Baklava

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Filo dough can be very intimidating to work with.  It’s hard to find, not used in American cuisine, and requires patience to handle.  We learned that filo dough originated in the kitchens of Topkapı Palace, where the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire once lived.  When people think of filo dough, most think of decadent sweets like baklava, but filo dough is also be used for savory snacks like borek (filo layered with spinach & feta).  We haven’t made borek yet, but trust us, it’ll be on the blog soon enough.

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Gate to Topkapi Palace

Naturally, when we started to make baklava, we had to call my father, Baba (Turkish for father), since he’s our resident Turkish food expert.  He loves the blog and hopefully will love the shout out as well.  He gave us some tips for how to make the best baklava possible and include how finely to grind the walnuts, how thick the walnut layer should be, and also that the best baklava sets for a couple days to really absorb all the sweet syrup.  Baba also shared a great story from when he was a child and my Babaanne (father’s mother = grandmother) would make baklava, she would have to lock the finished baklava in another room so my father and his siblings wouldn’t eat it all before it was perfectly set.  Of course, we had to try it as soon as we poured the syrup over it… but when we tried it again for breakfast the next day, we both agree that it only gets better as it sets for a day or two.

We hope you enjoy this decadently sweet treat, your sweet tooth will thank us.

Baklava

(Adapted from the cookbook Sultan’s Table, by Ozçan Ozan with tips from Selim’s father)
Ingredients: 
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 3 cups + 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 cups (~300g) walnuts
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted, clarified butter
  • 40 sheets of filo dough (usually 2 packages)
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. (If you have clarified butter, melt the appropriate amount. If you only have regular butter, melt it in a saucepan and then skim off the foam and slowly pour the liquid into a bowl making sure to not transfer solid milk fats which are at the bottom.)
  3. Prepare the syrup: combine cold water and 3 cups of sugar in a medium saucepan. Boil for 5 minutes, then lower heat to a simmer. Continue cooking for another 15 minutes.
  4. Stir in the lemon juice and allow to cool.
  5. Meanwhile, combine walnuts and 2 tbsp sugar in food processor. Process until “medium” ground – don’t let it get too fine.
  6. Now brush the inside of a large cookie sheet with clarified butter.
  7. Place a sheet of filo dough in the pan. Brush with another little bit of clarified butter. Continue in this pattern until you’ve placed half of the sheets (~20) of filo dough in the pan.
  8. Now spread the walnut mixture onto the top layer of filo dough. Drizzle with more clarified butter.
  9. Return to the pattern of layering dough and clarified butter until you use all of the rest of the filo dough sheets. Brush the top layer and the edges with clarified butter.
  10. Take a very sharp knife and dip it into hot water. Slice down halfway through the height of the dough into the size and shape of baklava pieces you want at the end.
  11. Bake for 25 minutes in the center of the oven.
  12. Lower heat to 325 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes.
  13. Allow to sit for 10 minutes.
  14. Slice all the way through, along the lines you previously made.
  15. Pour the syrup over top, along the cut lines.
  16. Top with additional ground nuts if desired.

Savory Casserole Bread

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Ally: What is casserole bread? Honestly, I had no idea when I was first looking at this recipe. Not joking, I literally googled, “what is casserole bread.” Basically, as best I can tell, it just means that you don’t knead it or let it rise so much, and therefore, it’s a much quicker and easier type of bread to make. True? Anyone know? I can definitely attest that it was the easiest and fastest loaf of bread I’ve ever made.

Selim: When I saw the casserole dish I immediately thought, “oh great casserole…”  When I think of casseroles I think of condensed soup, canned vegetables, sodium, and a burnt tongue (I always underestimate how long to let it cool before eating it).  As always, I was happy to be wrong when I saw this massive ball of dough heaping over the top.  The funny thing is, the savory smells of the ingredients started filling our place well before the whole thing was put in the oven.  The yeast starts working really quickly when warmed up and immediately started raising the dough – yay chemistry!  This bread would go well with any poultry dish (chicken, turkey, duck) or Thanksgiving dinner if you can get people to try something different instead of bland rolls.

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Savory Casserole Bread

Adapted from a Southern Living Cookbook – American’s Best Home Cooking
Ingredients: 
  • 4 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp granulated onion
  • 1 tbsp granulated garlic
  • 4 1/2 tsp active yeast (or 2 packets)
  • 1 1/2 (+ a little more) cups sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 tbsp melted butter
  • ~2 cups warm water
Instructions: 
  1. Place all ingredients except for the water into the bowl of your stand mixer.
  2. Turn the mixer on low, with a dough hook attached.
  3. Slowly add the water as the mixer is going. You may not use all or may need slightly more. You want the dough to come together into a slightly sticky ball.
  4. Place the dough into a 2 1/2 quart baking dish (buttered, oiled, or sprayed with cooking spray). Push it down to fill fully.
  5. Cover and allow to rise for 30 minutes.
  6. After rising, sprinkle a little bit of additional cheese on top.
  7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake for 40 minutes.
  8. After baking, remove from the oven and allow to cool in the dish for 10 minutes.
  9. Then remove from the baking baking dish to a wire rack to cool for another 10 minutes.
Makes a LARGE loaf!

Challah

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So the other evening, I tried to flip the ceiling fan on (after Selim told me not to because he thought it was broken, but I forgot ok?!), and instead blew a fuse. I tried to flip the breaker back and it sent blue sparks at me. So I quit doing that. I may not be the most savvy girl in the world when it comes to things like that, but I know that blue sparks + no electricity = call an electrician.

What does this have to do with challah? Everything and nothing. Unfortunately for my TV and internet addicted self, the fuse I blew covered our whole living room – where our TV and internet router are. Sure we could’ve moved them I guess, but it just seems sad if you can’t live without the Netflix and Hulu for a whole day. So instead of wasting my life on mindless TV, I baked instead!

I’d been thinking about challah because Passover was last week (and because it’s the best bread ever). I honestly never thought about making it before because its gorgeous appearance made it seem out of my league in terms of baking ability. Plus I figured the Jewish grandmas had some secret that they weren’t sharing with the rest of us. Turns out I was wrong – even I can make gorgeous challah! It’s actually way less complicated than I thought and you probably have all the ingredients on hand. (I did, hence spur of the moment baking afternoon.)

Since I don’t have a Jewish grandma handy, I got this recipe from one of my favorite corners of the internet – The Kitchn. Check them out if you want to learn how to do anything culinary related. Their step by step guide to making challah worked perfectly for me and is nearly verbatim what I’ll be sharing in this recipe. Thanks guys!! 👋🏼

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Challah

Ingredients: 
  • 2 teaspoons active dry  yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 4 cups flour + extra for sprinkling
  • 1/4 cup sugar + a pinch
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • A third egg, divided into yolk & white
  • 1/4 cup neutral oil
Instructions: 
  1. Dissolve the yeast into the water. Stir and then allow to sit until yeast causes frothing on the top.
  2. Meanwhile, sift together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt) in the bowl of your stand mixer.
  3. In another bowl, whisk together the remaining wet ingredients except for the egg white (eggs, egg yolk, oil).
  4. Pour the bowl of wet ingredients into the dry ones. Begin to mix together with a large spoon. Follow with the water/yeast.
  5. Attach a dough hook to the stand mixer. Turn on low-medium and knead for 6+ minutes. [If the dough is to sticky, slowly add flour by the teaspoon. If too dry, do the same with water.]
  6. Oil a large bowl. Place the ball of dough in the bowl. Cover with a damp towel and let rise for two hours.
  7. Now that the dough has doubled in size, divide it into six equal chunks.
  8. Roll each piece of dough out into long ropes.
  9. Lay the six dough ropes next to each other. Pinch the ends of all six pieces together at the top. Then braid together, taking the right-most strand and pulling it over the nearest two strands, under the next, over the remaining two, and then laying it down at the far left. OVER two – UNDER one – OVER two. (Check out The Kitchn’s lovely pictorial in their post for a visual!) Once you can go no further, pinch the ends together.
  10. Sprinkle dough with a smidge of flour. Place on a cooking sheet lined with parchment paper (or a Silpat if you have one). Re-cover with your damp towel and let sit for another hour.
  11. Brush the dough generously with the leftover egg white.
  12. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  13. Bake for 30 minutes. When done, the challah will have a gorgeous deep brown crust and be warm and fluffy on the inside.
Makes a large loaf.

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Spiced Blueberry Pie

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So confession. We’re not really the big Valentine’s Day types. I feel like I’m a middle-of-the-road kind of girl when it comes to this. I don’t hate Valentine’s Day or go on long rants against the commercialism of the day. But I also don’t really love or expect a dozen red roses with a heart-shaped box of chocolates. No offense to those who fall in either camp! To each their own…

But the moral of my story is that I wanted my sweet-tooth husband to have a Valentine’s Day treat, without falling into a cliché. I preferred to make him something myself, so here we are! (Don’t judge me that it’s in fact two days after Valentine’s Day… We’ve been on opposite schedules – him working long days and me working nights.)

If you’re running late on your Valentine’s Day celebration, or maybe doing something smart like waiting for the weekend, here’s your alternative to a box of chocolates for your sweetheart (or Galentine’s Day girl’s night). This blueberry pie is a lot easier than I expected it to be. Pies intimidate me! (And all desserts, for that matter. I think I’ve mentioned that once or twice.) The dough was super-easy to make and the filling was just a matter of stirring a few times. This recipe was based on one in the mouth-watering cookbook Pie Love. Mine isn’t quite as pretty as the ones in those cookbook photos, but we’re here for the taste right? Tasty > pretty. Plus, I think this is the first pie I’ve ever made. I’ll perfect the prettiness maybe by the 50th.

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Spiced Blueberry Pie

(Recipe adapted from the cookbook, Pie Love)
Ingredients: 
Piecrust:
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 10 tbsp cold, unsalted butter
  • Ice water (6-8 tbsp)
Filling:
  • 5 cups blueberries
  • 2/3 cup Grade A maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • Additional brown sugar for sprinkling
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  2. To prepare the dough, initially place the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir together.
  3. Add the butter in small pats. Turn on the stand mixer and mix until the ingredients begin to form crumbs.
  4. Add the water, tablespoon at a time, while the mixer remains on. Continue until the dough comes together and begins to form a ball.
  5. Turn the ball of dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Separate into two different sections, roughly 1/3 and 2/3 of the original ball.
  6. Take the 2/3s ball and roll it out into a round piece of dough, approximately 12 inches in diameter and 1/8th of an inch thick. Fit this piece of dough into a greased 9-10 inch pie pan.
  7. Chill the pie pan and the additional ball of dough (wrapped in plastic) in the refrigerator while preparing the filling.
  8. Rinse your blueberries and drain.
  9. Place berries and maple syrup in a large pan. Turn heat on to medium. Stir in the spices, and salt. Add the butter in pats. As the butter is melting, slowly stir in the flour. Ensure it is well combined.
  10. Cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring nearly continuously. The mixture should slowly bubble and begin to thicken.
  11. While the filling is cooking, remove the pie pan from the refrigerator and bake for 5 minutes.
  12. Roll out the remaining piece of pie dough and slice into long strips.
  13. Pour the blueberry mixture into the piecrust.
  14. Top with the long strips of dough. {Try to do it better than I did ;)}
  15. Whisk together the egg and the vanilla. Brush over top of the pie.
  16. Sprinkle additional sugar over the top.
  17. Bake for 30 minutes. You should be able to see the filling bubbling.
  18. Allow to sit out for an hour prior to slicing and serving.

Cinnamon Buns

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Yesterday was Selim’s birthday! We celebrated by both having weekend shifts at the hospital. I was only there until 11pm, while he was there overnight, setting me up perfectly to make him post-birthday breakfast. Usually he’s the breakfast guy… It basically requires heavy machinery to drag me out of bed in the morning. But I always get excited for a good surprise, so out of bed I went!

I have two broad goals that I’ve been working on recently in terms of picking new recipes to try. 1) I’ve been wanting to bake more. Baking makes me nervous. You can’t taste it halfway through and adjust. Once it’s in the oven, you’re stuck with it. And 2) I’ve been wanting to make more family recipes from the family cookbook. These things, plus the fact that Selim has been eyeing the massive cinnamon buns at the farmer’s market the past few times we’ve been there, sent me to my Aunt Bobbie’s recipe for homemade cinnamon buns. All of my aunts are great chefs, but my Aunt Bobbie might win in terms of baking. She creates amazing desserts, not to mention really delicious breads and rolls. (Here’s to hoping no other aunts read this post 😉 !)

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Update 11/8/16: We decided to submit this recipe to Our Growing Edge, a monthly recipe link-up. The goal of this is to encourage the participants to conquer a food-related goal. As I mentioned above, I’ve been wanting to bake more – I think I’ve made good progression towards this goal with this recipe! This month’s link-up is hosted by Alicia at Alicia’s Bits ‘n Bobs

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Cinnamon Buns

Recipe courtesy of Ally’s Aunt Bobbie
Ingredients: 
  • Dough
    • 2 packages of yeast
    • 1/2 cup warm water
    • 1/2 tsp + 1/3 cup sugar
    • 3 cups + 1 1/2 cups flour
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 1 cup milk
    • 1 1/3 cup vegetable oil
    • 2 eggs
  • Filling
    • 1/2 cup butter, softened
    • 1 cup brown sugar
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 2 tbsp cinnamon
    • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • Icing
    • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
    • 1 tsp vanilla
    • Several tsp warm milk
Instructions: 
  1. Stir yeast and 1/2 tsp sugar into the warm water. Let sit for 5+ minutes, until the liquid begins to froth.
  2. Scald the cup of milk. That is, bring it to just under a boil and then remove from heat and allow to cool.
  3. Meanwhile, sift together 3 cups of flour, 1/3 cup of sugar, and salt in the bowl of your stand mixer.
  4. At low speed, begin adding the wet ingredients to the bowl (yeast/water, milk, oil, and eggs). Beat until well-blended.
  5. Now slowly add the remaining flour while the mixer is set on low speed. You may or may not use exactly 1 1/2 additional cups – keep slowly adding until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
  6. Turn the dough out onto a floured countertop. Knead for 5-10 minutes until elastic and smooth.
  7. Place dough in a large greased bowl. Cover. Allow to rise for ~1 hour.
  8. Cream together all of the filling ingredients.
  9. Once the dough has risen, return it to your floured countertop. Use a rolling pin and roll out into a rectangular shape. [My aunt suggests roughly 10 x 18. I didn’t measure.]
  10. Spread the filling mixture generously across all of the dough except for the very edges (leave ~1/2 inch).
  11. Now roll the dough very tightly. The result will be a long log.
  12. Using a large sharp knife, slice the log on the horizontal. Aim for your slices to be approximately 1 inch thick. Remove each slice to a foil-lined cookie sheet.
    • The ends of the log might not look as pretty. You can discard or gobble down the misshapen ones while no one is looking.
  13. Again, let them rise – this time about 30 minutes.
  14. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  15. Bake for 20 minutes. Check on them towards the end – as the edges just start to turn golden, they’re done!
  16. While the buns are baking, whisk together your icing. Start with the sugar. Add the vanilla. Slowly add milk by the teaspoon until you achieve your desired consistency.
  17. Drizzle icing over the buns to serve. (I think they’re also delicious sans icing, but some might think that’s sacrilege.)
Makes 12-16 cinnamon buns.

Garam Masala Spiced Lemon Loaf

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A few weeks ago, I found this post from SweetMeets BakeShop. I was so intrigued by the idea of using garam masala in a sweet dessert that I kept coming back to it. I don’t bake a whole lot, but I’m always trying to get myself to do so. Turns out reading that post was the kick in the butt I needed to turn my oven on (thank you!). It didn’t hurt either that it’s finally starting to feel like fall around here. When it’s 90+ degrees out (ie: last week), the thought of turning the oven on for any length of time just sounds terrible.

And I’m glad that I did! This is a great treat to snack on. Thus far, I’ve eaten some for breakfast, for dessert, and for an afternoon snack. Don’t be put off by the idea of the garam masala in a sweet dish. It doesn’t taste like curry in a loaf… more like a spice cake with more depth of flavor. The only thing I will say is that I think next time I might try orange instead of lemon. I think the orange would go better with the rest of the flavors of the dish.

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Garam Masala Spiced Lemon Loaf

Adapted from SweetMeets BakeShop blog
Ingredients: 
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp cinnamon, divided
  • 2 lemons (zested and juiced)
    • 2 tsp zest
    • 4 tbsp juice, divided
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup of milk
  • 1/4 cup of safflower oil
  • 1/2 cup + 1 tbsp powdered sugar
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Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Sift together the dry ingredients (flour, white & brown sugars, baking soda, salt, garam masala, and 1 tsp of cinnamon) in a large bowl.
  3. Whisk together the wet ingredients (all of the lemon zest, 1 tbsp of the lemon juice, eggs, milk, and oil).
  4. Slowly stir the wet mixture into the dry mixture, until well combined.
  5. Grease a loaf pan and then pour the dough into your pan.
  6. Back for 30 minutes, until a toothpick can be cleanly inserted and removed.
  7. Allow the loaf to cool.
  8. Prepare the icing. Place the powdered sugar and remaining 1 tsp of cinnamon into a small bowl. Stir in the remaining lemon juice. (You may not use all of the juice.) Resulting glaze should be thick, but able to drip off the back of a spoon.
  9. Using a spoon, drizzle your glaze onto the loaf.

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Lahmacun

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What is lahmacun you ask? Let’s start with pronunciation. If you’re American (or not Turkish, really), I can almost guarantee your guess is wrong. In Turkish, the pronunciation of ‘c’ as we English speakers know it, doesn’t really exist. If you see a ‘c’ in a Turkish word, think of it as an English ‘j.’ Easy enough? But wait! If you see this letter: ç, forget what I just said. Ç = ‘ch.’ The ‘c’ in lahmacun doesn’t have a tail on it, so it is pronounced as a ‘j.’ Therefore: “lah-mah-june.” 

Now that we can all say it, what is it? Well it’s the epitome of delicious Turkish street food. It originates from Southeastern Turkey (although that is debated by some, as is the origin of pretty much every beloved food I’ve ever heard of…), and is popular in Turkey, Syria, Armenia, Lebanon, and other surrounding areas. It is essentially a meat-topped flatbread. In the US and Europe it is sometimes referred to as a “Turkish pizza.” That’s a reasonably accurate description I suppose, although to me the biggest and most obvious difference is that lahmacun isn’t covered in cheese as your traditional pizza is. Lahmacun can have a variety of toppings and therefore recipe variations, but at its core it is pita dough, baked with spiced meat on top. When purchased from a street vendor, they are commonly rolled up around a salad of sorts, but can also be eaten flat as we did tonight. Lamb is more traditional than beef, but since I had beef at home, that’s what we went with today.

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Lahmacun

(Recipe adapted from Sultan’s Kitchen: A Turkish Cookbook, by Özcan Ozan)
Ingredients: 
  • 1 tbsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups hot water, divided
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • Olive oil
  • 12oz ground beef (or lamb)
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 can (14.5oz) diced tomatoes
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp crushed red pepper
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 10 turns fresh ground pepper

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Instructions: 
  1. First, prepare the dough. In a small bowl, stir together the yeast, sugar, and 1/2 cup of warm water. Let sit for ~10 minutes until frothy.
  2. Add 1 cup of flour to a larger bowl. Pour the yeast mixture over top and stir. After combined, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes.
  3. Now add the remaining flour, remaining water, and salt. Mix with a spoon in the bowl until you have a well-combined ball of dough. Then turn out onto a lightly floured, clean, dry counter-top. Knead the dough for 10+ minutes. The dough should be firm and elastic.
  4. Pour just a tiny bit of olive oil onto a paper towel and swipe around the bottom and side of a large bowl. Place the dough in the bowl and cover with a damp towel. Allow to sit for 1 hour or until dough has doubled in size.
  5. While your dough is rising, prepare the meat topping. Combine all of the rest of the ingredients. (Note: the ground meat used by Turkish cooks for this dish is more finely ground than how it is generally sold in the US. I used the back of a fork and smashed the meat a little bit to make it a bit finer.)
  6. After the dough has risen, roll it out on your floured counter-top, so it is a long log. Using a sharp knife, cut into 8 equal chunks. Meanwhile, preheat your over to 450 degrees.
  7. Smash each chunk of dough with the heel of your hand so it is fairly flat. Then roll out with a rolling pin. The dough should end up slightly smaller than the size of an average dinner plate.
  8. Top the dough with your meat mixture, leaving ~1/2 inch edge.
  9. Place on a pizza stone or a flat cookie sheet. Bake on top rack for 10-12 minutes. The meat should be browned and the edges of the dough golden and a bit crispy.
This makes 8 large pieces.

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