Thursday, September 8, 2011

Eid Mubarak and Sorry. And Baklava Muhalabbiya.

It's been a week since Eid; my grandiose plans for putting up recipes for Eid dishes all over the world have obviously not fallen through. Shame on me.

To make up for the deficit, I'm going to pull out of my Toque blanche a Double-Delight! kind of recipe. I've professed my love for Greek and Middle-Eastern food, time after time. Fallen short at the dessert category, though. Blasphemy after blasphemy.

So. I give you. Baklava Muhalabbiya.

Don't X this tab just yet. I know Baklava (or anything with phyllo pastry in it) sounds scary. Especially since even the most upmarket of Madras's groceries don't stock any frozen phyllo sheets. You can do one step better. Find a friendly neighbourhood bakery and give in your order for "puff pastry", one day before you actually need it. If you're in and around Egmore, you have two options.

Hot Puffs 2010 on Casa Major Road and there's this other bakery in Chetpet (opposite McNichols Road) with extremely humble/kind/unpretentious(you know the kind) that will mix you up an extra batch of puff pastry when they make theirs fresh, each day.

However, I went around searching for it on the eve of Eid, and my luck ran out... I had come too late, they had finished baking (and selling out) their puffs for the day and won't start until tomorrow morning, they were very sorry, but the dough needs to rest and chill, but could they give it to me by noon tomorrow?

With as much politeness as I could muster up, I turned them down. The Baklava Muhalabbiya were meant to be delivered by 10 the next day, and you need to let the baked pastry soak in the sugar syrup overnight. So I took on the herculean task of making my own phyllo pastry.

I can say that I succeeded... somewhat. It won't be as thin as store-bought phyllo and requires a little arm-power, but very worth the effort, I think. The recipe I used gave me around 17 sheets, which I didn't think were enough at all. But I ate enough of the muhalabbiya filling during prep-and-cooking so the recipe got into decent proportions somehow. How could I not stuff my face with a creamy, cinnamon-scented phirni/kesari type thingy? I'm a sucker for most things dairy.

And one last thing I need to tell you about this is that it is kind of a sugar bomb, not unlike a Gulab Jamun. The flakiness of the pastry gets a teeny bit overshadowed by the muhalabbiya, but I could stop shoving the wonky bits that couldn't go into the box,  my mouth. It was Eid, people. Calorie-counting is against the law on Eid.

Baklava Muhalabbiya:

Recipe source:
For the Baklava: Desert Candy
For the phyllo pastry: Daring Bakers' challenge

Making the phyllo pastry *:

1 1/3 cups (200 g) all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar (I used regular white)

*Defrost around 20 sheets of readymade phyllo pastry if buying

Making the muhalabbiya:

1/3 cup semolina (Rava)
1/4 cup white sugar
2 cups milk
1/4 tsp each, cinnamon, nutmeg
pinch salt

Making the syrup:

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 tbsp rose water
1 tbsp orange blossom or lemon juice
A stick of cinnamon, 1-2 cloves


Making the phyllo pastry:

Combine flour and salt in a bowl.

Mix water, vinegar and oil in a small bowl.

Beat it into the flour until it's combine.

Change the paddle attachment to a dough hook.

If you don't have a dough hook, you can knead with your hand.

This is a wee bit dry. A tablespoon of water can be added. Use your discretion!
Knead for 10 minutes with a dough hook or 20 minutes by hand. A smooth ball should form.

Coat the ball and the bowl with a tablespoon or so of vegetable oil. Put the oiled dough into the bowl. Cover with cling film. Let it rest at room temperature for around 2 hours.

Rolling out the phyllo sheets:

Divide the rested dough into 18 equal-sized balls.

Flour a smooth surface generously.

Roll out the dough as thin as possible with a rolling pin. The sheets should get almost translucent and see-through.

 It's OK if a few of them have holes in them. The top two sheets have to be perfect because that is what the eye sees.

Making the sugar syrup:

Place sugar, water, flower water and spices in a saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring to dissolve. Let it boil for a couple of minutes, and take it off the heat. Cool completely before using.

It should be as thick as Gulab Jamun syrup, but not as thin as Rasagolla syrup either.

Making the Muhalabbiya:

 Place milk, sugar, spices, and salt in a sauce pan, with the heat set on low heat. Stir the mix, bringing it a simmer. Add in the semolina slowly, stirring to combine. Let it continue to simmer for around 6 minutes, just make sure it doesn't become too dry. It'll continue to thicken up as it cools.

Set it aside at room temperature to cool completely before using in the Baklava.

Assembling the Baklava:

Preheat the oven to 350 F or 180 C

Melt the ghee or make your own clarified butter.

Grease a 9 inch baking dish with ghee or clarified butter. Place a phyllo sheet. Brush on melted ghee using a pastry brush. I used my fingers to dab the globs of ghee over the sheet.

Repeat with 9 more sheets, brushing with ghee for each one.

Pour in the muhalabbiya (completely cooled) on top of the 9th sheet. Smooth the top.

Continue adding the remaining sheets, adding ghee to each sheet.

Brush the final sheet with ghee.

Cut the baklava into pieces, either square or diamond-shaped.

Bake until the top is flaky/crispy for about 30 minutes.

Pour the cooled syrup over the piping hot baklava. This is the only way to get crispy baklava.

Don't flood the whole thing too much... I found the sugar syrup a teeny bit more than I'd want. 0.4 cm above the level of the pastry, maybe?

Let it soak the syrup in, overnight (8 hours minimum). Do not refrigerate.

Sprinkle chopped pistachios or almonds over the top.

This keeps for about 2-3 days, maximum. And yes, you can refrigerate after the soaking-in process... you have no choice with the notorious heat here in Madras/Chennai.

Would I make this again? Maybe if I find someone who likes scented, syrupy things. The muhalabbiya I'll be making very many times on the rare rainy nights. Like I need more comfort (albeit fattening) things in my life.


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