Back in the days before GF (gluten free), once a year at Christmas, I would make baklava. If you’ve ever made baklava, then you know why I only did it once a year. For those of you who haven’t, it is a royal pain in the ass. It requires octopus like movements, which is difficult when one only has two arms. I’d always recruit a family member with the promises of extra pieces…it was the only way to get someone to agree to help me.
Working with phyllo dough (pastry sheets) means you have to work fast, keep it covered with a damp towel, and use a ridiculous amount of melted butter on each sheet. I always did six layers of dough, a row of filling (chopped walnuts, sugar, and spices), another six layers of dough, another row of filling, and a final six layers of dough. After my first year of trying to fit a too large sheet onto a too small cookie pan, I figured out how to trim the edges with a pizza cutter before I got started. Eventually I bought a bigger pan, but it still required some trimming. I wish that cookie pan manufacturers and pastry sheet manufacturers would cooperate and come up with a regulation size.
After assembling it, my back would be killing me, but that’s the hard part. Next is slicing it into the pretty diamond shapes. Yes, you slice it BEFORE you bake it. After that, it gets baked, and once it’s done, it’s smothered in a rich honey, lemon, and spice syrup. Be sure to pour COLD syrup over the HOT pastry!!! That means make your syrup ahead of time. Then the pastry has to sit until it’s cool (and if you can really resist, leave it overnight), but you’ll find that with cold over hot, the pastry is still crispy instead of being super gooey.
Now that we’re gluten free though, it definitely doesn’t seem worth the effort to make the pastry from scratch. Instead, I make lemon curd…imagine a super tart, cornstarch free pie filling, and you’ve almost got it. I used to make tartlets filled with lemon curd with the leftover phyllo dough; now I use the curd in crepes and on scones. Yes, gluten free crepes are delicious, and so are gluten free scones! The crepes took some playing with before I finally got the consistency down right (they’d usually turn out more like pancakes…turns out I was using too many eggs and not enough milk…they require one egg and lots of milk), but the scones were fantastic on my first try. Of course, for the scones I had a recipe, and for the crepes, I was just making it up as I went. It’s always best to use someone else’s wheel if you can!
I first had lemon curd crepes with fresh strawberry topping at the Holiday Chalet in Denver, Co. Crystal, the owner, made them on our first morning there and they were amazing!! Unfortunately, she disappeared the next day, leaving her non-English speaking boyfriend to do the cooking. He didn’t know how to make crepes, and when I explained that it was like a very thin pancake, he nodded and came back with a pancake that was an inch and a half thick. Maybe he thought I meant a very thin birthday cake? Crystal is an excellent cook, and if you’re adventurous, I’d recommend the Holiday Chalet. My husband refuses to stay there ever again because it’s in a slightly dicey area of downtown, and we heard several gunshots on our first night there. Aubrey loved it, especially since she slept in the sun room, with three walls of windows and french doors into the main room. I loved the giant murphy bed! It’s extremely convenient to the Botanical Garden (the main one) and the museums. It’s old and a little tatty, but I like that sort of thing.
Anyway, after trying Crystal’s lemon curd, I researched and found the recipe I still use. It’s mouth twistingly tart and oh so delicious.
Here are links to the recipes and B&B mentioned above:
I make it exactly as the recipe is written, which is really rare for me. You’ll feel it start to thicken; as you stir, there will be more resistance. Be sure to have it at the lowest heat setting that will keep it boiling. If it’s too high, the butter and sugar will scorch and it’s inedible. Also, stir with a whisk from the time you turn on the heat until you turn off the heat, and then move the pan from the hot burner. Don’t stop stirring!
I suggest going much lighter on the cloves and substitute cinnamon, but I’m not a huge fan of cloves. I don’t know if I’m just highly sensitive to the taste, but for me, a little goes a looooooong way. I literally use about half a pinch.
Follow the recipe on the back of the box for pancakes, but use one egg and enough milk to make it thin and runny, but not watery. Sorry, but I never measure…I’ll make some this week and update the post when I have the right amounts! Oh, and I always add a teaspoon (or so) of vanilla and a very liberal amount of cinnamon.
I never add the fruit or nutmeg, and they look/feel/taste like homemade biscuits. They are fluffy and crunchy!
I’d be sure to ask if Crystal will be there on the days that you want to stay. Seriously, her boyfriend (husband?) cannot cook. Be sure to check out her boutique and for goodness’ sake, eat the brownies. They are hellishly good!