Sophie’s Baklava

Sophie Ann CarusoSophia Ann Caruso and a pan of Baklava she made for the cast and crew of LAZARUS. Notice the large bag of Carnation Instant Milk behind her … that was part of the mixture for her angel blood at the end of the show.  

Our Backstage Baker’s most recent show, LAZARUS, closed on January 20, 2016, and what a run it was.  I was lucky enough to see the show just before it opened.  And (I am so sorry to admit this now) I frankly didn’t get it.  In fact, I didn’t get it to the extent that I was wildly annoyed by the show.  I liked the music, the production was impeccable, and the cast of supremely talented actors did yeoman’s work.  But I felt that all they were doing was presenting a pretentious, self-indulgent show designed to trick the audience into liking it just because David Bowie was connected to it.  “Emperor’s new clothes”  I thought, when I read all the respectful reviews.

But I saw it before the news of David Bowie’s death changed everything.  Learning that he had created this show while he was slowly approaching the end of his life suddenly made everything snap into place.  My perception of the show literally transformed in that moment when I understood the context of its creation.   And that moment was, in itself, another puff of theatricality, of life, for a show that had been seen weeks earlier and filed away.  It added dense layers to a project that had previously been seen as just an exasperating piece of performance art accompanied by some catchy tunes.

So, I can’t let LAZARUS go without posting this gorgeous recipe for baklava.  Somehow baklava, that sticky, heavily layered Greek pastry, is the perfect pastry-metaphor for this show. (Wikipedia even tells me that that word baklava comes from the Mongolian which means “to tie or wrap up.”)  I won’t beat you over the head with an explanation, (I mean “pastry-metaphor” is already pushing it,) but if you were lucky enough to see LAZARUS, I think you’ll know what I mean.  (If not, you can always download the cast album soon and perhaps get a sense of what I’m talking about.)

This recipes comes from the ethereal Sophie Ann Caruso who played The Girl — the angel who tries to save the lead character, Thomas Newton, and bring him home, but ends up dying center stage in a pool of snow white blood.  Yeah, it was that sort of show.

Sophia’s Baklava

for orange honey syrup
2/3 cup granulated sugar
Juice of 1 medium orange (reserve the halves)
3/4 cup honey

for pastry and filling
1 lb phyllo pastry sheets
1 cup melted butter (that’s two sticks)
2 cups whole walnuts
1 cup unsalted pistachios. plus more roughly chopped for garnish
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon (scant)


for the syrup
In medium saucepan stir together the sugar, OJ and 3/4 cup water.  Add the juiced halves.

Set saucepan over medium hear and bring to a boil. Stir often until sugar is dissolved.

Stir in honey and lower heat to medium low. Simmer 7-10 minutes until slightly thickened.

Pour the hot syrup through a sieve into a heatproof bowl. Press firmly on the solids to get any liquid, then discard the solids.

Allow mixture to cool 30 minutes at room temperature before moving bowl to refrigerator to cool completely.

for the pastry
Position a rack on the center of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter the sides and bottom of a 9×13 baking pan, then set aside.

Cut phyllo to fit pan snugly and cover stack with a damp dish cloth. Lay one sheet of phyllo in pan and gently brush with melted butter. **NOTE:  keep stirring the melted butter during this process so the solids don’t separate.**   Add a second sheet and brush with more butter. Repeat with six more sheets.

Pulse about half the walnuts and pistachios with sugar and cinnamon in a food processor until they are course crumbs. Pulse the rest of the nuts. Sprinkle an even layer of nuts over the buttered phyllo.

Layer and butter another four sheets of phyllo and sprinkle them with nuts. Repeat this step twice. You will have used 20 sheets of dough.

Sprinkle the remaining nuts on top and butter and layer another 8 sheets of phyllo. You will have used 28 sheets.

Brush butter over top layer, cover pan and refrigerate 10 minutes.

Take pan out of refrigerator. Carefully cut the layered dough with a sharp knife diagonally into 1 1/2 inch rectangles. Cut diagonally the other way to make diamond shaped pieces. Be careful not to shift the phyllo sheets while cutting.
Bake for 45-55 minutes until the pastry is lightly bronzed.

While the baklava is still hot pour half of the cold syrup evenly over the top. Allow the syrup a few minutes to seep into the pastry. Pour the remaining syrup over the pastry.
Garnish with roughly chopped pistachios. Set it aside to cool before serving. Ideally it should sit 8 hours to let the flavors meld (but 4 hours will do if you are impatient).

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