In The Lost Recipe for Happiness there is a recipe for Pomegranate Baklava. It is the invention of a surly, beautiful gay chef who is Elena’s nemesis for much of the book. I’ll be serving it at booksignings and wanted to be sure I remembered how it all went together (of course I tested it several times during the Major Winter of Cooking, which you may remember from blogs here). So, a few days ago, I gathered all the ingredients and my camera, my Ipod and Santa Fe Cooking School apron, and made a fresh batch, documenting it for you, faithful readers.
Every book eventually reaches a place where it is no longer revised (even if that moment only arrives when it’s ripped out of our clutching hands), but that is not true of recipes. As anyone who has ever tweaked a recipe over time knows, a recipe is an adventure. By the time I sent the book to my editor, I was pretty happy with this recipe. Buckwheat honey was important to the plot, so I went with it.
For singings this time, I am bringing the baklava, and last week, I made batch to test it (as it has been more than a year since I finished the book). It seemed the buckwheat was overpowering the pomegranate, so I switched to a lighter honey, cut the water and instead used entirely pomegranate juice. Because I was having trouble with the pomegranate arils on top scorching, I added the final nuts and arils at the end of baking.
REALLY good. So, in a web exclusive, here is the revised version, with illustrations. (Don’t tell Ivan.)
I adore pomegranates. They are absolutely luscious, packed with great nutrients, and very low in calories. I bought a couple for the baklava and a couple to nibble on between bouts of extreme cookie baking.
They’re intimidating, but I found a handy-dandy flyer at my grocery store that illustrates how to get those danged seeds (called avrils) with a very small amount of fuss.
Cut the top off about an inch or so from the crown:
Then find the sections, four to six, and score the skin, and break the fruit open:
Next, bend the rind to release the seeds over a bowl of water. The inner skin will float to the top and you can skim it off with your fingers. Drain the water and you have a delectable bowl of arils.
As you see, you will probably need to open two pomegranates, one for eating, one for the baklava.
Now to the recipe itself:
POMEGRANATE BAKLAVA, revised
1 1/2 cups light honey
1 cup sugar
1 T rosewater
1 cup plus 2 T pomegranate juice
Seeds of one pomegranate, divided in half
2 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp grated nutmeg
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup chopped pistachios
½ vanilla bean, scraped
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
1 pkg phyllo dough
Syrup: Combine the sugar, honey, juice and rosewater in a heavy small pot. Stir constantly while bringing to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat at let cool, then add ½ pomegranate seeds.
Preheat the oven to 425
Mix spices, nuts, and vanilla bean seeds into ½ stick of melted butter.
Butter a 13 x 9 inch glass pan.
On a clean work surface, unroll the phyllo and generously butter one layer at a time and lay it in the pan, then repeat until you’ve used half the dough. Spread the nuts and other ½ of pomegranate seeds evenly over the pastry, reserving about ¼ (mixed nuts and seeds) for the topping.
Continue buttering and layering the dough on top of the filling until all the dough has been used. Brush the top with remaining butter. With a small sharp knife, cut the pastry layers into diamonds, then bake for 50-60 minutes until golden, watching carefully to see that it doesn’t burn. Toward the end of baking, scatter leftover arils and nuts over the top.
When baking is finished, pour the syrup over the hot pastry, and serve when cool.
This was a big hit at the signing. You’ll have to let me know if you try one version or the other.