Ah, the final day of Thanksgiving weekend. The leftovers are starting to look shabby, and Christmas music has not yet worn out its welcome. For those interested, my dry-brined turkey was FABULOUS. Not only was it a breeze to do, but the bird came out moist and loaded with flavor. I usually roast my turkeys in one of those big plastic bags because I'm a lazy git and don't like to have to baste every half hour. This year, though, I stuck my turkey on a rack in a big roasting pan, basted the whole thing with melted butter, and popped it sans bag right in the oven. I remembered to baste it regularly, and the bird came out looking like a Norman Rockwell painting: it was perfectly brown and crisp and it smelled like heaven. Did I think to take a picture? Nooooo, I was too busy mixing up the gravy. My guests roundly complimented the turkey's flavor, a highly unusual event around these parts because, frankly, turkey usually just tastes like turkey and isn't much worth commenting on. Thus I consider the dry brine a success and highly recommend the method -- next year I might opt for the less traditional but yummy-sounding rosemary and lemon zest recipe. Today there's not much left of the bird besides the carcass, which should make for a lovely turkey noodle soup on this blustery day.
Today, however, what I really want to talk about choklava. Choklava is homemade baklava dipped in dark chocolate, and it was Sean's contribution to our Thanksgiving feast. In fact, I don't want to talk about it so much as eat several pieces of it.
The recipe for baklava that Sean favors is from Cooking for the Domestically Impaired by Muffy Seymour. Don't go looking for a used copy online, because you probably won't find one -- Muffy was an old family friend, and this is a collection of family recipes she compiled years ago. There are weird, wonderful recipes for things like chipped beef cheese balls, wonton cookies, aspic, and something called "Everything Soup (Hot Dog-Bean)." What makes this particular baklava recipe different lies in both ingredient and technique: it calls for walnuts instead of pistachios, which really changes the overall flavor (for the better, I believe) of the baklava, and it requires you to roll the fillo up instead of laying it out in layers, which doesn't really affect the flavor but makes assembly go much faster and leaves you with a neater finished product. Sean decided to jazz things up this year by dipping the finished super-sweet confection in bittersweet chocolate. I recommend giving it a try if you're a baklava fan.
CHOKLAVA (adapted by Sean)
makes a whole lot
4 cups of walnuts
5 cups of sugar
1 lb of butter, plus more as necessary
2 lbs of frozen fillo dough
4 cups of honey
4 cups of water
4 cups of sugar
1 1/2 lbs good dark, bittersweet chocolate
Buy the fillo dough several days in advance and store it in the refrigerator so it can thaw.
Chop all the walnuts really fine, until no pieces are larger than 1/8 inch. A food processor will help.
Making the rolls:
1. In a large bowl, thoroughly mix the chopped nuts with 5 cups of sugar.
2. Melt butter in a sauce pan over low heat.
3. Clear off a large work surface.
4. Find something to put under the butter pan, such as a pot holder or trivet, so it won't hurt your work surface.
5. Tear off strips of heavy duty aluminum foil as follows: 3 strips 15 inches wide, and about a dozen strips that are as wide as they are long. You may not need all of these square pieces, but it's better to prepare them now before things get messy.
6. Center one of the 15-inch strips in front of you on your work area, short side nearest you. The remaining 15-inch sheets go under and over the opened fillo dough.
7. Carefully open and unfold the first box of fillo; be sure you keep the sheets of dough covered, or they will quickly dry out and become brittle and unusable.
8. Place 5 or 6 layers of dough on the foil sheet in front of you.
9. Using a pastry brush, coat the top with melted butter. If you extend the butter a little onto the aluminum foil, the layers will not slip around.
10. Sprinkle nut mixture over the melted butter so there's a thin but even layer covering the fillo.
11. Starting at the short end nearest you, roll up the dough/butter/nuts jelly roll fashion, as tightly as possible without tearing the fillo.
12. Wrap tightly in a square piece of foil, twisting the ends tightly, and refrigerate so that the butter will harden.
13. You may run out of dough or nut mixture first. Discard leftover dough. Leftover nut mixture can be stored in a baggie in the freezer until next time.
14. Save any melted butter for Step 21 below, and melt additional butter as needed.
Making the sauce:
15. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
16. While the rolls are hardening and the oven is preheating, combine the water, sugar and honey and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
17. Boil for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.
18. Make sure all sugar is dissolved, then turn off the heat and let the sauce cool.
Baking the baklava:
19. Unwrap one roll at a time and cut into 1/2-inch thick discs, using a sharp, serrated knife.
20. Place the discs on a foil-lined jelly roll pan so that they are touching. This will help prevent the pieces from unrolling.
21. When you have one cookie sheet full, generously brush the tops with melted butter.
22. Repeat process to fill the next cookie sheet.
23. Bake for approximately 40 minutes or until the baklava is light golden brown on top and slightly darker brown on the bottom. Don't let the bottoms to get too dark. Remove the pans from the oven and place them directly on cooling racks.
24. While baklava discs are still in the pan and still hot, use a baster or soup ladle to saturate each piece with the honey/water/sugar sauce. Cool completely.
25. Melt chocolate in the top of a double boiler over medium heat. Use tongs to dips each piece of baklava completely into the chocolate. Gently shake off any excess melted chocolate and place the baklava on a piece of foil to cool and harden.
25. When pieces are completely cooled and hardened, transfer them to storage or gift containers. If you can find them, use little fluted paper cups for each piece.
26. Keep tightly covered or sealed at room temperature. If you want to give baklava as a gift, you might want to include a tag with each package: "Do not refrigerate. Keep at room temperature or the honey will granulate." (Of course, if you're like me and rather like granulated honey, you could leave this part off.)
Choklava gets better as it ages. Supposedly it will keep for weeks, but it never seems to last that long.