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Meditation with butter

December 27, 2011

Isn’t it interesting how we decide what we can and cannot do?

You go through life, you experience things, you think about things that you want to do. Often, we decide whether or not we’re able to do those things before we even give it a try.
I do this all the time. I have experienced and even accomplished some things I never thought of being for me. I have done many things that I once thought I would never do- or never would have the opportunity to do or ability to do, for example: climbing mountains, or rollerblading really fast on the street, or even cooking certain foods.

I can add another one to the  “that looks hard I don’t think I could do that”  list–   making baklava.

I know that making baklava is not really like climbing a mountain but it does take time and patience. Climbing is NOT something to rush every step, every route must be planned. For baklava it’s the same. A few days ago while watching  “The Chew”  on ABC, Chef Michael Symon demonstrated and offered his recipe for his mom Angel’s baklava. Chef Michael’s mom’s name is Angel- and it’s a perfect name for this dish! Baklava is so beautiful! The layers are delicate and bring to mind angel wings… AND It looked easy!

What’s the big deal?? I LOVE baklava! I have eaten it a few times and I seem to remember now (as I am through at least 25% of the pan) that I REALLY liked it back in the early 90’s. I recall, as most surfaces in my kitchen now have a slightly sticky residue, that I decided back in the early 90s that I couldn’t eat baklava, because I like to eat baklava too much. Waay too much. Like… “I hear the baklava calling me from downstairs”  too much. You dig?

But that’s between me and my therapist!

Chef Symon said it was easy and delicious so I was determined! It was a bit of an adventure to get the phyllo dough necessary for the recipe. There was not fresh phyllo available in Houston. With some advice from a cool grocer I decided to make the trek over to “Phoenicia”  way out on Westheimer  (25 min. drive one way) to see if I could get the perfect (if frozen) phyllo dough. It turns out one of the brands they have is the same brand that is carried at Central market down in Highland Village so that was good to know. I decided to buy a different brand; Apollo brand.

I don’t think I saw this one at Central market so I decided to try it. While I was at  Phoenicia I bought fresh walnuts and pistachios for making the filling, there were graham crackers in the pantry and I certainly had plenty of butter on hand so I was set.

I need to stop here and say that you are going to need a pastry brush. Didn’t think I needed a new pastry brush because I had several. One that was like a regular bristle pastry brush, and a few different sizes of silicone brushes. I knew that the regular bristle brush would probably be my best bet from other tips, unfortunately this pastry brush decided immediately to start dropping bristles. It began dropping bristles into the butter the moment I put the brush to the pan before the 1st layer of dough went down. Of course I saw the bristles laying in the bottom of the pan and had to wash the pan- and then had to do the entire recipe with silicone brushes. I do not recommend them! They’re great for barbecue sauce but not for buttering/laminating pastry. My darling husband Michael recommended that I just go to the paint store and pick out a couple of really really nice paintbrushes and use them in the kitchen. He pointed out that they would hold up very well and not likely be willing to give up their bristles. Since this was Christmas Eve night I had no choice but to continue with silicone, but you better believe I will definitely hit the hardware store before I need a pastry brush again! This is your most important tool, friends.

I did some research online also about using the phyllo dough since I had never used it before. One tip was to move the dough in the box just as it is stored in the freezer into the refrigerator a couple of days, at least overnight before using it. Also the box recommends that you also leave it out on the counter for a couple of hours before you even take it out-of-the-box and begin assembly. Apparently these steps are very important to keep the dough separate. It worked beautifully for me. I have absolutely no complaints on using phyllo dough. I guess I got lucky, call beginners luck if you wish, but I don’t really see what the big deal is. Easy Peasy!  Yes, you do have to keep the stack of leaves covered while you butter the one you’re working with. It is a little bit of a pain to make sure that they are covered nicely each time- so make it a moving meditation- a respectful ritual. Remove the plastic, carefully lift dough sheet lay on top of butter pan, replace plastic on top, apply butter to leaf, remove plastic, carefully lift a new sheet, lay it on top of  previous buttered sheet, replace plastic on top.  apply butter to leaf, remove plastic…You get the idea! It took me a while you do those 1st 10 layers, but it’s great preparation for the layers after the nut mixture.

After you place and butter 10 leaves, then you add a layer of nut mixture, continue layering the dough with butter for 4 sheets and then add filling again. The 1st leaf that goes on top of the filling is the most difficult to deal with. This leaf tends to slide around on top of the filling and move while you’re trying to butter it. I discovered that if you glue the layers edges together with the butter 1st and then butter the rest of the sheet it helps hold everything in place.  This process takes forever! You have to be patient, and you have to just do the work. After about the 15th layer it turns into that meditation of movement and butter!

The results were great!

The baklava tastes amazing and it looks beautiful. I wish I could stop eating  it. They say it freezes well but I haven’t gotten up enough self-control to actually freeze some of it, I mean what if I want some and it isn’t thawed out yet?? Yes, I definately encourage you to go over to the website that I linked to above and check out this recipe and make your own pan of Angel’s baklava. I’d love to know how it turns out (and how you keep yourself from eating all!)

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