When I lived in San Francisco we used to frequent the most amazing Greek restaurant called Mykonos. It has just the right amount of atmosphere; it’s cozy, non pretentious, and has great authentic affordable Greek food. They have THE best moussaka I’ve ever had and great baklava. The husband and I always ordered the same exact thing every single time; a family platter that had an assortment of traditional food and it came with coffee and baklava at the end of the meal. We almost never ate the baklava in the restaurant because we always left too full and with leftovers to boot. I would save it for the next day and when I did- I savored it with a good cup of coffee or tea. I always looked forward to that baklava and promised myself that eventually I would take a crack at making my own. Baklava is not hard to make- just a bit time consuming and tedious, but there is something relaxing and almost meditative that happens while you build each layer of love.
At first glance you will be scared when it comes out of the oven, as it looks dry and somewhat of an experimental science project gone wrong, but have no fear. Once you pour over the unctuous sweet syrup is when the magic truly happens. It is not a dessert to make when you are in a rush but rather a treat to build while you have the kitchen to yourself, it’s quiet and you can enjoy the process. You must also reserve some constraint as the whole mass must bathe languidly in that syrup for 6-8 hours or overnight to soak up the sweet love before you can bust into it, so plan accordingly.
I must have researched and read a million recipes before coming up with this combination. Some recipes call for all walnuts while others call for a combination of almonds, walnuts, and pistachios or even all pistachios- it’s really what you prefer just make sure you have a total weight of one pound of nuts.
yield: one 9×13 inch pan (about 24 pieces depending how small you cut them)
one (1 lb.) package of filo dough- thawed in the fridge overnight
1 lb. of nuts (I chose 50% walnuts/50% pistachios) [mixture to equal about 4 cups onced chopped if you don’t have a scale]
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
2-3 sticks unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 Cup sugar
1/2 Cup honey (I used orange blossom)
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 piece orange rind- minus the pith (approx. 1 inch wide by 2 inch long)
3/4 Cup water
1. Make the syrup first and then allow it to cool in the pan to room temperature. Remove the filo dough from the fridge and allow it to come to room temp (in the box) for 1-2 hours.
2. To make the syrup: place all the contents in a saucepan (2-3 quart size is best) and bring to a boil over medium high heat stirring just initially until the sugar is dissolved, then decrease the heat to medium low and boil for 4 minutes (without stirring). Remove from the heat and let cool. Once cool, remove the orange rind.
3. Place the nuts in a food processor and pulse until nuts are fine, but do not grind to a powder. I pulsed my pistachios and walnuts separately as they are different sizes and this ensures they do not get too small. Place both nuts in a bowl and add the spices and mix to combine.
4. Prepare the filo by placing 2 sheets of plastic wrap side by side and overlapping slightly on the counter top. Carefully lay out the sheets of filo onto the plastic wrap and cut the stack to size to fit your pan. All brands are different- (My filo came in one huge stack that measured 13 x 18 inches so I simply cut it into two stacks each stack measuring 9 x 13) then place another sheet of plastic wrap big enough to cover on top of the filo, followed by a damp tea towel or kitchen towel. Keep the filo dough covered this way as you are working with it to ensure it does not dry out as the dough can easily tear. You may need to check your tea towel and re wet it and squeeze out again to maintain a damp towel.
5. Brush the sides and bottom of a 9×13 inch pan with melted butter. Carefully pick up one sheet of filo dough and place it on the bottom of the pan and brush with melted butter. Continue in this manner; brushing EACH and EVERY sheet carefully with melted butter (I used a silicone brush) until you have built a stack of 10. Sprinkle a generous 3/4 Cup of nut mixture over the stack. Start another stack (this time a stack of 5 layers) (ALWAYS brushing EACH layer with melted butter as you “stack”), then sprinkle 3/4 Cup of nut mixture. Continue this 5 layer stack followed by nut sprinkle until you have used all the nuts, then build a final and top layer of 10 sheets or a minimum of 5-7 if your package does not allow a final layer of 10. Make sure to brush the final top layer with melted butter. Preheat the oven to 325° F.
6. Take a sharp pointed knife and cut 3 vertical lines so you visually have 4 equal portioned vertical rows through the entire built layer spacing your rows about 1.5 inches apart (see the above picture). Now cut diagonal rows through the entire stacked layers (to form diamond shapes) and place the baklava in a 325° F oven and bake for 45-50 minutes or until it is light golden brown.
7. Remove the baklava and allow to sit for 5 minutes then pour the cooled syrup over the baklava. You will hear it hiss and crack a bit (that’s normal). Allow to sit a room temperature to soak up the syrup. Once room temp, cover lightly with plastic wrap and let sit for 6-8 hours or overnight to ensure the baklava soaks up the syrup. Enjoy at room temperature or warm slightly if you wish by zapping in the microwave.
Cookie bars are probably my favorite type of cookie. They are easy, quick to whip up and once you prepare them to bake, you can “move on” and get about your day-no continuous scooping or baking of more trays. I also love this time of year because nuts are usually on sale and it’s a good time to stock up and squirrel them away in your freezer.
These- tick all the taste buds- they are crunchy, gooey, chewy, caramel like, buttery, and well- just plain divine. They are very rich though, so I cut them into small inch wide bars.
Pecan Pie Bars
(recipe adapted from “Pecan Squares” by Ina Garten)
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (1 1/4 C)
1/4 Cup + 2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 large eggs (whisk the second egg and measure out and use half)
2 1/4 Cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
Beat butter and sugar until light, about 3 minutes. Add in eggs slowly and beat to combine. Add in vanilla. Stir together the flour, baking powder and salt and add to mixture on low speed until combined. Press into an ungreased 1/4 sheet pan, (or a 9 x 13 inch pan) making sure to press the crust up the sides of the pan- if using a 9×13 pan press up the sides about one inch. If using a 9×13 inch pan you can line the pan with parchment for easier removal. Chill the crust for 30 minutes before baking. Bake in a preheated 350° F oven for 15 minutes until crust is set and NOT browned. Allow to cool. Prepare the filling while the crust cools.
2 sticks unsalted butter (1 Cup)
1/2 Cup good quality honey
1 1/2 Cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 tsp. lemon zest
1/2 tsp. orange zest
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
1 lb. pecans, coarsely chopped
Combine butter, honey, brown sugar and zest in a heavy saucepan. Cook over low heat until butter is melted, stirring occasionally. Raise the heat and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream and pecans. Stir to combine. Pour over the crust, making sure to not allow the filling to seep in between the crust and the pan-this is key as the filling will bubble up and expand. Leave about 1/4 inch of space around the perimeter of the filling to edge of the crust in the pan as the filling will spread while cooking; (you might have about a 1/4 Cup of filling left over). Place the pan on a larger sheet pan while baking to ensure filling does not spill over into oven while baking. Bake at 350° F for 30-34 minutes until the filling is vigorously bubbling. Note- the filling will be very loose and not appear set. The filling will set upon cooling. Once completely cooled, cut into bars using a serrated knife.
Sweet and salty is here to stay. Everyone has heard of the 7 layer or “magic bars”, right? In a way, these remind me of those bars, but they are a bit more modern for today’s taste with the use of caramel and I like them even better. Anything with caramel and I’m automatically along for the ride, and I just realized (after I made these yesterday) that today is National Caramel Day; so there you have it!
This recipe makes a lot so they are perfect for a kids function; as long as no one is allergic to peanuts. The recipe is from Better Homes & Gardens from one of their special addition publications titled “Brownies & Bars”.
Sweet & Salty Caramel Everything Bars
recipe: Better Homes & Gardens special addition: “Bars and Brownies”
yield: 36 bars
3 Cups crushed pretzels
1/3 Cup sugar
1 Cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 Cup unsalted butter
1/2 Cup whipping cream
1/4 Cup packed brown sugar
1 (11 oz.) pkg. caramel baking bits OR one (14 oz.) pkg vanilla caramels, unwrapped
2 Cup salted cocktail peanuts
1 Cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 Cup milk chocolate chips
1/2 Cup peanut butter flavor chips
1 Cup almond toffee bits
1. Preheat the oven to 325° F. Line a 9x13x2 inch pan with double or heavy duty tinfoil. Spray pan with non-stick spray. Set aside. Make the crust: in a medium bowl combine the crushed pretzels, sugar and 1 cup milted butter. Press mixture into bottom of pan. In a medium bowl combine: semisweet chips, milk chocolate chips, peanut butter chips and toffee bits; set aside.
2. In a medium saucepan combine the remaining 1/2 cup butter, whipping cream and brown sugar. Cook and stir over medium heat until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved. Stir in the caramel bits. Cook and stir until caramel is melted and mixture is smooth. Stir in peanuts.
3. Quickly pour the caramel mixture over the pretzel crust and smooth out caramel to evenly distribute the peanuts. Sprinkle the chocolate chip mixture over the caramel layer and bake in preheated oven at 325° F for 25 minutes or until edges are bubbly and light brown. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Using the edges of the foil, lift the entire slab of bars out of the pan. Cut into bars.
To store: Layer bars between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container; cover. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.
In 1998 I lived in New Mexico for only a short time; 4 months in the dead of summer. I’ll never forget that kind of heat. We are talkin’ 115-120 degree summer weather. The hot dry climate of New Mexico is perfect for pine nut trees as they are drought tolerant. I have a great fondness for New Mexico still, and one of my memories is remembering the pinon trees. There was a trail I used to ride my bike down and along the trail was a cluster of pinon trees. I used to wonder, what does one really do with pine nuts other than using them in pesto? Well, I can tell you they are really good tucked into a tiny tart with honey cream! The Italians have long loved their pine nuts and you will see them used a lot in baking there in cookies. In New Mexico they love their pine nuts and they even impart them into their coffee providing a nutty flavor to the coffee. I have to be honest, I never really got into pine nuts much when it comes to baking, but when I saw this recipe I thought it sounded really good and I was right. I have adapted the recipe slightly but toasting the pine nuts and making tiny tarts instead of a full muffin size which is called for in the originally recipe.
Honey~Cream Pine Nut Tarts
recipe adapted from “Mini Pies” cookbook
yield: ~ 24 mini muffin size tarts
1/4 Cup sugar
1/4 Cup honey
1 tsp. kosher salt
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
1/4 Cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 Cups roasted pine nuts
1 recipe all butter pie dough; click HERE for my “fearless pie crust” recipe
1. In a medium saucepan combine the sugar, honey and salt over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the butter gradually and stir until combined. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
2. Whisk the cream and egg together in a bowl. Slowly whisk this into the honey sugar mixture until combined. Add the vanilla and stir.
3. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Spray a mini muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray. Roll out the pie crust to about 3/16 inch. Using a 2 1/2 inch fluted cutter cut out rounds and carefully shape into the mini muffin wells. Fill a heaping teaspoon of pine nuts into each pie well and top with about 1 1/2 tsp. of the honey cream mixture until almost full to the brim. Top with a small decorative pie shape if desired. Bake at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the crusts are done. Allow to cool in the muffin tins for about 10 minutes then remove to a wire rack to cool.
Have you ever been to Montreal? It’s such a beautiful city. Quite a few years ago I went to a conference there for work. I have to admit; I ditched one of my classes about a quarter way into the lecture after my head was bobbing up and down and I could barely stand myself. I headed out into the street and started zipping into as many shops as I could before I had to be back for my next lecture. One of the things I noticed rather quickly was there are a lot of shops displaying maple syrup. Canadians are really proud of their maple syrup and they should be. It’s top quality. They like to use their maple syrup in a lot of things; not just over pancakes. I came across a store that had maple syrup tastings. What, stop, whoa…maple syrup tastings? that’s right. There is light, darker, darkest; whatever you like. I learned a lot that day about maple syrup. I learned you should never settle for anything but the real thing. These cute little mini cupcakes are topped with maple buttercream. Make sure to use the best you can find.
Butter Pecan Mini Cupcakes
yield: 24 mini cupcakes
recipe: adapted from 200 mini cakes & bakes
1/2 Cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 Cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 Cup milk
1 Cup cake flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 Cup finely chopped pecans
whole pecans, toasted, to decorate
1 Cup unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 Cup confectioners sugar, sifted + more if needed
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste
6 Tbsp. real maple syrup
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place a 24 well silicone mini muffin cup liner on a baking sheet. Conversely if you don’t have a silicone muffin pan you can use regular mini muffin pan with paper liners.
2. Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs and beat until smooth. Add the milk, vanilla and stir. Combine the rest of the dry ingredients and whisk to combine. Add the flour mixture and beat to combine. Stir in the chopped pecans.
3. Fill the wells of the mini muffin cups with one Tablespoon of batter. Bake for about 11-12 minutes or until a wooden skewer comes out clean. Let the cupcakes cool for about 2 minutes and then remove to a wire rack to continue cooling until completely cool.
4. Frost cupcakes [use a start tip if you have one] with Maple butter once cakes are completely cool and top with a whole toasted pecan.
Cream together the butter and sugar until light. Add in the salt and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add the maple syrup, beat until smooth. Add any additional confectioners sugar if needed one Tbsp. at a time if buttercream is too soft.
When I was a little girl my Mom used to make this cake. Busy Moms listen up. This is your saving grace when someone tells you need to bring something to a potluck. You can whip this thing out in no time. Two main things are key to this cake; sour cream and an angel food cake pan. Your posse won’t even blink twice over the fact it has no frosting. I’m sure there is probably another name for this cake, but I swear this is what it was always called. I’m not even messin’ with you. For reals. This was my favorite cake growing up. I mean, seriously how bad do you think it could be with a name like that? I’m here to tell you, it is amazing. To this day I am still scratching my head over this cake- how could something so simple be so good? This cake is like a surprise joy ride. It appears as if it were a plain old Chevy but one taste and you know it’s really like a brand new Cadillac. The beauty and wonder of this cake is that it is super moist and has texture. If I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again-I love texture. You know how you dive into the top of a good coffee cake because all the elements of naughty goodness coalesce into one sugar nut mass of love? Yeah, this cake has that same sugar-cinnamon nut flavor but swirls of it fused into a rich yellow moist cake. Go ahead, take it for a spin. You’ll be glad you did.
I found these really pretty paper baking pans in Michael’s by “Celebrate It” and thought they were really pretty. The recipe makes enough for 2 of these 6 inch baking molds or one standard large angel food cake pan.
Yum Yum Cake
1 Cup Finely chopped walnuts
1/4 Cup granulated sugar
1/3 Cup light brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
(Mix together in a small bowl; set aside).
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 Cup) unsalted butter, room temp
1 1/2 Cup granulated sugar
3 Lg. eggs, room temp
1 tsp. vanilla
3 Cups sifted flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
16 oz. sour cream, room temp
1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease an angel food cake pan well or spray with baking spray. Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat to combine. Beat in vanilla to combine.
2. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and whisk to combine; set aside.
3. Mix in 1/3 of the dry ingredients into the sugar/butter egg mixture and combine. Continue to alternate mixing with 1/2 of sour cream and dry ingredients making sure to end with dry ingredients.
4. Pour 1/3 of cake batter into the pan, then add a layer of topping and pat down gently. Continue alternating batter and topping mixture like this for 3 times; ending with topping on top of cake. Bake for about 1 hour. Let cool. Do not turn cake upside down to cool.