26 Sept 2014

The BBE: Best Baklava Ever

From this day onwards, there will have been my life before, and my life after this baklava. 
There is no forgetting or turning back. 
Every time I look at the pictures, I stare at them in wonder and remember how amazing it tasted and how I ate 7 portions of it, without shame. 
I just couldn't stop. But, sweet lord, every single million calorie bite was worth it.
Welcome to a new world.

The Best Baklava Ever

If you can pull together a lasagna dish, you can make baklava in your sleep. It is extremely easy to make!

It takes a little time though, just because you need to butter every single layer of filo (I did it with great care, it took me a while but it was a very therapeutic experience).
The result is phenomenal. I still can't believe it, but these were the best baklava I've ever had.

French glacé cherries are optional, but I find they work really well with the pistachios.


For the syrup:
1 cup caster sugar
1 cup honey
1 stick cinnamon
1 or 2 green cardamon seed
1 star anise
2 cloves
1 tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 tbsp rosewater

Filling and filo pastry:
1 pack of filo pastry (I bought "baklava" filo from my local Mediterranean supermarket, which is a nice and thin filo, best for baklava)
450g nuts, 50% unsalted pistachios and 50% blanched almonds (without skin)
10 French Glacé Cherries (optional), finely chopped
Approx 200g butter, melted
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt

Little pans and bowls
wooden spoon
sharp knife
square or rectangular oven proof/gratin dish (approx 10x15 inch/ 20x25 cm)
pastry brush (looks like a kitchen paintbrush)
food processor (or pestle and mortal)


First, make the syrup:
1/ In a heavy bottom small pan, combine all the syrup ingredients except for the rosewater and cook over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until sugar has dissolved and the syrup starts to boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for around 10 min until the syrup is slightly thickened. Remove the whole spices, lemon zest. Add the rosewater, mix and leave to cool in a measuring jug or little bowl.

Then make the baklava filling:
2/ Preheat the oven to 180deg C (350 F)

3/ Place the almonds and pistachios in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped (don't worry if you still have some medium crumbs in there)

4/ In a medium-sized bowl, combine chopped nuts, salt, ground cinnamon

5/ In a small pan, melt the butter on low heat. Once melted, turn the heat off.

Now it's time to assemble the baklava:

6/ With the pastry brush, butter the oven dish with melted butter. 
With a sharp knife, cut 6 sheets of filo pastry (to start with) to the size of the dish (or a tiny bit smaller). The filo tends to dry and break in the open air, so set aside the rest of the pastry wrapped in cling film under a towel, until you need more.

7/ Place the first filo sheet at the base of the dish and lightly brush it with butter. Don't worry if the filo breaks or has a few little holes, there will be hidden in all the layers!
Place another sheet of pastry on top and brush it with butter.
Do the same with 3 other pastry sheets.

8/ Spread approx a third of the nut mix on top of the pastry layers.

9/ Cover with 3 or 4 layers of buttered filo pastry (like you've just done before, buttering each sheet before covering it with another buttered sheet of pastry), taking out of the wrapping and cutting filo sheets from as you go along, 3 or 4 sheets at a time.

10/ Spread another third of the nut mix on top of the pastry, and spread the French Glacé Cherries on top

11/ Cover with 3 or 4 more layers of buttered filo pastry.

12/ Repeat the whole process once more until you've used all the nuts. Finally cover with 6 buttered filo pastry sheets.

13/ Using a sharp knife, make 4 cuts lengthwise through the layers of filo, aiming for something like a diamond or square shape pattern. Bake in the oven for approx 40 min or until the top layer is golden brown. Take out of the oven and leave to cool for 5min.

14/ Slowly drizzle the syrup over the baklava, which will still be warm. There seems to be a lot of syrup, but don't worry, the baklava will slowly suck it up.

15/ Let the baklava stand for a few hours, before running a sharp knife again through the cuts and serving.

Drizzling the syrup over the bakes baklava

5 Sept 2014

Wild blackberry and almond tart

Picking wild fruits has always been one of my favourite activities.

When I was a kid, my grandparents had a family house near Lyon (France), next to which there was a cherry orchard. Every year, during the cherry season, we'd drive the 350km separating us from the house to spend a long weekend there with the whole family (uncles, aunts, cousins and all). My grandpa and grandma would have arrived a few days early to get the house ready and repair their two best ladders. By the time we'd get there, grandpa would have set his ladders against the two bigger trees in the orchard, declaring the cherry picking open. 

For three days, my cousins and I would spend most of our time in the orchard, eating and picking cherries, splitting each tree between the lower branches, to be taken care of by the little kids, and the higher by the taller kids (I was a very little kid, so I mostly stood below the ladder and waited for my older cousins to drop cherries onto my palm). We'd proudly bring back a hamper full of the big dark red cherries to my grandma, who would turn them into the most delicious cherry clafoutis, that we'd eat at every meal for 3 days. 

These days belong to the happiest memories of my childhood.

Today, there is no cherry orchard next to my parents house, but my dad has kept up the family tradition and every time I go visit them during the blackberry season, I join my dad, my little nieces and nephews for a wild blackberry picking session and I'm pretty sure that, like me, these moments will also be engraved in their memories for a long time. 

wild blackberry tart

Wild blackberry and almond tart

We picked these blackberries about 10 days ago in the six miles of bushes that along the cycle path going from Canterbury to Whitstable.
Blackberries and almond work wonders together, but a classic almond frangipane can easily over-power the blackberries.
I made an almond base without butter spread it relatively thin on the pastry case, so it would not bubble up into the blackberries, taste quite subtle, soak up just enough the juices of the blackberries to ensure the pastry would remain crisp.
I find the result perfect, and this tart is a real celebration of our local wild blackberries.


For the sweet pastry: 
250 g flour
100g butter, cubed and slightly softened
100g confectioners'/icing sugar, sifted
pinch of salt
2 medium eggs, at room temperature 

For the almond base:
2 eggs
40g demerara sugar
100g ground almonds 

For the blackberry topping:
Approx 500g of blackberries
4tbsp demerara sugar
Sliced almonds, for decoration 


Make the pastry:

1/ Put the flour in a mound on a counter and make a well. Put in the butter, confectioners'/icing sugar, and salt and mix together with your finger tips.

2/ Gradually draw in the flour into the centre and mix with your finger tips until the dough becomes slightly grainy.

3/ Again, make a well and add the eggs. Work them into the flour mixture, using your fingertips, until the dough begins to hold together.

4/ When the dough is well amalgamated, knead it a few times with the palm of your hand until smooth. Roll the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and rest in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours before using.

5/ 15min before the end of the pastry's resting period, preheat the oven at 170deg C and prepare the almond base: in a bowl, whisk the eggs with a fork. Add the sugar and ground almonds, and whisk until well combined. 

6/ When the dough is rested and you are ready to use it, unwrap and roll out on a lightly floured counter to a 2 - 3 mm thickness (depending in how thick you like it. This pastry is quite solid, so you can roll it out thin if you like). 

7/ Line a tart dish with the pastry, cut out the pieces hanging over, cover the pastry with baking parchment and dried beans or baking beans, and bake blind for 10mins. Remove the baking beans and parchment, and bake for further 5mins until lightly golden. Take out of the oven and leave to cool for 10-15min.

8/ Spread the almond base evenly on the pastry case.

9/ In a bowl mix the blackberries with the demerara sugar, and spread evenly on top of the almond base. Sprinkle with sliced almonds, and bake for 25-35 min. (Take care that the pastry case doesn't burn)

wild blackberry recipe
wild blackberry recipe
wild blackberry tart recipe

Pastry recipe adapted from Michel Roux's pâte sucrée by The Messy Baker