and celebrations. This year starting on October 25th, Muslims around the world will be celebrating the Feast of Sacrifice, Eid al-Adha and I am sure Kunefe will be a part of the festivities in many homes.

Baklava is another very festive dessert and easy to make at home.

Here are also other festive dishes like baklava and other festive desserts  if you would like some more inspirations.

Syrup Soaked, Cheese Filled Pastry Strands – Kunefe

Serves 6

Preparation time: 20 minutes             Cooking time: 45-50 minutes

225gr/8oz ready-prepared kadayif pastry, thawed if frozen

115gr/4oz melted butter

350gr/12oz fresh mozzarella, sliced (dil peyniri in Turkey or  the white kunefelik peynir in southern Turkey works great if you can get)

2-3 tbsp kaymak or clotted cream – optional-

For the syrup:

225gr/8oz sugar

120ml/4fl oz water

Juice of 1/2 small lemon – about 2 tbsp (you can use less, if you prefer)

1-2 tbsp crushed pistachios for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 180C/350 F

First make the syrup. Place the sugar and water in a pan and simmer over a low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Add the lemon juice, reduce the heat through and simmer for about 10 minutes, until it coats the back of the spoon. Then remove from the heat and leave the syrup to cool. The syrup needs to be cool when poured over the cheese filled pastry strands.

Using some of the melted butter, grease a large baking tray.

Soak the pastry strands well in the melted butter to prevent it burning during baking.

Soak the pastry strands well in the melted butter. Use more butter if necessary, as it is important that it is well soaked in order to prevent it burning during the baking time. Divide the pastry strands in two. Spread half of the strands in the base of the baking pan, press it down with your fingers.

Spread or crumble the slices of the fresh mozzarella cheese and the clotted cream (if used) over the top of the pastry and cover with the remainder of the pastry, pressing down firmly.

Cover with the remainder of the pastry over the cheese spread, pressing down firmly.

 

Once you spread the remainder of the pastry over the cheese and pressed down firmly, it is ready to be baked.

Bake the pastry in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes or until the strands are a deep golden color.

Cut the hot, baked pastry strands into portions and pour the prepared cool syrup over it. Serve immediately whilst still hot and the cheese is gooey. You can decorate with a sprinkling of ground pistachio nuts over the top if you like.

 

Afiyet Olsun & Mutlu Bayramlar !

Ozlem

Gorgeous autumn colors in Wisley Gardens, England.

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