Sunday, January 25, 2015

Gluten-free baklava

It looks like I finally got two grants (one by myself, one shared with a collaborator)! I think I'll get a third by April, but it's less certain. The main one was pretty important, and on the main thing I want to do, so it's already enough grants for tenure (especially as I already have a student funded by industry, even if the money doesn't pass through my group that looks good too). I just need to get another ~8 papers out. I made a list yesterday with my awesome postdoc and it looks good to get 10 more submitted in another 1.5 years. He's doing 4 of them and in the middle of 4 others, I hope that doesn't look bad.

So, I took the time to do something I've wanted to do for awhile: make baklava! We used to make baklava every thanksgiving for maybe 5 years or so, before I had to go gluten-free, but it seems really difficult to do gluten-free phyllo dough because I think the gluten itself is helping hold the dough together as it gets to be so thin. But I figured, I'm a soft matter physicist; I may be a theorist, but I'm good with my hands, and I should be able to figure something out. I tried making really thin dough once but it didn't work out well (maybe it could have, but I didn't pursue it further; it could be a post for another day, but isn't really worth it). The key to success was that awhile back I realized, I don't actually need phyllo, I just need really thin layers of dough with butter in between them. This is what puff pastry is. So, I found a friend to help and we set about our plan. I only tried it once (well, I made one batch of puff pastry but played with it in a few different ways) so I'm sure there's more perfecting to be done, but if I don't write it up now I'll probably lose interest, so here we go:

Gluten Free Baklava:

First make puff pastry. For various reasons (though not really complete scientific testing by myself) I believe that at this level, how the flour is ground up is important. So I used a mix designed specifically for pastry from Bob's Red Mill, and I used their recipe for puff pastry. It is found here . It's involved but it worked really well for me, and I'm not a master chef or anything. (A few years ago, I used cup4cup flour and a different puff pastry recipe I found online, and it did not work quite as well, but it could have been my fault.)

My goal was to make the puff pastry puff as much as possible to seem like real layers, so I decided to cook it as thin layers (so the nut layer wouldn't weigh it down during puffing) and then assemble it later. This required a paste-like nut layer to hold it together (as though it was baked together) because once baked, the puff pastry was brittle and wouldn't conform well to loose nuts. Another advantage of cooking the layers separately was that I could cook them to a toasty brown color (almost seemed like over-cooking them) to give that toasty flavor that is typical of baklava (toasty-ness is inherently easier to get for phyllo than for puff pastry, I think, because it is easier for the water to escape from the layers of phyllo).

My baklava recipe (in terms of the syrup and proportion of nuts/spices) is loosely based on the recipe on the back of the box of a brand of phyllo we used to get but that they don't make anymore. My tests were based on using 2 loaf pans to cook the puff pastry so that I could have a few different tries at this with one recipe of puff pastry. I'm not sure exactly what fraction of the puff pastry recipe I used for the following amount of syrup, but I think it was about a quarter to a third (so multiply by 4 or so to use all the recipe of puff pastry).

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roll out the puff pastry to somewhat less than 1/4 inch (maybe 3/16ths) and cut to the size of the loaf pan. Place in the loaf pan and score into triangles; I scored each loaf pan piece crosswise into three rectangles each scored diagonally into two triangles. I did not score as deeply as I would for phyllo, just made marks so it would be easier to cut along those lines later. Cook for 25-30 minutes, but start checking at 20 minutes; the time depends a lot on exactly how thin your dough is and probably somewhat on what type of pan you use. You want it to be as golden brown as possible without being burnt.

Meanwhile for the syrup boil 3 T honey, 1/4 c water, 1 t lemon juice, and 1/2 c sugar in a medium sized pot. (If using 4 recipes of syrup you will need a big pot, it's easy to accidentally boil over.) Toast 1 c pecans in a dry pan (for regular baklava I didn't do this, but they were cooked with the phyllo; since we won't be doing that, this is a good alternative). Take half of the pecans, add 1/2 t cinnamon and a pinch of cloves and crush into small pieces (I use a plastic bag and hit them with the back of a cup measure). Add the other half of the pecans and half of the syrup to a blender (I used a Vitamix, so in general a food processor may be more appropriate than a blender) and blend to make the paste. Add the rest of the nuts (reserving a bit for pretty topping at the end, if desired) to the paste to make a chunky paste.

Once the puff pastry is mostly cooled, break or cut into rectangles. Dip a rectangle into the honey syrup (getting both sides), place it on a plate and spread a layer of chunky nut paste on top; add another dipped rectangle and nut paste, and complete with another dipped rectangle, being sure to stack so the score marks line up. Cut into two triangles along the score marks, and finally dip the cut edges in honey syrup or pour extra honey syrup on top. You can probably cut again into small triangles, these are big, tall baklava!