Baklava for me was always an indulgence. Something to be eaten at special occasions and in small quantities. Whether it was the Middle Eastern type with pistachios, the Bulgarian variety with walnuts, the Armenian kind – scented with cinnamon, honey-drenched Greek baklava or modern interpretations that involve chocolate – I love baklava.
And when the Miraj Hammam spa at the Shangri-La hotel greeted me recently with a bite of baklava and grapes after my recent hammam and gommage treatment, it was like a salve to my weary soul.
Still, despite my comfort in the kitchen, making baklava always felt like it was out of my comfort zone.
I’m not sure why. Even my mother, a working woman who always felt more comfortable talking about Balzac than clarified butter, made a delicious Bulgarian-style baklava for special occasions when we were growing up. And still, I always felt that it was better left to the older generation.
But cake? I’m fully comfortable with cake. And when I saw a recipe for pistachio baklava cake, I thought to myself ‘This is something I can try. And if the baklava part is a disaster, the cake might make up for it. I can do cake.”
Turns out I can do baklava and cake. This recipe is an utter delight. But before we go any further — you should know that if you are counting your calories, you shouldn’t keep track when looking at the amount of butter, sugar, and nuts that goes into making this much-loved dessert. It really is worth every single calorie.
Substitutions: The recipe calls for Panko or regular bread crumbs. I used Panko crumbs. I was skeptical that the resulting cake would be dry, but the end result was moist and dense and complemented the baklava part beautifully.
I didn’t have orange flower water so I left it out but didn’t notice its absence in the slightest.
Also, I added more cinnamon than was called for, perhaps because my taste buds are used to Armenian baklava. Also, I ordered shelled pistachios from the grocery delivery service, but they substituted pistachios still in their shells. Lovely. Rather than go back out to buy shelled pistachios, I decided to shell each one myself so as not to waste the pistachios I had. It took me a couple of nights and a few episodes of Ray Donovan, but I did it. And I had the blisters on my fingers to prove it! But the colour on these pistachios was a much brighter green than the kind you buy in the store, I told myself in consolation. So it was worth it.
Would I make this again? Most certainly, but for a special occasion – while it wasn’t complicated by any means, it took me a couple of days. Once you get started making the baklava part though, you’ll need to keep going without pause to prevent the filo pastry from drying.
Grade: Six stars out of five. Even the reaction on people’s faces was worth the trouble. My one caveat is that there doesn’t seem to be a neat way to cut this into slices. So if slivers and crumbs of filo pastry would stress you out, you’ve been warned.