Monday, June 27, 2011

Daring Bakers do Baklava!

Erica of Erica’s Edibles was our host for the Daring Baker’s June challenge. Erica challenged us to be truly DARING by making homemade phyllo dough and then to use that homemade dough to make Baklava.

Repeat after me:  “I will never complain about rolling out pie dough again”. 

This month, I re-join the Daring Bakers after a long absence to focus on work and family life.  Time is once again allowing me to return to blogging (at a slow pace) and with that, returning to the group that helps me to stretch my boundaries in the kitchen.  This month’s challenge was one I’ve been waiting for: Baklava.  The flaky, nutty, uber-sweet dessert that most people associate with Greece, but whose origin is claimed by many different nations.

Our host this month is Erica of Erica’s Edibles.  Erica chose Baklava for the challenge and added the requirement of making and rolling out your own Phyllo dough.   Being that the Daring Bakers are always up for a challenge, this seemed to be right up our alley.
I’ve always suffered from an aversion to rolling dough.  I’m forever concerned that I will use too much flour when rolling the dough and ruin the batch.  I am also concerned with getting the wrong thickness, get uneven dough or end up with something that’s just the wrong size, ugly and cracked.

Let me make this perfectly clear – once you’ve tried to roll out Phyllo dough, you’ll never complain about rolling out sugar cookies or pie crusts again.  Phyllo is wickedly tricky stuff that is best left to old Greek grandmothers with 80 years of experience.  Yes, it is that bad.

Now, in all fairness to Erica, she did supply a fine step by step, along with a link to a Phyllo rolling video.  It all looked pretty easy.  I got a special wooden dowel that wasn’t too thick for my rolling and got started.  Making the dough itself is very easy, especially if you have a stand mixer.  It’s all done in about 15 minutes.  Then you wait another 2 hours before you start to roll your dough.

I needed about 18 sheets of Phyllo to make a batch the same size as Erica’s.  So, I weighed my dough-ball, divided by 18 and came up with the amount of dough I should use for each sheet.  This came out to a small ball about the size of a golf-ball and about 1 ½ oz total weight.   I laid my dough out on the silicone rolling mat, floured to prevent sticking, floured my ‘rolling pin’ and got to work.

You should know this – Phyllo sticks.  Phyllo sticks to itself.  Phyllo sticks to silicone.  Phyllo sticks to your rolling pin.  Phyllo sticks to you.  And, I’m now convinced that Phyllo sticks to flour as well as things coated in flour. 

I continued to work my way through the batch.  I managed a few decent looking sheets, though most were really better suited to the trash can.  Ultimately, I wasn’t too concerned since 17 of the 18 sheets would be ‘hidden’ in the dessert – I only needed one ‘nice’ sheet.

I actually ended up with about 3 sheets that would vie for spot atop my dessert.  I carefully stacked my Phyllo, then had to take a break to prepare dinner.  That was the mistake of the day.  Care to guess why?

As I stacked my Phyllo during the rolling phase, I noticed no problems with the sheets.  1 hour later, the sheets had melded together into one big square of Phyllo.  No 18 layers.  All my work was shot.  I was displeased.

So, I gave up on rolling phyllo.  I did what I was supposed to do and made my own.  I just didn’t use it to build my dessert.  I wrapped up the dough and placed it in the freezer in hopes that some day I may be able to resuscitate it for some other use.  For now, I’m too angry at the dough to even look at it.

So, I relented and bought a package of phyllo so I could move forward.  This stuff was much prettier than what I rolled out, but to be certain, that stuff dries out fast.  You've got to keep it under a moist towel or you'll be working with rice paper.  Moving forward, I assembled the dessert and everything seemed to be going well.  Until I pulled it from the oven and poured on the syrup.  The challenge info stated that it would look like there was a lot of syrup, but not to worry as it would absorb over night.

The next morning, I found what I kind of expected - a lot of syrup drowning my baklava.  It hadn't absorbed.  I pulled a couple of pieces out of the pan and tilted it to help drain some syrup.  I ended up pulling out almost a full cup of excess syrup.  Confused, I reviewed the recipe to be sure I had used the proper measurements - I did.  I went ahead and checked with Alton Brown's original recipe, upon which the syrup for this recipe was based.  I found the problem.  Alton's recipe was meant for a 9x13 pan, not a 9x9.  I did have too much syrup.  I probably should have checked that first, but I was in too much of a hurry.  I need to work on learning that lesson.

Well, after draining the excess, I can say that I wa left with a pretty decent dessert.  The flavor was very nice, the layers were light (even though they weren't homemade) and I can't wait to try making baklava again.  This time, I'll make sure the quantities are correct before I start.  I will also be using store bought phyllo since rolling out phyllo dough is definitely not a skill I think I'm likely to master.

Be sure to stop by to see some of the other Daring Baker's versions of this recipe - you can find a list of the Daring Bakers here.

If you'd like to give it a try, you can see the full step-by-step turorial here.  You can also check out Alton Brown's recipe as well.

Thanks for the challenge Erica!

Start the Dough

Finish Kneading

Set Aside to Rest

Grab a Dough Ball

Roll Out and Stack

A Closer Look at the Layers

Gather up the Filling Ingredients

Grind up the Filling

Start the Syrup

Start Layering the Dough

Add the Filling

Slice Before Baking

After Baking

Pour on the Syrup

Let Sit Overnight to Soak In


  1. Well you gave it the good old college try but even with that your final version looks delicious great work on this challenge.

    Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

  2. I will never complain about rolling a pie crust or cookie ever again hehehe
    I know what you mean..
    mine stuck after rolling too and I had to re roll half of arms ached the next morning!
    Great work on this month's challenge..loved reading your post

  3. Good effort on the dough. I hope you are able to salvage it from the freezer. I froze my sheets for just a little bit to try to get them off the wax paper I put them on - and it helped a little. That's how I managed to get one single sheet for the top of mine. :) Good luck!

  4. Yes, the dough was tricky... I was worried about adding too much flour, but it turns out that there was no such thing! Thanks for the explanation re: the large amount of syrup - I don't know if anyone else clued in that the amount was for a larger pan, which explains why many people had drowning baklavas!! Good effort on this challenge, it was a tough one :)