Saturday, September 29, 2007

Cookbook of the Month - Baklava Figs

Asking me about my favorite cookbook is like asking me what date of the month it is. There are at least 30 different possibilities. Like many of us, I am a creature of moods, fits and starts; what floats my boat one day, may sink it another, but not because yesterday’s dish was a disaster. More than likely, it was delectable, and I am still licking my chops over it. What by outside appearances seems like caprice is nothing more than an extreme case of curiosity, or a reminder of a recipe that I’d not made in ages and must return to.

This sort of studied randomness serves me in pretty good stead. Faced with infinite choices, honing in on the next taste treat can be easier if lured by someone else’s whim. Food blogs and events are ideal idea farms to guide me to the next great dish.

And that last dish was a dazzler. The last time I had baklava, I think most of the world was still on the Julian calendar. Shockingly sweet, roiling in buttery, syrupy decadence, this classic Middle Eastern pastry was as dull a memory as the toothache I would get from indulging in one too many of them. Destiny, however, was about to take my hand and tug me into the kitchen. I’d not been able to shake the tantalizing, jewel-like images of an adaptation of the traditional recipe, one where the filling is fitted into phyllo dumplings and baked in muffin tins. I was a goner.

I was also without phyllo dough and in the midst of too many other distractions to trot myself to the store. So I brooded for five minutes before I got cracking in my cupboards, desperate, but convinced that somewhere in the dark corners I could find a passable pitch hitter for my pastry. I did.

Dried figs are one of nature’s marvels. They never go bad, but can be reconstituted to a tender and plump facsimile of their former fresh selves. Someday I will bake baklava in muffin tins, and someday I’ll make it as prescribed in my favorite current cookbook, A Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden. I don’t know if it will be tomorrow, or next week or next season. I just counted my cookbooks. The calendar month really should have 47 days.

Me and my current favorite cookbook.

Phyllo-Free Baklava Figs (my own recipe) adapted from the traditional Claudia Roden recipe with inspiration from The Budding Cook.


8 dried, large well-shaped figs, such as Turkish or Calimyrna (I used Calimyrna)
2 cups water
2-3 cinnamon sticks
1/3 cup walnuts
2 tablespoons honey (replace with brown sugar for vegan requirements)
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter (leave out butter for vegan requirements)
2 tablespoons rosewater
2 tablespoons crushed pistachio nuts


In a medium sauce pan, bring the water and cinnamon sticks to a boil. Add figs to pan and simmer until the figs are plump, but not so tender that they fall apart. Remove from heat and allow figs to further soften and cool.

Meantime, grind or crush the walnuts in a food processor or mortar and pestle. Add honey, stirring until a paste forms. Either finely ground or chopped nuts work equally well.

When figs are cool, remove from cinnamon water and set on cutting board. Strain cinnamon water, then return it to saucepan, adding ½ cup sugar and the butter. Bring sugar water to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer until the water thickens into syrup.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut only the very stem ends from the figs, discarding the stems. Carefully open and push down on the fig with a fingertip to create a little hollow. Do not press your finger through the fig, breaking the bottom. Fill each fig with the walnut/honey paste and arrange in an oven-proof dish. Pour syrup over figs and around them until they are sitting in syrup 1/3 of their height. Bake for approximately 35 minutes or until figs brown and syrup further thickens.

Remove from oven and allow to cool before carefully lifting each fig from the bottom with a fork onto serving plates. Strain syrup to clear of any nuts or fig seeds, stir in rosewater, then pour over and around the figs. Top each fig with a generous sprinkling of crushed pistachios.

Serves 8. --


This post is for Nags of For the Cook in Me, hosting Show Me Your Cook Books, an event that actually got me to collect all of my cookbooks in one place and take a good look at them. Thanks, Nags!


The Cooking Ninja said... oh my ... this looks so moist and so so delicious ... I can almost tasted it from my screen. Can I have one please.

Christina said...

I can never decide on a favorite cookbook either. I have a bookshelf devoted to them, and I could spend hours sitting on the floor in front of the bookshelf, paging through each one, looking for inspiration on what to do with whatever produce I've picked up at the farmers' market. I think today, my favorite book is The New Spanish Table, but tomorrow (or next month when I begin thinning greens in the garden), it may be Hesser's The Cook and the Gardener.

Thanks for a great post.

Rosa said...

I've always loves sticky honey-soaked pastries, and I love it that this version has no dough - let's face it, the fruit, honey and nuts are the best part!

Nora B. said...

This phyllo-free baklava figs is perfect for me, as I have all the ingredients except the phyllo! I love the combination of flavours, especially the pistachio with the rosewater. I can imagine the aroma.

This cookbook looks interesting. I haven't come across it before. Thanks for sharing.

TBC said...

Wow! I love your version of baklava 'cos honestly, it was such a pain to work with the sheets:-(
BTW, Susan-thank you so much for the mention; it was not even necessary.
Figs filled with nuts and honey sounds great.You ARE a genius to come up with something like that:-)

Sylvia said...

This version of baklava ,with figs sounds as a treat for me.I must try this.

Anrosh said...

I am a fan of the baklava in the international grocery store on 41st and 9th ave.
A question for you Susan which is not related to the post - Have you cooked amarnath grain ? It is currently sold at the whole foods store. I just boiled it in water just like oats or quinoa. Did a google search but no luck, thought you may have crossed paths.
Thank You.
My email is

sra said...

Susan, this is such a great idea for a flourless baklava! If I ever find such big dried figs here, this is on my list of treats to savour!

Jyothsna said...

Susan, your version looks far better than all the baklava I see around here!

Truffle said...

What a gorgeous recipe. Looks absolutely delicious!

Maryann said...

Love it! Very creative and looks wonderful!

Sharmi said...

oooohhhh That looks delicious and man you look pretty:)

Shaun said...

Susan, lovie - "The Book of Middle Eastern Food" is an every day favorite. There is always something new to cook from it, whether it be pilafs, roasted game with spices, stews and tagines with currants, or sweet, syrupy desserts. I love your twist of baklava, for my love for figs, fresh or dried, is unwavering. I love the dimensionality of the syrup, with each step a new incarnation, the ultimate version of the syrup, with rose water, sounds dreamy...You just can't go wrong with cinnamon, honey, butter, and floral waters. A lovely and inspirational post...I wonder which cookery book I'd pick as my favorite today...

Susan said...

Thanks, Cooking Ninja. They are moist, tender and succulent. I’d love to share across the miles. They remind me something of Favols Pruneaux D’agen, a French specialty fruit confection you might be familiar with.
Christina – I'm glad I'm not the only one; you fully understand where I’m coming from. Thanks. We are drawn to certain things for a variety of reasons. I don’t have much regrets as to the cookbooks I have chosen to live with for the rest of my days, save a few clunkers which have hit the recyling bin. On some level they are all favorites.
Rosa – I DO love the butter-laden layers of phyllo, yet it’s the honeyed nuts and syrup that truly make the dessert.
Nora, this is a quick sweet to pull together. No fumbling with the phyllo dough, as much as I love it. Roden’s book is a classic that’s been available a long time in paperback. It’s worth it, I think, to welcome it into your kitchen library; it gives a nice cross section of all the sweet and savory goodies of the Middle East.
Hi, TBC! Thanks. Yes, phyllo can be painful – so dry and delicate, like parchment. But, of course, I had to mention your post. Didn’t I tell you I had a weakness for baklava? ; ) It’s only right and fair to credit your blog for planting the seed. Genius? Thank you, but necessity really is the mother of invention. : )
Hi, Sylvia. Thanks. Dried figs are fairly easy to find. I hope you try it.
Anrosh – The next time I’m on the west side in midtown, I’ll stop in that grocer. I’ve sent you an email regarding your amaranth question and will follow up with another. Good to see you.
Thanks, Sra. The dried figs don’t have to be giants, just fairly round in diameter even if they are flattened before reconstituting. The narrow, tear-dropped shaped ones (Black Mission, as we know them in U.S.) are difficult to fill.
Jyothsna, you are very kind. Thanks. Surely you must have your pick of the best baklava in the UAE?
Thanks, Truffle. They are an easy treat. Good to see you.
Hi, Maryann. Thanks. They were difficult models; I had to take more shots than usual. All that tempting glisten…
Sharmi, you dear. Thanks for every kudos. : )
Hi, Shaun. Thanks, always. Oh, I know how long and well fond you are of Roden’s books. Roden says rosewater is used in Egypt, but not standard in other countries.

It IS hard to pick a favorite cookbook. Let the day lead you.

rahin said...

hey susan the phyllo free baklava , sound very innovative n creative, looks awesome , i love figs , this is a very unusal way to relish them , thanks for sharing

Simona said...

Really nice and appetizing. I love dried figs.

sra said...

Oh, ok! We get dried figs on strings here - I imagine they would be about 1 inch in diameter, would that do, they will expand on cooking, right?
Let me know and I know what dessert will be for the next meal I host!

sandeepa said...

Your description of the dazzling baklava, did it. Now my tummy is growling and I sincerely hope no one hears it

Valli said...

What a delightful post. I am more of a creature of habit with my cooking lately than an adventurer. My cookbooks are collecting dust. I find so many wonderful recipes on everyones blogs to keep me going for years!

bee said...

susan, this is one of the most brilliant creations i have seen with my fav fruit. guilt-free to boot. thank you.

Suganya said...

Is that how you look like? This shot is different from the one on yr profile. Figs in baklava is out of this world. I will have to try this!

Toni said...

How imaginative of you to come up with the idea of figs! I don't think it would have occurred to me in a million years, and yet it's so perfect! Thank you!

Susan said...

Thanks, Rahin. I wanted to find a way to have my baklava without having to trek out for the phyllo. Glad you like it.
Simona – Thanks. I love dried figs, too. They are even more versatile than the wonderful but delicate fresh ones. --
Hey, Sra. Yes, these would work. I left a detailed comment on your blog.
Dear Sandeepa – Thank you. With your tummy rumbling, I know that I have succeeded. : )
Hi, Valli. Thanks. I don’t use my cookbooks nearly as much as I used to since I’ve been actively blogging. I now have boxes heavy with hundreds of recipes printed off the internet. It’s much easier to research online than to scour cookbooks, but I don’t want to abandoned that old-fashioned feel and pleasure a book can offer.
Thanks, Bee. You could further amend the recipe to exclude sugar altogether by adding honey to the cooking water instead. It would boil down and thicken just as well, although I would watch that it doesn’t scorch.
Suganya - Ah, the photos. My mother doesn’t think the second shot looks like me, either. She’s right, of course. Mother knows best. But it’s one of the few shots where I am smiling, so I had to make do. At least no one would recognize me on the street; otherwise I would have to don the fetching Bee’s chimp visage. : ) Some day, perhaps, we will meet in person; it’s really the only way to tell what any of us looks like. Even the best cameras are no substitute for the naked, human eye. The figs are out of this world. I hope you try them. Very easy.
Hi, Toni. Thank you very much. There's more to a fig than a Newton, but I'd never turn my nose up at a package of those! They are perfect with a cup of tea.

Kelly-Jane said...

I've done a similar recipe with apricots, but your figs look so sticky and delicious :)

It's hard to pick favourite books once you have a lot to choose from, I like Claudia's writing too.

Mishmash ! said...

Susan, finally it worked , I had a n e-mail notification of your post!!! hope I wont miss out any of your beautifully written posts. Well, Baklava is my fav but witg figs, thats quite innovative. you re clever , my friend :)) Btw, I am so used to ut profile pic, so really could not recognise u from this pic!!!! :)


Meghan said...

i just love figs.... oh so much!

Mansi Desai said...

I don't know what to look at - the baklava or the cookbook with your pic!! both look fabulous:)

Susan said...

Apricots sound heavenly, Kelly-Jane. These figs were sticky...very sticky, but very delicious, too. Thanks! Roden's books are gems, aren't they?
Shn - Glad Feedburner is working for you. All is well with the world. : ) I know what you mean about the pics. They were actually taken within days of each other. Chalk it up to angles, lighting, mood...
Hi, Meghan. You and me both. Good to see you!
Mansi - You are very kind. Thank you. I'd go with the fig. : ) It was MUCH easier to photograph than I was. Very hard to take your own pic w/out a tripod or timer.

katiez said...

My teeth hurt just looking at this.... but in a good way! DHL delivers pretty quickly here (hint, hint)

Meghan said...

susan- could you email me? ive got a food blogger question

knotmeg at gmail dot com

Susan said...

Baklava is one of those delights that every time I eat it I say, "I've got to make this." Then when I look at the recipe, I bail until the next time I eat baklava. On and on it goes. But your photo is so delicious and inspiring, it may just do the trick. And I haven't even tasted it! Yet. ;)

Anh said...

Susan, wow! Just wow! The words Baklava Figs are enough to convince me that this is a winner! Thanks for sharing!

Nanditha Prabhu said...

you are a kitchen magician indeed!
you look a bit different in this picture! may be because i got so used your profile snap!

Minik Kus said...

Susan, this phyllo free baklava looks yummy! If I can find figs, I may try it. Thanks!

Suganya said...

I so hope we meet one day. Not to forget Willem too :)

Susan said...

Katie – I do suggest a tall glass of ice water to chase the sugar away!
Meghan – You should have already received the answer by now. Hope it helps.
Thanks, Susan. All those layers of phyllo, individually painted with melted butter IS a lot of work, but this recipe gives you all the taste without the task. Hope you try it sometime.
Anh – Thank you very much. : )
Hi, Nanditha. Thanks. No matter how many photos are taken of me, I never look the same twice. Even so, one’s profile always looks different from a full portrait.
Thanks, Minik. You may have to look around some. I didn’t find dried figs in the supermarket I usually shop in.
Suganya – You never know. Back in May, I struck up a friendship with Lucy of Nourish Me. We’d often thought how nice it would be to have coffee together and chat, but she is in Melbourne, and I’m 10,000 miles away in U.S. Well, Lucy and I met last week in NY.

Not to worry - neither you nor I will ever let Willem be forgotten. : )

Carnation said...

Very very very ttttempting!