Around my house Christmas is all about food, and while Mrs. Claus doesn’t spend all her time baking cookies that doesn’t mean she doesn’t know her way around a kitchen. Over the next few days I’d like to share some of Mrs. Claus’ favourite recipes with you! Each one of these recipes is written in the voice of one of the incarnations of Mrs. Claus from my latest anthology, Mrs. Claus: Not the Fairy Tale They Say.
A recipe from Phaedra Claus of “Shouldering the Burden” by M.L.D. Curelas
This is a variation of the more traditional walnut and honey baklava, made with pistachios, cardamom, and rosewater. The pistachios evoke pleasant memories of Nick’s and my time in Turkey, as well as our native Greece. It’s a treat sure to please your most curmudgeonly guest.
1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup water
1 tbsp lemon juice
10 black peppercorns
1/8 tsp salt
1 tbsp rosewater
12 ounces shelled pistachios
1 tsp ground cardamom
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/8 tsp salt
Pastry and Butter
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
1 lb frozen phyllo dough, thawed
Begin with the syrup. Combine the syrup ingredients in a saucepan, except for the rosewater, and bring to a full boil over medium-high heat. You need to make sure the sugar dissolves, so stir occasionally while it cooks. Transfer the syrup to a measuring cup and set it aside to cool while you assemble the baklava. Once it has cooled, remove the peppercorns and stir in the rosewater.
While the syrup is cooling, start the nut filling. The elves have built a fabulous steam-powered grinder that will chop the pistachios for me. It saves so much time! If you aren’t favored with steam-powered technology, then your modern food processor should do the trick, in short pulses. Once the pistachios are finely chopped, transfer them to a bowl. Measure out a tablespoon of nuts and set it aside to use later as a garnish. To the main bowl, add your cardamom, sugar, and salt. Toss until well-combined.
And now to assemble! Adjust your oven rack to the lower-middle position, and preheat your oven to 300 degrees F. Grease a 13×9 pan with butter (use a non-stick pan, if possible). Unwrap and unfold your thawed phyllo dough onto a large cutting board. Flatten gently with your hands. Cut the sheets crosswise with a knife, so you have two stacks of phyllo dough. Don’t panic if one side is slightly narrower than the other. To prevent the dough from drying out, cover with plastic wrap and top with a damp kitchen towel.
From the stack of wider phyllo dough, take one sheet and place it in the bottom of your pan. Brush it with butter, completely coating it. Alternatively, I often brush my dough with olive oil, and *ahem* often use my wonderful clockwork spraying can to speed this process. If you have access to cans that spray oil, I recommend using them! Repeat this step with seven more sheets of phyllo dough, all from your “wider” stack.
Spread about 1 cup of nuts over the dough. Top with a sheet of phyllo from your second stack of phyllo; dab butter on it (or use your clockwork sprayer!). Repeat this with 5 more sheets of phyllo, staggering sheets, if necessary, to cover the nuts. Make sure each sheet of phyllo is brushed with butter. Repeat the layering with another cup of nuts, 6 sheets of phyllo, and then the remaining nuts. Finish up with 8-10 sheets of phyllo from your first, “wider” stack of phyllo dough. Brush each sheet with butter, except for the top sheet.
Using the palms of your hands, gently compress the layers, working from the center out to the edges. This will squeeze out any air pockets.
Brush more butter onto the top sheet of phyllo dough, covering it completely. Using a bread knife, cut the baklava into diamonds, rotating the pan as necessary.
Bake until golden and crisp, about 90 minutes, rotating halfway through baking. After removing the baklava from the oven, immediately pour your syrup over the cut lines until 2 tablespoons of syrup remain in your cup–the syrup will sizzle when it hits your hot pan. Drizzle the remaining syrup over the surface. Garnish the center of each piece with a pinch of your reserved nuts. Cool your baklava to room temperature on a wire rack (about 3 hours). Then cover with foil and allow it to set for another 8 hours. To be sure, if your elves are hungry, you can eat the baklava as soon as it cools, but the 8 hour wait time will allow the flavor to settle. Your baklava can be stored at room temperature for 10 days, if securely wrapped in foil.
Excerpt from “Shouldering the Burden” by M.L.D. Curelas:
A ball of light formed between her hands. Parting them, she blew a gentle stream of air at the light. The globe floated away from her, toward the shadows of the temple.
Something cackled. In the silvery light of Phaedra’s globe, malformed, black shapes writhed and capered.
“By the Pole, what are those things?” Annika gasped.
The creatures shrank from the light, but Phaedra caught glimpses of goats’ legs, horns, tusks, spindly tails, and red eyes. She gulped. “I think those are kallikantzaroi.” At Annika’s puzzled shrug, Phaedra added, “Goblins. They only come above ground during the twelve days of Christmas.”
Annika resumed hacking at the ropes. “Let’s do this quickly then, before they decide to pester us.”
Phaedra knelt, pulling her own multi-tool from her pocket.
The Caryatids hissed in her mind, and Phaedra jerked her head up. An inky black thing, the size of a badger, leapt at her. Its mouth gaped open, displaying rows of jagged teeth.
Phaedra pulled her telescoping parasol out of her boot. She raised the metal rod and batted the goblin aside.
Another capering goblin bounded from the shadows.