Tag Archives: Lazarus

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).

Red Velvet Cake

Red Velvet 1

Lazarus opened last night (here’s Ben Brantley’s review here) and it seems appropriate to share the recipe for the Backstage Baker’s dramatic birthday cake for Michael Esper.

Red Velvet Cake


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons unsweetened, cocoa powder (plus more for dusting pans)
2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk (if you don’t have buttermilk substitute one cup milk less one tablespoon  and one tablespoon of white vinegar. Let sit 5 minutes.)
2 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1-2 oz. red food coloring, depends how deep you want the color
1 teaspoon of white distilled vinegar
½ cup of plain hot coffee (don’t skip this ingredient)


2 (8 oz) packs cream cheese, softened
¼ cup milk, made need more
1 stick butter, softened
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cocoa powder and salt. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, combine the sugar and vegetable oil.
4. Mix in the eggs, buttermilk, vanilla and red food coloring until combined. Stir in the coffee and white vinegar.
5. Combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients a little at time, mixing after each addition, just until combined.
6. Generously grease two round, 9 inch cake pans with shortening and dust with cocoa.
7. Pour the batter evenly into each pan.
8. Bake in the middle rack for 30-40 minutes (check at 30 minutes), or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Do not over bake as cake will continue to cook as it cools.
9. Let pans cool on a cooling rack until the pans are warm to the touch.
Slide a knife or offset spatula around the inside of the pans to loosen the cake from the pan.
10.Remove the cakes from the pan and let them cool. These are moist cakes so I refrigerated them before icing.
11.Frost the cake with cream cheese frosting (recipe below).

Frosting Recipe:
Add softened cream cheese into large bowl.
Pour in milk, butter and vanilla extract.
Mix until well combined.
Pour in half of the powdered sugar.
Mix until combined.
Add the remaining powdered sugar.
Mix until smooth and fluffy.
Reserve about a cup of the frosting and tint with red food coloring until it achieves just the right bloody shade.  Artistically dollop on and around cake as it pleases your murderous eye.


Red Velvet 2
Production Assistant Rachel Zucker, Michael C. Hall and birthday boy Michael Esper

Red Velvet 3