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My version of baklava includes orange or lemon zest, which is supposed to be a more common flavor profile in Israel. Photo Credit: Jason Shriner.

Call It Classic, Not Vintage

By Jason Shriner, The Aubergine Chef

People are funny about food, especially when it comes to traditional recipes. I’ve run into many people who have an impression that certain dishes must be exact duplications of a nebulous classical description. This kind of mentality is flawed and dangerous.

For one, it prevents people from cooking and baking in the first place. Let’s be honest: Nobody handles criticism well especially when it comes to food. When you handcraft something, you put your heart and soul into it. When it tastes good, it tastes good. There is no reason to nitpick at it because someone used a different ingredient, method, or component than you would. I’ve had somebody tell me a classical cake of mine was good, but was technically incorrect because I used water to make the caramel. Once I was even criticized for using fresh cherries to make Black Forest Cake instead of jarred cherries!

Two, it is impossible to recreate vintage recipes. The latest food trend is “vintage” recipes – an overused and increasingly intolerable buzzword. What makes a recipe vintage? That it was written a long time ago? If we accept that definition, does the finished product also count as vintage? How can it? You’re using modern ingredients, processed in modern ways, using modern techniques. Chocolate isn’t even available the same way it was during our grandparents’ era meaning even you perfectly duplicated your grandmother’s chocolate chip cookie recipe they would taste different. I’ve always liked the phrase “a new take on a classic” or “classic with a modern twist” or just simply “a classic.” Classic implies that it’s a traditional recipe but not a faithful reproduction. Not only does the term “vintage” wrongfully imply exact duplications, but it does so with an air of exclusion.

Three, nobody makes the same recipe the same way anyway. If you ask people where baklava was invented one group of people will say Greece, another will say Turkey, and yet another will say Iran. Then each group will accuse the other of making baklava the wrong way. Instead of trying to desperately claim the unverifiable let’s celebrate the reinterpretations of a recipe! Let’s marvel at the Iranian version using rose water. Let’s indulge in the olive oil commonly used in the Greek version. Let’s sample all the different nut varieties found in Turkey.

We should just enjoy food for what it is. We should appreciate it and be inspired by it. Rose-tinted nostalgia shouldn’t prevent us from enjoying a classic recipe.

Jason Shriner owns the baking & pastry blog The Aubergine Chef, which contains free tutorial videos and recipes. He also teaches baking classes at the Manassas Park Community Center. You can visit his blog at www.TheAubergineChef.com.

Baklava
Yields about ½ sheet pan (13” x 18”) depending on the size of your phyllo dough

My version of baklava includes orange or lemon zest, which is supposed to be a more common flavor profile in Israel. Photo Credit: Jason Shriner.
My version of baklava includes orange or lemon zest, which is supposed to be a more common flavor profile in Israel. Photo Credit: Jason Shriner.

10 ounces or 2 ½ sticks of Unsalted butter, melted but not hot
15 sheets of phyllo (or filo) dough, found in your grocer’s freezer section
10 ounces of finely chopped walnuts
5 ounces of finely chopped pistachios
1 ½ cups of honey
1 cup of granulated sugar
¾ cup of water
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
The zest of 1-2 lemons or oranges

1. Combine the walnuts and pistachios

2. On a ½ sheet pan lined with parchment paper stack 5 layers of phyllo, brushing each individual layer lightly with butter

3. Pour half of the nut mixture on top of the phyllo, staying within the borders of the phyllo if the dough doesn’t reach the edge of the pans

4. Repeat step 2, stacking another 5 layers of phyllo on top of the nuts, brushing each individual layer lightly with butter

5. Pour the remaining nut mixture on top of the second layer of phyllo

6. Repeat step 4 a final time, stacking 5 layers of phyllo on top of the remaining nut mixture, brushing each individual layer lightly with butter – including the top piece. You should have used up all your nuts and all 15 sheets of phyllo.

7. Trim the edges of the bakalava with a sharp chef knife so it’s easier to work with. Then, slice from the upper left corner to the middle, creating a diagonal line through the pastry.

 Baking

1. Then using the width of the ruler (about 1 – 1 ½”) as a guide, keep cutting strips in the same diagonal direction.

2. Cut vertically (from 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock), using the width of a ruler as a guide, to create diamonds.

3. Bake for about 11-15 minutes at 420 degrees F.

4. While the pastry is baking prepare the syrup: Combine lemon zest, ground cinnamon, cinnamon stick, honey, granulated sugar, and water in a pot.

5. Keep an eye on the baklava. As the edges are just starting to get brown, begin heating the mixture on high bringing to a boil. You want the syrup to be just at a boil as the pastry is ready to come out of the oven. This may take some practice getting the timing down on your stove and oven. It’s best to keep the syrup hot (but not boiling) if your timing is off – you can easily bring a hot syrup to a boil. You do not want the pastry to get cold while waiting for the syrup to boil.

6. When baklava is browned remove from oven and pour hot syrup over evenly. This will cause the pan to sizzle and steam to come from the syrup lifting the layers of filo dough. If your filo dough did not fill the whole sheet pan it may push some of the pieces outward. Just push them back together. Cool to room temperature (15-20 minutes).

7. Baklava is ready to serve and keep at room temperature for 4 days or refrigerated for 12 days.

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