Sugar High Friday # 16, as decreed by Jennifer is all about improving the collective Valentine's Day with Aphrodisiac foods.
I toyed with the idea of a chocolate "caviar" and blini, but decided that there was nothing whatsoever romantic about tapioca, chocolate or not. I thought that something eaten with the fingers would be the way to go. As I was reading through a list of Aphrodisiac foods these caught my eye :
Almonds - Throughout time almonds have been associated with desire and fertility. Epitomised by Sampson's wooing of Delilah.
Pine Nuts - The Romans believed in the aphrodisiac power of the pine nut ; many a libido was stirred in Medieval times with a handful of pine nuts.
Honey - Honeymoon, my honey, who doesn't believe honey is seductive?
Basil - Stimulating to more than just the circulation, basil is also said to have a scent that drives men wild!
Aniseed - The ancient Greeks and Romans knew aniseed had special powers ; we now know anise contains estrogenic compounds - one way to increase your desire.
So what to do with that lot? Baklava, or more specifically as it shall be named for the occasion Baklover!
I thought a mixture of chopped almonds and pine nuts could replace the more usual pistachio or walnuts. Honey could be included in the syrup. And why not combine the basil and the aniseed in the one plant and use Thai basil which I find to be basil with an aniseed taste, and infuse the syrup with the leaves?
I made the baklover like this :
1 cup of caster sugar
1/2 cup of water
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon of manuka (for extra power) honey
2 sprigs of Thai basil
250g phyllo pastry
60g butter, melted
175g almonds, finely chopped by hand
75g pine nuts, finely chopped by hand
Make the syrup by dissolving the sugar in the water with the lemon juice then boil for a couple of minutes or until the syrup coats a spoon. Stir in the honey and the basil leaves. Remove the basil leaves after a minute. Cool, then chill the syrup.
Preheat the oven to 180°c. Have ready an oven proof dish the size of half a sheet of phyllo.
Layer half the phyllo in the dish brushing melted butter between each layer and folding each sheet in half. Spread the nuts over this layer of pastry. Continue layering and buttering the remaining phyllo to cover the nuts in the dish. Butter the top layer. Cut the nut-pastry stack into diamond shapes right to the bottom. Bake for 30 minutes or until it is golden and puffy.
Pour the cold syrup over the hot pastry the moment it comes out of the oven. Leave to cool then recut and remove from the dish.
Eat with your fingers and be aware of the consequences!
Notes : I had not made baklava before this and I think I probably should have before I started to experiment. I do not think I chopped the nuts finely enough and therefore it fell apart a bit too much. I think I might have left the basil in the syrup too long - much longer than the minute I specified above. But all in all I rather liked it - the basil syrup was less cloying than the traditional rose water or orange blossom flavours I have eaten, almost savoury in a strange way. I think the infusion of herb flavours in deserts is wonderful, but the intensity needs to be managed.