Through Foodbuzz, I’m super excited to have the opportunity to enter to win a trip to Greece, sponsored by FAGE. Traveling to Greece has been a dream of mine for a long time, so I jumped at the chance to participate. I’m writing this post about the Greek tradition of “good living,” and what it means in my life. Scroll to the bottom of this post for more details and find out how you can also enter to win a Greek getaway!
Most people go crazy for pumpkin this time of year, but my favorite thing about fall is that it’s finally apple season! And now that we live in some of the best apple-growing country around, we had to take advantage of it. Last weekend, my boyfriend and I took a little road trip up to Michigan to go apple picking. We went to an orchard in Fennville and spent the day eating incredibly tasty food at their restaurant and out in the orchard picking apples.
The weather was perfect and the orchard was absolutely gorgeous. After living in the heart of Chicago for the past almost six months (wow!), it was kind of a culture shock to stand in the middle of a field and see nothing but apple trees and land for miles around, and hear nothing but the wind blowing through the leaves. It was perfect.
Not to mention the apple butter bread, fresh-milled apple cider, apple cake, and apple cider donuts we tasted at the restaurant. And the ten pounds of apples we ended up taking home! That weekend, to me, perfectly illustrates what “good living” means to me. Seizing the moment and having an adventure. Spending time with people you care about. And, of course, sharing good, fresh, homemade food.
As you can probably deduce from reading my blog, one of the most important parts of my life and living well is cooking and eating well. The main goal of last weekend was to come home with apples—and to then enjoy the fruits of our labor. This is just the first of several apple recipes I’m sure you’ll see on the blog in the coming weeks. I was inspired by FAGE and Foodbuzz’s contest and decided to put a Greek twist on my first apple recipe this season.
Baklava! For those of you that don’t know, baklava is a traditional Greek dessert made with flaky phyllo dough, nuts (traditionally, walnuts and pistachios), honey, and cinnamon. It’s super rich and super sweet, but it’s so incredibly tasty. I decided to create a variation that married the flavors of apple pie with a traditional baklava because—well, why not? It’s a match made in heaven: apples, toasted walnuts and pecans, cinnamon, honey, nutmeg, cloves. Perfection.
Baklava isn’t the easiest dessert to make simply because of the phyllo dough, which is notoriously hard to work with. You have to work very quickly and keep the paper-thin dough sheets moist. The payoff, however, is totally worth any hassle. It’s light, flaky, buttery, and totally delicious.
My secret? Instead of brushing every layer (50 total!) with melted butter, as is traditional, I used butter-flavored cooking spray. It accomplishes the exact same thing, but with a fraction of the fat, calories, and cholesterol. Baklava is still not a health food by any means, but I like to lighten up where I can. Feel free to use melted butter instead! Here’s how to make it.
Preheat your oven to 350º, then start with nuts. Walnuts and pecans. You can also use pistachios or almonds, but I thought that walnuts and pecans are just perfect with apples. Spread them out on a baking sheet and toast at 350º for 5 to 10 minutes or until fragrant.
Throw them in your food processor with 1/2 cup packed brown sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon. Pulse several times until…
…it looks like this. Kind of a fine gravel texture. Set this mixture aside.
Next, you’ll need an apple. Any kind you like. I’m not sure what kind this was—I wish we’d kept better track of what we were picking!
Slice thinly—as thin as you can get ‘em. The slices don’t have to be pretty, just thin. Cover in plastic wrap or squeeze some lemon juice on these slices so they don’t brown as you assemble your baklava.
Now, for the phyllo/fillo/however-you-want-to-spell-it dough. A package usually comes with two rolls; for this recipe, you’ll use one roll. Freeze the other for later use!
To work with your phyllo dough, you’ll need to completely thaw it. Follow the directions on the box to make sure you’re doing it correctly. Then, unroll it and lay it out flat and cover in plastic wrap.
Then, cover with a damp kitchen towel. When you’re using the dough sheets, take them out one by one and quickly re-cover so the dough doesn’t dry out.
You’ll also need this. Or melted butter and a pastry brush.
Spray an 8×8″ baking dish with your butter-flavored spray. You can also easily double this recipe for a 9×13″ pan. Take one dough sheet and fold it in half in the bottom of the baking dish. There will be 1/8″ to 1/4″ extra on the sides—just fold the excess in (you can see this in the above photo). Spray. Repeat four more times (five sheets or 10 layers total), spraying after each sheet is in place.
Spread a thin layer of your nut mixture over the dough. Then place about half your apple slices in an even layer on top of the nuts. Top with more nuts, using about 1/3 of your nut mixture total.
Repeat the dough layer.
And the nuts and apples layer.
Another dough layer.
And a final layer of the nut mixture, using the last third of the mixture. No apples in this layer.
Finish it off by repeating the dough layer one final time.
Using a very sharp knife, cut into 16 squares. If you’re making a double batch, you can cut these into 32 triangles. It’ll be pretty obnoxious to cut after it’s baked, so it’s much easier to do it now before the dough puffs and becomes flaky. Bake in your preheated oven for about 45 minutes or until the dough is golden-brown.
While the baklava is baking, make your honey syrup. Start with honey, of course!
Combine honey, water, sugar, a cinnamon stick, and a dash each of ground nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
Then, reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook until reduced by half, about 15 minutes.
Transfer to a bowl and cool completely. Remove the cinnamon stick before using!
Pour your cool syrup evenly over the hot baklava. Let the baklava cool to room temperature before serving.
If apple pie and baklava got married, this would be the insanely delicious result. Sweet, crunchy, flaky, buttery, with all the flavors of apple pie. So, so good.
If you’ve never had baklava before, let me warn you that it’s crazy addictive. That’s why it’s great to bring to parties. Or gift to a friend. Or bring into work…before you eat it all!
This shows how truly beautiful all these little layers are. You must try this. Do you know how much baklava I’d eat if I won a trip to Greece? I could only dream!
Adapted from various traditional baklava recipes
Makes 16 squares
For the baklava.
For the syrup
For the syrup
Combine all syrup ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Lower heat to medium-low and continue to boil until reduced by half. Transfer to bowl and cool completely.
For the baklava
Preheat oven to 350º. Spread nuts out in single layer on baking sheet. Toast in oven for 5 to 10 minutes or until fragrant. Transfer to food processor. Add brown sugar and cinnamon. Pulse until the mixture has a medium-fine texture.
Spray 8×8″ baking dish with butter-flavored spray. Lay phyllo sheets out flat and cover with plastic wrap, then with a damp kitchen towel. Working quickly, take one sheet and fold in half in the bottom of the baking dish. Spray with cooking spray. Repeat stacking and spraying with four more sheets. Spread about 1/4 of the nut mixture on top of the dough layer. Place half of the apple slices in a single, even layer on top of the nuts. Cover with another thin layer of nuts, using about 1/3 of the nut mixture total.
Repeat this process a second time. Then repeat a third time, leaving out the apples. Top with another 5 sheets of dough and cooking spray. Using a sharp knife, cut into 16 equal squares. Bake until dough is light golden-brown, about 45 minutes. Pour cooled syrup over hot baklava. Cool to room temperature before serving.
As part of the Foodbuzz Featured Publisher program, I have been entered for the chance to win a trip to Greece courtesy of FAGE. You too can enter to win one of three trips to Greece by entering the FAGE Plain Extraordinary Greek Getaway here: http://www.fageusa.com/community/fage-greek-getaway