Baklava – Clarifying Butter and Layering

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 30,984
    Chef Amy Riolo demonstrates how to clarify butter and layer the baklava.

    Amy Riolo: Hi! I am Amy Riolo. Today, we are making Almond Baklava and I am going to show you how to actually assemble the Baklava. The first thing that we need to do before putting the Baklava together, is to clarify our butter. Now, what that means is that you take unsalted butter, in this case it's two sticks that's one cup of unsalted butter and you melt it over the stove. What happens when you melt the butter over the stove is all of these white milk solids come to the top.

    Now, we want to get rid of these milk solids because what happens is they make they make the browning uneven and they also have a less rich taste. So we just want to get to the very pure golden butter. So all that we have to do is once that butter is melted, is just take a spoon and skim off the milk solids. It's very easy, it's very unscientific and it only takes a few minutes. So this is the process. If you ever see clarified butter in any recipe and you will when you are doing things like doughs, things that really you want to have it even browning and it's even good to do for things like stews and rice. A lot of different cuisines call for clarified butter, it gives you a nice thick, rich, pure buttery taste without any of the stuff that you don't want.

    Now, in some recipes, if it calls for and you don't do it, it's not the end of the world but in Baklava, it's really important, it's really something that you want to do for culture, for tradition, for taste and also for even browning. So, that's just what we will be doing is skimming off these solids and it's only takes a few minutes here, to be done. You always want to use unsalted butter because that really -- in these kinds of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean recipes, they don't put a lot of salt in their sweets. In American recipes we tend to put a little bit of salt to balance out our sugar, but in this part of the world, they don't. So, make sure that you use unsalted butter for the recipe.

    You can also - people ask me if they can use ghee or the Indian clarified butter. It's available ready in the stores and you can, however, it's important to keep in mind with the ghee that -- yes, it is clarified butter but it's an aged clarified butter, so it's going to have a stronger even more rich taste and if you are not familiar with Ghee I would suggest actually tasting it before you go ahead and just blindly use it in your recipe. Now as you can see this just took a few minutes, so it's very easy for us to do and this is what it looks like at the end. You see you have got mostly golden on the top and this is what you want to have in your recipe, is this golden butter.

    Now, we can actually go ahead and move over and start working with our Fillo dough. I know a lot of people are very intimidated by Fillo dough but it's actually very easy to use and if you make a mistake, it's no problem because you have got your butter which is going to act like a glue and fuse everything together. So even if your Fillo dough breaks a little bit, it's fine. But there are some practical things that you need to know before you work with Fillo dough, for example, you need to thaw it at room temperature for two hours before you use it and what that means is you buy your package and you can -- if you are not going to use it for a while, not going to use it for a while, all you can do is just store it in your refrigerator, it's very easy and then when you are going to use it, take it out and set it on your counter for two hours and then go ahead and use it and what you will do is you open it up and you'll get what looks likes this, the Fillo leaves are rolled up.

    It's also important to know that there are different thicknesses of Fillo dough that you can find. In a lot of regular supermarkets across America, they just sell one thickness and it might not say which number it is, but if you go to a Greek or Middle Eastern or Mediterranean store, it's going to say number 4, number 7 or number 10. For Baklava, you will be looking for number 4 because number 4 is the most fine, it's the thinest and it's the one with kind of the most refined, most upscale kind of attitude. When you go to number 7 and number 10, those are thicker kind of rustic, country-style Fillo doughs and you don't want those for Baklava although they are wonderful for other recipes, so we are working with number 4.

    Another thing, if you are scared about working with number 4 and you have been worked with Fillo dough and you had a bad experience in the past, start with number 7 because it's a little bit thicker, it will give you more control of the Fillo dough and then once you are used to it, you can go back to the number 4 and use that again. So, we will set that aside and then I will show you how to prepare the Fillo dough for the pan because they also come in different thicknesses and this one, excuse me different width.

    The Fillo dough comes in different widths and you want to make sure that you are using one which is suitable for your pan, if not, you can just very easily cut it and that's what I am to going to show how to do today is to trim the Fillo dough. So, you just put your pan over the top and then you will make a little mark with your knife going right down the sides and across the top and then you can remove your pan and actually make a deeper incision and then cut the Fillo dough so that you are only using the part that fits the pan and that makes your job much more simple and you can remove this portion of the Fillo dough and actually reserve it for another use.

    I definitely would not throw it away because it's wonderful to use for appetizers or for other desserts or for if you ever had the spinach and cheese turnovers or the meat turnovers. I even use things like left over beans or left over mixes that I have from other recipes and put them in here. You can use pie filling and have a very quick little dessert in no time and you would just wrap these in plastic wrap and then keep them in the refrigerator. So, you put a piece of plastic underneath and then roll it this way and continue rolling it. As you roll it, it will stay like that in your refrigerator for a long time. You can leave it up to a month, it's no problem.

    In most of these are packaged Baklava sheets, Fillo sheets have about 28 sheets per box. So, this a very simple one, all we have to do is just layer the Fillo dough in our pan and we start out by putting a little bit of our clarified butter with a pastry brush on the bottom of our pan and people spend a lot of time on this and they really worry about it but you can be very quick and you don't have to be too careful. Also another thing, people worry about the Fillo dough getting dry and that is concern. If you think you are going to be answering the phone or going to talk to your neighbor or doing something like that when you are making it, you want to keep plastic wrap over the top. But if you are going to do the recipe straight away like we are, you don't have to be worried.

    So you take a sheet, you put it up in over and into the pan and you just lay it across evenly. You have a little rip here, a little rip here, it's no problem because as you can see once that butter hits it, it just fuses right down. So if you are worried about tearing or ripping Fillo dough and that was what was causing you not to make Baklava, you can see now that it's so simple that you don't have to worry about that. This is our second sheet, we are going to layer it right over the first and we're going to continue layering with butter.

    Now, one of the things that's interesting to know about Baklava is that originated in Persia but it was actually an imitation of a Chinese dessert that was made with pastry leaves and eventually it made it's way to Armenia. The Armenians were the people who introduced it to Turkey because a lot of people think that it's originated in Turkey and Turkey was a very important place for Baklava, but it didn't originate there. The Armenians introduced it, it was originally a Lenten Dessert and the original name of Baklava, Baki Halva means Lenten sweet.

    So, the Armenians were using a much more humble version of Baklava than what we are using. They had less sugar and less expensive ingredients in it but it had 40 sheets of Fillo dough, one sheet for each of the days of lent and then they gave this recipe to the Turks and the Turks really elevated it because it was introduced into the palace kitchen and they had more access to a lot of expensive ingredients like butter and sugar. Sugar was very expensive at that time. It's important to remember that up until 1700 and believe it 15th times in France, sugar was not readily available commodity and even France only used it in Apothecary. So the Turks has a ton of it and they made this very, rich very decorative dessert at a time when sugar was very scarce and little by little with the Ottoman Empire it got introduced into the rest of Mediterranean and the rest of the Middle East where it's a traditional sweet today. So we are going to keep layering until we have 14 sheets and then when we come back I will show you how to fill our Baklava and continue assembling it.