A Little History of Round Pistachio Baklava
When I was a little girl, my mother brought me a special dessert. It was baklava, and I loved it. It wasn’t until I was a lot older and moved to a community that had a large Armenian population that I learned that there were a lot of varieties of the venerable dessert. The history of this pastry is long and contested – some say it originated in Ancient Rome citing a recipe from Cato the Elder in 160 BC, some say the Romans stole the recipe from the Greeks, and Byzantine Turks say it was already theirs – Wikipedia Baklava.
I had no idea how the dessert was made, and when I found out it was made with Filo dough, I thought it being so gossamer that I would never be able to handle it. Of course, I was also convinced that I was unable to make decent rice, and frying completely perplexed me.
I have lately been watching YouTube and found the Heghineh Cooking Show. She demonstrates all kinds of good Armenian food, and one day, it was a round baklava with pistachios. The way she did it, and explained it, I thought, you know what, I can do that! I have already conquered rice and mastered frying, so why not Filo, too? I decided to make it for a small dinner party because I was getting kind of tired of cakes or fruit.
Working with Filo
If you have already worked with filo dough, then this recipe should be a breeze for you. If not, and you need to see the method of making these luscious pastries, then head on over to the YouTube video by Heghineh. Please note that you will probably not use the entire roll of dough, some might stick together too much, or get too torn to work with. I would say I lost about 6 sheets.
There are a couple of things I did differently. I used Cortas Rose Syrup that I buy at Armenian stores or at Amazon (it makes a fine cocktail with vodka over ice), and I used True Orange that you can also get at Amazon. I also messed up with the first baklava and forgot to squeeze them together, so I ate those.
What You Need to Make Round Pistachio Baklava
The recipe here is for a half box of frozen filo dough, that you can buy in the frozen dessert section of your local supermarket. You can also get frozen filo at Mediterranean stores.
You will need a soft cloth, a dish towel is about the right size. This is to keep the filo dough from drying out while you work with it. Don’t skip this step!
You will need thin dowels to roll the dough – I used bamboo skewers, they were perfect. Buy those in the barbecue section at the supermarket. You will also need a baking pan with sides, a cake pan is a fine choice.
You will need a pastry brush to brush the filo dough with butter. A knife is not going to do it.
For the pistachios, I bought the pre-shelled variety, if you have willing helpers that won’t eat all the nuts before you can use them, then go ahead and get the ones with shells. Don’t get ones that have flavorings or coloring, you want basic nuts.
- 1/2 box frozen filo dough, thawed
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 1/3 cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon rose syrup
- 1 bag (1 teaspoon) True Orange
- 1 cup crushed pistachios
- It is important that you have everything you need BEFORE you begin. Checklist: skewer, baking pan with sides, damp cloth, pastry brush, cutting board.
- Preheat the oven to 350.
- Pull one piece of filo dough off the pile and lay it on your board. Cover the rest loosely with the damp cloth.
- Dip your pastry brush in the butter and butter the entire sheet. Fold the sheet over in half and butter that side as well.
- Now, take your skewer, and lay it at the top of the fold. Bring the filo over the skewer and continue rolling the filo with the skewer until all but a 1/2 inch is rolled up.
- Take two fingers of each hand and gently squeeze the filo together on the skewer. Some butter will leak out - that's okay, that's why we're using a cutting board.
- Gently remove the squeezed filo from the skewer, and curl it to make a round circle. Put the circle in the pan, and continue doing this until all the filo is used up. You probably will not use all the sheets as some may stick together or tear too badly to use - just toss those and continue on.
- After all the circles have been made, brush them well with butter, then put the pan or pans into the oven and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until the filo is golden brown. Don't let it get too dark as it will continue to cook once it is out of the oven.
- While the filo is baking, make the syrup. Put the sugar, water, rose syrup and orange powder into a sauce pan and boil until all the sugar has dissolved, stirring occasionally. It should be finished when the pan stops frothing, then take it off the stove and let cool.
- If you have not already crushed your pistachios, do it now. If you have a food processor, just pulse them until they are in pieces smaller than a grain of rice, but now powdered. If you don't have a food processor, put the nuts in a bag and run a rolling pin over them to crush them. Last resort, chop them with a very sharp knife.
- After the syrup and filo circles have cooled, spoon the syrup over them, about two to three spoonfuls should be enough. Then, spoon the crushed pistachios in the indentation. You can put one more spoonful of syrup over, and then let them sit and absorb the syrup before serving, about 30 minutes. You will have left over syrup, enough to make another batch, or you can save it to flavor beverages like iced tea.
- If you have some nice paper candy or cookie cups, put the baklava in those. It makes for a nice presentation and people don't get their fingers very sticky trying to get one.
- Store any uneaten baklava in a tightly covered container on counter or your shelves. It does not have to be refrigerated and will last quite a long time because of all the butter and sugar.