Ahh… Sifnos

Sifnos, Greece is magical in every way.  Period.
Seriously I could write travel books (not magazines) just about this small, magical island.  I’m kinda stuck right there.  Ahh… Sifnos, you are truly a wonderful place.
Anyway while on Sifnos Paul and I partook in some of the most amazing food, ever.  Seriously I could write travel books (not magazines) just about the scrumptiousness of this small, magical island.
So while Paul and I ate our way through Sifnos, a crazy idea snuck its way into my brain.  I wanted to host a dinner for some friends that would be made up of my version of all of the delectable dishes we were trying.
My inspiration began as Paul and I drove around the small, magical island on our rented scooter and accidentally parked outside a gorgeous bakery in a different town than we were trying to find.  I, of course, forced Paul to come inside with me to try something fabulously Greek, in the name of research.
Oh dear Lord in heaven, I fell in love with this pastry!  It wasn’t baklava, but something very similar (the woman who helped me spoke so quickly and pretty much only Greek so I couldn’t understand the name).  But that was it.  That was what started this baking/cooking adventure I’m on this week.
We eventually found the town and walking street we were looking for (very confusing map) by wandering into a little food/delicacies store that just happened to have gelato too.  Again in the name of research, we indulged.  A sweet, old couple own the store and while Paul paid for our gelato with the lovely lady, I explored the shelves of goods the gentleman was filling.  He was pricing local honey made from Sifnos bees, magical bees and so I bought some along with Sifnos olives, magical trees.
This is my first attempt at making baklava and the recipe is fantastic.  I’m not gonna lie, this was not easy.  It was hotter than Hades (a little Greek humor) in my kitchen, I was distracted by the World Cup quarter finals (go Croatia!), and trying desperately to keep track of how many sheets of phyllo dough I had buttered.  I was about ready to give up (having used an additional stick and a half of butter) but I’m glad I didn’t.  Although it might be far heavier than the magnificent treat I ate in the random town on Sifnos (damn extra butter), it was delicious.
And truth be told, I kinda felt a smidgen like a wrinkly, Greek grandma in a tiny little bakery on my magical island.
Baklava (recipe care of NatashasKitchen.com)
INGREDIENTS:  16 oz phyllo dough thawed by package instructions, 1 1/4 cups unsalted butter 10 oz or 2 1/2 sticks (melted), 1 lb walnuts, finely chopped (about 4 cups), 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 cup granulated sugar, 2 Tbsp lemon juice juice of 1/2 lemon, 3/4 cup water, 1/2 cup honey, melted chocolate chips & chopped walnuts for garnish optional
Prep:  Thaw phyllo dough by package instructions (this is best done overnight in the fridge, then place it on the counter for 1 hr before starting your recipe to bring it to room temp).  Trim phyllo dough to fit your baking dish. My phyllo package had 2 rolls with a total of 40 sheets that measured 9×14 so I had to trim them slightly. You can trim one stack at a time then cover with a damp towel to keep from drying out.  Butter the bottom and sides of a 13×9 non-stick baking pan.
Honey Sauce (this will need time to cool as baklava bakes).
In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup honey, 2 Tbsp lemon juice, and 3/4 cup water. Bring to a boil over med/high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved, then reduce heat to med/low and boil additional 4 min without stirring. Remove from heat and let syrup cool while preparing baklava.
How to make Baklava:  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Pulse walnuts 10 times in a food process or until coarsely ground/ finely chopped. In a medium bowl, stir together: 4 cups finely chopped walnuts and 1 tsp cinnamon.  Place 10 phyllo sheets into baking pan one at a time, brushing each sheet with butter once it’s in the pan before adding the next (i.e. place phyllo sheet into pan, brush the top with butter, place next phyllo sheet in pan, butter the top, etc. etc.). Keep remaining phyllo covered with a damp towel at all times. Spread about 1/5 of nut mixture (about 3/4 cup) over phyllo dough.  Add 5 buttered sheets of phyllo, then another layer of nuts. Repeat x 4. Finish off with 10 layers of buttered phyllo sheets. Brush the very top with butter.  Cut pastry into 1 1/2″ wide strips, then cut diagonally to form diamond shapes. Bake at 325˚F for 1 hour and 15 min or until tops are golden brown.  Remove from oven and immediately spoon cooled syrup evenly over the hot baklava (you’ll hear it sizzle). This will ensure that it stays crisp rather than soggy. Let baklava cool completely, uncovered and at room temp.
Recipe Notes:
For best results, let baklava sit 4-6 hours or overnight at room temperature for the syrup to penetrate and soften the layers. Garnish baklava with finely chopped nuts or drizzle with melted chocolate. Store at room temp, covered with a tea towel for 1 to 2 weeks.

Here’s the order of the Baklava Layers:

10 buttered phyllo sheets, 3/4 cup nut mixture,
5 buttered phyllo sheets, 3/4 cup nut mixture,
5 buttered phyllo sheets, 3/4 cup nut mixture,
5 buttered phyllo sheets, 3/4 cup nut mixture,
5 buttered phyllo sheets, 3/4 cup nut mixture
10 buttered phyllo sheets and butter the top.

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