Monday, May 1, 2017

Excellent New Dessert for Open House

Tetiana Althoff
Tetiana Althoff
It has been an exceptionally busy few months, making appetizer bites for so many different functions. Yesterday, Tetiana Althoff, of Re/Max Preferred Choice, held another Open House at 12936 Prairiewood Drive, here in Aberdeen. For higher end homes, she sometimes holds a wine with appetizers type open house, and I was asked to create some little finger foods for this one. With as many different functions lately, I was looking for some of the simplest recipes possible.

Two that I made were standbys: Savory Blue Cheese Coins with Fig Apricot Preserve, and my Uniquely Fine Chicken Salad, which I served on some little Rubschlager cocktail breads. I had never used my Uniquely Fine Chicken Salad for an Open House situation, so I looked around for ideas to make it look pretty and enticing (Once you taste it, no further enticement is needed 😊). I used both the sourdough and the pumpernickel type breads for variety and color, placed a few baby arugula leaves on the bread before scooping on the salad, and then topped them alternately with either a pecan half or a strip of roasted red pepper. They turned out so pretty! 
Open House:Savory Blue Cheese Coins, Uniquely Fine Chicken Salad, Baklava Bars
Open House Finger Foods, clockwise from top left: Savory Blue Cheese Coins, Uniquely Fine Chicken Salad, Baklava Bars

The one thing I did new and different was Baklava Bars. I don't know about you, but I love Baklava. Also, making it is a whole lot of mess and work. I love phyllo (fillo, filo), but it is messy using all the butter, trying to work with the dough before it dries to a crisp, or trying not to tear it while using. Needless to say, I do not use it too often, thus Baklava is something I do not make often. And probably a good thing, because it is really hard to resist eating it all. 

As I searched the internet for ideas, I came upon this recipe for Greek Baklava Bars from Better Homes & Gardens. The recipe looked and sounded good. But anyone who knows me also knows I really cannot seem to make any recipe "as is." Also, Baklava is generally very sweet. As I looked at the recipe, I tried to see if I could pare down the sugar/honey amounts at all. Not sure how well I succeeded, because it is still sweet. Another thing I was really concerned about is if they would be too sticky to pick up and eat. The last thing a realtor needs is someone dropping sticky, oozy crumbs on the floors, or tracking them through a house. Granted, there are plates and plastic forks there, but still, the concern remains. 
Baklava Bars at Tetiana's Open House
Baklava Bars at Tetiana's Open House

I have a recipe for Baklava that I have used over the years, and aside from switching out the type and quantity of the nuts, that is one recipe I have followed mostly to the letter. I have never put that recipe out here on either blog or my website, because I photocopied the recipe straight from some cookbook many long years ago, and have no idea what book it may have been, or to whom to attribute the recipe. All I can say is that it is so very, very good. 

Knowing how good that recipe always came out, I went to see what it did for the honey syrup part of the recipe. It was somewhat similar, but enough different that I opted to make a somewhat lesser amount of this tried and true syrup to use for this new Baklava Bars recipe. Aside from that, the only other difference in my version was that I used 1 cup of each of the nuts. I used the crust part of the recipe just as it stood. 
Baklava Bars
Baklava Bars

One interesting thing in the BH&G recipe was that they used a box of Mini Phyllo Shells, crumbled over the top of the bars, just before baking; a little tribute to what Baklava is all about - that crispy, delicate crunch. It also adds a bit of interest to the look of the finished bars. Since the little phyllo shells are already baked, they are nicely crisp and so simple to crush, even one-handed!

While I will say uncategorically that these bars are heavenly, it does not imply that they are a snap to make. It took me over 1½ hours before they went into the oven. Granted, it is the first time making them. Still, I am used to making things from scratch. I know where everything is in my kitchen, so I can generally put something together quickly, or at least as quickly as is possible. So, on another attempt, these might take a bit less time. But, no guarantee! The syrup needs to be made, then cooled. The crust has to be made, pressed into the pan and baked. The nuts I chopped by hand, to keep them mostly larger chunks without being whole. The food processor may have done this okay, but I wanted the least "dust" possible, so I chopped - carefully - by hand. And ultimately, these bars are very easy to pick up with hands and eat, and with a minimum of mess, certainly not a sticky mess. Yet the bars are just perfect in that they are sticky: eating them is highly reminiscent of eating real Baklava. The "bite" is very similar. The taste is very similar. These are really excellent, and well worth the time. The fact that they can also be made about 3 or so days in advance and kept refrigerated - or even frozen - makes them perfect for a party where last minute time is of the essence. Make them ahead and let them rest until needed.

Baklava Bars

Makes 48 (1½-inch) bars
Baklava Bars
Baklava Bars

¼ cup water
¼ cup granulated sugar
12 cardamom seeds (not pods!)
3 whole cloves
2 - 3-inches cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
⅓ cup honey
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon orange flower water, optional
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup unsalted butter, softened
½ cup brown sugar
1½ teaspoons fresh lemon zest
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1½ cups all-purpose flour

1 cup walnuts, lightly chopped
1 cup raw, unsalted pistachios, lightly chopped
⅓ cup brown sugar
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 box (1.9 ounces/54 grams) pre-baked phyllo cups, crumbled

SYRUP: In a small saucepan, cook the water, sugar, cardamom seeds, cloves, cinnamon stick and lemon zest over medium to medium-low heat for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the syrup reaches 230 degrees. I used an instant-read thermometer and checked every few minutes. Once the temperature is reached, remove from heat and add in the honey, lemon juice, orange flower water and butter. Stir well to melt the butter, then strain the syrup into a measure with lip for pouring and set aside to cool.

CRUST: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13-inch pan with foil that extends well over the edges. Spray the foil with cooking spray. This helps to easily remove the whole dessert to a surface for easy, neat cutting later.
Crust - Nut Streusel texture - Nut Streusel on crust - Crumbled Phyllo - Phyllo Crumbs over top
         Crust             | Nut Streusel texture |  Nut Streusel on crust | Crumbled Phyllo | Phyllo Crumbs over top

In a mixing bowl, beat the butter, brown sugar and lemon zest until creamy. Combine the egg and vanilla, then beat into the creamed mixture. Add in the flour and mix to combine. Press this mixture evenly into the prepared pan, making sure to press into edges. Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes, until just beginning to turn golden. Cool slightly.

FILLING: In another mixing bowl, combine the walnuts and pistachios with the brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. With fingers, work in the butter. The mixture will look somewhat like streusel. Spread the nut mixture evenly over the crust. Strew the crushed phyllo cups evenly over top of the nut mixture. Bake the baklava bars for 18 to 20 minutes until golden.
Just Baked  -  Cooled Syrup  -  Syrup on Baklava Bars
Just Baked Baklava                         |                 Cooled Syrup                   |                    Syrup on Baklava Bars

Remove from oven and immediately pour the cooled syrup evenly over the surface of the baked Baklava Bars. Let set until cooled. Refrigerate.

To cut, lift the whole baklava out of the pan using the edges of foil. Set on a hard surface to cut into small squares. The bars can also be cut smaller still, into triangles, to make 96 little bites.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest at AHOFpin. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.