Banana Walnut Baklava with Honey Cinnamon Syrup
This is my take on the classic Middle Eastern dessert, baklava. Mine features walnuts, cardamom, honey and cinnamon and of course layers of flaky filo dough, but what sets this one apart is a layer of sliced bananas in the middle. The inspiration came when I was thinking about my enjoyment of bananas and walnuts together. The bananas add a creamy, fruity moistness to the traditional pastry. Make sure your cardamom is very fresh as its flavor becomes quite muted if the spice is old, while conversely, when fresh, it adds an elegant, intoxicating accent to this dish.
If you delve into the preparation of baklava you will find proponents of adding hot syrup to cold pastry, hot syrup to hot pastry, and cold syrup to hot pastry. Each camp declaring that their technique produced the least soggy result. After experimentation I have fallen into the first camp. There is an alchemy that seems to happen before your eyes as you pour the hot syrup over the pastry. The heat of the syrup seems to penetrate the pastry and melds the flavors and textures together in an optimum way. Also, you might notice that my baklava is cut into triangles, as opposed to the often seen diamonds; it’s your choice. Triangles result in no waste, hence my preference.
Makes 18 baklava
2 cups walnut halves, finely chopped
[1/4] cup sugar
[1/2] teaspoon ground cardamom
[1/2] teaspoon ground cinnamon
[1/2] pound filo dough, defrosted, such as Athens brand, defrosted
13 tablespoons melted unsalted butter (1 stick plus 5 tablespoons)
2 medium-sized, ripe bananas
1 cup sugar
[2/3] cup water
1[1/2] tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
[1/2] teaspoon cinnamon
For the Pastry: Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350[dg]F.
Toss together the chopped nuts, sugar, cardamom, and cinnamon in a bowl; set aside.
Unroll the filo dough and cover with a damp towel. (Keep the filo covered with a towel as you work). Lightly brush the bottom and sides of a 9-inch square pan with melted butter. Lay one piece of filo along the bottom of the pan, and lining up one side with the edge of the pan; it will cover the bottom and overhang the opposite side as it is larger than the pan. Lightly brush the filo along the bottom of the pan with butter, then fold the excess overhang over that piece. It will not cover the entire bottom. Take the next piece of filo from your covered stack and align it with thise last piece to cover the bottom completely; this piece will now overhang the other side. Continue layering and buttering the filo until you have 10 layers of filo in the bottom of the pan, ending with a light brushing of butter.[QQ: I find these directions to be very hard to follow. I can’t picture any of it in my head, such as the overhanging part, brushing “along the bottom with butter”, and then the folding of the excess overhang. I’m kind of baffled by all of it.As you do it, it does work and will make sense. I have had others read this and they understand and have followed the directions]
Scatter the nut mixture evenly over the pastry. Peel the bananas and slice into [1/2]-inch rounds directly over the nuts. The slices will overlap somewhat. Top with the remaining pastry, repeating the technique of layering and buttering as described above. Butter the top of the last piece. Use a sharp knife to cut into 9 squares (3 x 3) and then cut each square in half into two triangles.
Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely in the pan on a rack.
For the Syrup: After the pastry has cooled, prepare the syrup. Place all the syrup ingredients in a saucepan and stir to combine. Heat over medium-high heat until boiling, swirling the pan once or twice, making sure the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is boiling quite readily. Turn the heat down and simmer for a few minutes until the syrup just begins to visibly thicken. Immediately pour the syrup over the pastry, concentrating along the cut lines and edges. Allow the pastry to sit and absorb the syrup for at least 4 hours. Store in the pan at room temperature, covered with aluminum foil, for up to 3 days.
Tip: Here are a few tips for cutting the pastry. If the top layers of filo are moving around, chill the pastry briefly. The butter will solidify and eliminate that problem. Also, you might have to place one hand on the top of the pastry to brace it as you cut; take care not to press down and compress the pastry. I find a small, thin, serrated blade works best. Use a gentle sawing motion and it will go smoothly. Make sure to allow the full 4 hours for the syrup to be absorbed by the pastry[md]it is a key step in the form of a waiting period. Be patient and you will be rewarded with sticky, sweet, yet still crispy baklava.