The Art of The Paper-thin Pastry: Traditional Strudel and Baklava

“…wanted to leave the past a few hundred miles down the road, shake it off like dust. But that was the problem with the past. It kept finding…” Suzanne Woods Fisher

Creating new recipes, new combinations is an uplifting act for the creator-baker. Featuring unexpected combinations of flavours in classic baked goods always goes a long way, eaters will, and really will, talk about it… However, traditional, tried and solidly unchanged recipes of the past can be just as uplifting on their own way… Baklava, the syrupy, well-known and truly-loved treat of the East is a common discussion subject. Who made baklava first? The Greeks? The Turkish? Filo dough was not born in Greece, but rather in Istanbul during the Ottoman reign. Greeks claim creating the paper-thin version. In reality, there are filo-like pastries in various cuisines all over the world. A close relative to filo is pulled strudel dough… Pulled pastry or handmade strudel – just as sweet and syrupy as baklava – has a crackling quality missing from the machine-made variety.

Pulled Strudel (homemade filo pastry)
Ingredients (for 1 large roll)
For the dough
400g flour
1 egg
300 g lard
250 ml water
4 drops of vinegar
1 pinch of salt
For softening the dough inside and outside
200 g lard, melted
3 tbsp soured cream
For the filling
150 g sugar
200 g cooked pudding rice (prepared in milk)
700 g cherry compote or cherry preserve
Place the ingredients of the dough into a large bowl and knead until a soft, shiny and airy texture is achieved (at least ten minutes by hand).When ready, form two balls,oil them on the top and rest them in a slightly oiled, clean bowl for 20-30 minutes.

Take it out and lay on a well floured, large and dry kitchen towel. Dust it with flour underneath and on the top, then slowly, from the middle towards the outside start to pull, stretch the dough. From time to time place it back on the kitchen towel and gently blow underneath or wobble (ideally, this should be done by two people to avoid tears).

Stretch until a large square is achieved. Once pulled to desired size, drizzle some melted lard, then some soured cream on the dough. After the softening of the dough, layer the filling ingredients evenly. To form the strudel roll, firstly fold the longer sides of the dough in a little bit, then hold the kitchen towel and roll the dough towards the middle from both sides by gently lifting the towel underneath.

Place the roll with the aid of the kitchen towel (as it is too soft to lift) onto a oiled baking tray. Brush with the mixture of the leftover lard and soured cream and bake it in a hot oven (preheated to 210 degrees C) for about 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 160 degrees C, and bake for further 15-20 minutes, until golden brown and slightly crispy on the top. With wetter filling such as grated apple, the strudel may needs to be baked longer.

It is well known that the Turks brought baklava to Central Europe, but almost all the communities of the Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean, Balkans, Caucasia; Turks, Arabs, Jews, Greeks, Armenians, Bulgarians introduced baklava as their national dessert. If considered that all of these regions once belonged to the Ottoman Empire, it is obvious to conclude that Baklava is an Ottoman dessert.

100 g hazelnuts, grated
100 g cashew nuts, grated
150 g sugar
150 g brown sugar
100 ml acacia honey
A large handful of fresh mint, chopped finely
Zest of an orange
Zest of a lemon
100 g walnuts,grated
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
200 g butter , melted
20 sheets/600-650 g of filo pastry

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4. Place the sugars, honey, fresh mint and zests in a sauce pan together with 300 ml of water and bring to a gentle simmer. Let it bubble away, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes or until the liquid has reduced by a third. Leave to cool completely before assembling. Before assembling mix the nuts with the cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Lightly grease a shallow tin (about 20 x 40 cm) with the melted butter. Gently unfold the filo and cover with a damp tea towel to stop it cracking. Layer sheets of filo in the tin and brush each layer with melted butter. After 3 layers, scatter over some of the the nut mixture; repeat with layers of filo, then the rest of the nuts, until 4 layers of nuts achieved. Top with the last layers of filo, then generously butter the top. Cut into diamonds with a sharp knife – ensure the blade goes right to the bottom.
Bake on the middle shelf of the oven on a hot baking sheet for 30–35 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp, reducing the temperature to 170C/gas 3 if the baklava looks as though it is browning too quickly. Remove the baklava from the oven and spoon half the cooled syrup over the top. Leave for 5 minutes, then spoon over the remaining syrup. Allow the baklava to cool before removing the individual pieces from the dish with a palette knife.

These recipes, made with hand-pulled pastries, are kind of forgotten, because it’s not so easy to prepare the dough, therefore people buy it or they make something that reminds them of this kind of treats … but it’s never the same anymore. Making them the proper way though, is less about the pastry and more about connecting to a time before politics forced people to live the way they do, a link to the past…

“The past has been there all along, reminding us: This time–maybe, hopefully, against all odds, we will get it right.” Leslie T. Chang

2 thoughts on “The Art of The Paper-thin Pastry: Traditional Strudel and Baklava

    • Hi dear! Oh thank you for your lovely comments! I have a baby and a toddler, hence the lack of regular posts…they are also the reason why two bakes fit in one post, but this time it resulted an interesting article! Many-many thanks for your ongoing support! J. XXX

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