Monday, January 21, 2008


There are recipes we all make for special occasions. The reasons vary but inevitably it is out of love. Love for the person who always asks you to make it, love for the person who gave you the recipe, love for the person who enjoyed it but is no longer with us, love for the taste of that special dish.

For me one of those recipes is Baklava. It's name varies by many different cultures but my recipe comes from my paternal grandparents who emigrated to the U.S. from Albania back in the early 1900's. It is a dessert made from phyllo dough, walnuts, butter (lots of it) and sugar. After baking, it is covered with a syrup made from water (Nana used rose water), sugar (or honey), lemon and cinnamon.

Nana used to make the phyllo dough from scratch! If you have ever worked with it you know how thin and tempermental phyllo dough is! It can dry out and crumble in the blink of an eye. It was a labor of love on Nana's part when she made the dough. My father often talks about it and I can only remember in brief glimpses. My nana did not use a recipe like most old world cooks. A little of this, a little of that. My mother would sit next to her and write it down. It is from my mother that I got the written version. Thanks Mom!

Oh, those first sweet, syrupy bites of a diamond-shaped piece of baklava!!!

My first attempt at making baklava was a disaster (huge understatement)! I cooked the syrup too long. After pouring it over the phyllo dough it proceeded to become hard as a rock when it cooled! Needless to say, I now use a thermometer when I cook the syrup. My husband has also gotten into the act and helps me make it. Depending on how many trays we are making it can be quite the event and having two people really helps.

Of my sons only Jeffrey can eat baklava and loves it as much as I do. Unfortunately Michael is allergic to nuts. He prefers my husband's Swedish heritage recipe for Peppakokar.

It is funny how food can help us remember things we thought we had forgotten and the memories of loved ones who are no longer with us. Thank you Nana and Mom for passing this recipe down for so many others to enjoy and for the next generation to pass it on.


Joan said...

Making a treat like that really is a lot of work. I can't imagine making the dough from scratch! I bet there was nothing like it though!

Tobey Shepherd said...

I have memories from my mother's best friend, Aunt Hazel...she was armenian, and her husband was greek, the grandmother's made baklava, spanikopita and a wealth of other fabulous ethnic dishes that I enjoyed as a child, little did I know how much I was being spoiled by all these special of the daughters learned to make some of the treats, wish I had learned too!! The phyllo dough is amazing, I so can't imagine rolling that out by hand!! Makes rolling pasta dough out by hand seem positively wimpy!

My mother has taught me how to make a lot of italian specialties, which I dutifully write down in my own cookbook, as she has them in her memory, I have encouraged her to start writing some of the others down for me that I have not yet tried my hand at, as they are made only for certain holidays, and she is not yet ready to relinquish the duty of making of these days I am going to scrap some of these things....