We are so excited to feature Olia Hercules‘ new book Kaukasis: A Culinary Journey through Georgia, Azerbaijan and Beyond for our March Cookbook Club selection. Full of stunning photographs evocative of the region, this book is a celebration, weaving personal narratives and recipes for a little known cuisine that combines European and Middle Eastern ingredients in ways that are fresh, new, and totally unexpected. Olia Hercules will take you on a culinary journey unlike any other. If you liked Mamushka, you will love this book.
From the author: “Pakhlava is a festive dish made for Novruz, the traditional celebration of the coming of spring in Azerbaijan, but it’s rarely prepared at home, since nuts are expensive and making thin pastry is rather laborious. However, it is a gorgeous thing, and if you like baking and making something new, this is a great way to spend an afternoon, especially if you are cooking with your loved ones. The recipe makes enough to last you a couple of weeks and to package up into gift boxes for friends and family.”
- 2 eggs
- ¾ cup (7oz / 200g) unsalted butter, melted
- 7/8 cup (7oz / 200g) soured cream
- 2 teaspoons superfine sugar
- 1 teaspoon (3g) instant yeast
- pinch of salt
- 6 2/3 cup (1 ¾ pound / 800g) plain flour, plus extra
- for dusting
- ¾ cup (6fl oz / 175ml) water
- 2 ½ cups (17 ½ oz / 500g) superfine sugar
- a pinch of saffron threads
- 1 ¾ lb (800g) nuts (walnuts, almonds
- and pistachios are all equally good), ground,
- plus about 55 pieces to decorate
- 3 cups (1 1/3 lb / 600g) superfine sugar
- 2 tablespoons cardamom pods, toasted and seeds ground
- about 2 cups (1 lb / 450 g) Clarified Butter, for brushing
- 2 eggs, beaten, for glazing
- You will also need a baking sheet measuring 10 x 16 inches (25 x 40cm)
- To make the dough, mix the eggs with the melted butter, soured cream, sugar and yeast in a large bowl. Mix the salt into the flour, then gradually add the flour to the bowl, first mixing with a wooden spoon and then working the mixture with your hands into a firm dough. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
- For the syrup, put ¾ cup (6fl oz / 175ml) water, the 2 ½ cups sugar and saffron into a pan and bring to the boil slowly, stirring all the time, so that the sugar dissolves before the water starts boiling. Leave to cool.
- Mix all the filling ingredients together in a bowl and set aside.
- Divide the dough into 8 balls - 2 of them (for the top and bottom layer) should be 12oz (350g) each, the other 6 should be 3½oz (100g) each.
- Line the baking sheet with baking parchment, with enough excess all round so that you can use it to manipulate and lift the pakhlava out, and brush the paper with Clarified Butter.
- Flour your work surface and press one of the 12oz (350g) pieces of dough down with your hand into a disc. Then using a (preferably) thin rolling pin, roll the dough into a 10 x 16-inch (25 x 40cm) rectangle and place it on the lined sheet. Brush with Clarified Butter and sprinkle over some of the filling.
- Roll out each 3½oz (100g) piece of dough, one by one, as thinly as you can into the same size rectangle as before and then layer into the sheet, again brushing each sheet of dough with the Clarified Butter and adding a sprinkling of the filling.
- Roll out the remaining 12oz (350g) piece of dough to fit the sheet and pop it on top of the other layers. Press the pakhlava gently with the palm of your hand. Now grab the ends of the baking parchment and swiftly fold them over the dough and bring them back again in order to tidy up the shape of the pakhlava. Do the same with each side and then twist each corner of the parchment to make it easier to lift the whole thing out once baked.
- Cut it lengthways into 7 vertical strips, and then into 12 on the diagonal to create about 55 diamonds - enough to last you a couple of weeks and make gift boxes for friends and family.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Brush the top of the pakhlava with the egg glaze and press a piece of nut into the middle of each diamond. Bake for 15-20 minutes, then remove from the oven and drizzle over the rest of the Clarified Butter. Lower the temperature of the oven to 350°F (180°C) and return to the oven for another 25 minutes until the top layer is golden and crispy.
- Take the pakhlava out of the oven and drizzle over the saffron syrup, then go over the cuts again with a knife and drizzle the syrup between the layers, too. Leave the pakhlava to settle for a bit, then lift it out carefully (like a body on a stretcher) using the twisted baking parchment corners with somebody's help. Run along the cuts again and then store the pieces in an airtight container, out of the refrigerator for up to a week, or in the refrigerator for up to a month; if the latter, make sure you take it out 2 hours before serving so that the Clarified Butter isn't too hard.
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The above recipe is excerpted from Kaukasis: A Culinary Journey Through Georgia, Azerbaijan and Beyond by Olia Hercules. (Weldon Owen, 2017)
Ref: Saffron, Cardamom