The Modeltypeface Kitchen: Honey and Rose Baklava
Is this gluten free? No
Is this sugar free? Hell, no
Is it fat free then? Er no
Is it low in calories? Oh goodness, no
So why are you sharing the recipe on your model blog with us then?
Two reasons. One, it’s delicious, a fantastic thing to take into the agency to butter them up, or to a dinner party. Everyone looks really impressed when you serve it, even though it’s actually really easy to make! It’s actually just whizzing stuff up and assembling it and putting it in the oven. No one should live a treat-free life, and this is a truly delicious and very modestly portioned delight!
The second reason is that I wrote a really long piece of writing about it for a scholarship competition, thinking I had to write 2000 words when it was actually characters, and I was actually quite pleased with it (and patted myself on the back for being able to write that much about pastry). I thought, maybe SOMEONE out there will want to read it and enjoy the photos Theo took of me dancing round the kitchen to Prince, so here we have it: My Honey & Rose Baklava recipe, adapted to my own tastes and slapdash laziness from a Leon cookbook for Greek Easter.
For the pastry layers:
12 sheets filo pastry
200g unsalted butter, melted
For the syrup:
35ml caster sugar
2 tbsp rosewater
Pinch ground cinnamon
For the filling:
225g soft brown sugar
100g shelled pistachios
125g walnut pieces
100g ground almonds
50g toasted sesame seed
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Seeds from 10 cardamom pods
Make syrup by heating water, honey, caster sugar, rosewater, star anise and pinch of cinnamon over a low heat for 5-10mins, smiling while you do it.
Heat oven to 180 C and melt butter in a saucepan.
Whizz the filling ingredients in a food processor
Not to too fine a consistency – you want there to be a nice crunch from the walnuts & pistachios.
It’s time for the filo! OK, don’t be scared! Unroll it onto a clean table top, and cover with a damp teatowel so it doesn’t dry out.
Put the first layer in a greased 30×22 cm baking tin, and using a pastry brush, brush with a nice layer of melted butter.
Layer 10 sheets of filo, brushing each one with the melted butter
After 10, start sprinkling a good layer of the nut mix, they layering with the filo, until mixture is finished.
Finish with 3-4 sheets of filo.
This is the slightly scary bit. Slice into nice, neat diagonal pieces that your architect boyfriend will approve of.
Put in oven for 45 mins – 1 hour
When it is done, take out and immediately pour the cooled syrup over the baklava, covering ever bit of it.
Humungous thanks to Theo Games Petrohilos for taking this photos and for generally being a very patient chap, proof reading my writing even when it makes me stroppy with him and making me laugh whilst slicing baklava when he could be chilling out on his Bank hol…
This is my orange blossom and rose baklava, a sweet that I’ve made many times over the years and under many different guises, depending on what continent I might be visiting with my cooking that day. Today, this baklava has been made for a Greek Easter feast at my boyfriend’s father’s house, and I’m hoping that his family will have space left for a piece after the mammoth banquet ahead of us.
The phrase ‘food is love’ may be a little hackneyed, but it’s no less true for me. It sums up everything that cooking means to me, since I picked up a passion for enthusiastically feeding people (and myself) around the age of 26. Before then, what to eat and how had always been a bit of an obstacle course for me. I’ve modelled since the age of 16, and the scrutiny that my body has been under since that age affected my relationship with food incredibly deeply – I feared that embracing cookery would lead to an increase in measurements and a decrease in jobs – not to mention losing the discipline over food that I had mastered. Basically, I (wrongly) thought that cooking would make me fat. I’m afraid to say that I prepared for myself uninspiring salads for myself, and though I always appreciated delicious food when I ate out, I hated the way that I felt a loss of control around it.
It was my boyfriend, Theo, and his Mum, Naomi, who forced me to start cooking for them. They (quite rightly) said that if they were going to feed me, I had to reciprocate. It wasn’t just the diet aspect that put me off, but the fact that cooking seemed to me an art, a science, something beyond my ability as a humble chopper of ready-washed vegetables. I felt embarrassed to be 26 and with no clue how to do what seemed to come so easily to other people.
What a discovery it all was, once I could no longer escape Theo and Naomi’s demand that I cook! No longer a baffling, intimidating process, I found that cooking awarded me independence, health and a way to show others what they mean to me. I no longer got colds all the time, now I was eating hot, fresh food every day. My measurements were more reliable and I even lost weight, as I could control sugar, salt and fat when cooking from scratch. Best of all I relished learning about different herbs and spices and how they intertwine and how a simple squeeze of lemon can transform an enormous casserole pot full of stew into something that came alive on the tongue. I found a new power I had never felt when I served up dinner to 20 people.
Instead of tackling the usual easy, beginner dishes like lasagne or spag bol, I took on the dishes I’d always loved – complex curries, falafel, challah for Shabbat – or this, the baklava I often bought at the local Turkish delicatessen for dinner parties. Why not?! It turns out that, though fiddly, baklava is great fun to make, and just as much fun to present. Few people seem to have attempted it, so when I bring it out all to all those ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’, the panic I feel over tearing papery thin filo is justified.
This particular baklava was made in Naomi’s kitchen (where I’d learnt to cook a few years before), dancing around to Prince songs with Theo while he made me laugh for the photos. I originally found the recipe in my first cookbook from Leon, and I’ve adapted it a little but to me, that’s what cooking’s all about. For example, the honey is British honey rather than orange blossom, because it’s important to me to support British beekeepers. I’ve actually met quite a few beekeepers, having dressed up as a one to protest against harmful chemicals that destroy bee colonies being legalised. I even did a beekeeping course, where I learnt how to distinguish the tastes of different honeys: slightly tart heather honey and my favourite: a rich, heavy chestnut honey. To make sure I mastered the difference, I felt it necessary to finish each tiny sample pot and I relished every mouthful! I must say, it took some nerve to walk into a buzzing cloud of bees and pick up a tray of honeycomb, but the respect I developed for those hardworking insects gave me even more respect for what they produce. So I’m not going to use Orange Blossom that’s been freighted from the other side of the world to Sainsbury’s in South London when I can use the honey made by our hardworking British Bees, so I adapted the recipe just a tad. There was also no flaxseed to toast, so I made do with sesame seeds, which are one of the best features of Greek cuisine in my opinion, anyway: I don’t know how I manage to fit in my bikini by the end of a holiday in Greece when I spend so much of my time eating halva right out of the tin. And as for the rose, though it’s my favourite scent in the world, I am just not a fan of a perfumed taste as I find it jars with my palette, so I put in a bit less of that.
I should probably add here that Greece is very much in my soul. I lived in Athens for a while, modeling, and I now go every year as Theo’s Dad Dimitri is Greek and built a house on the island of Zakynthos. Full of exquisite white sanded beaches that meet dazzling turquoise seas and roads that wind through intoxicating pine forests, it’s rough around the edges (like my baklava), rustic and unpretentious: my kind of place. The food is my dream cuisine, I love the slow roasted vegetables and the grilled meats, all sourced from the Island and singing with the sunshine I find so healing to my body and my mind (though not to my often bright red, burned nose). To me, the taste of baklava is evocative of sitting by a taverna on the beach. I can hear the hypnotic waves, I can see the kittens playing round my chair and I can imagine crunching down on pastry and letting the syrup melt over my tongue, any sweetness balanced out with a bitter sip of Greek coffee.
What I relish so much about this recipe is that it’s just as evocative for my many friends from their various cultures. For my Mother and Grandmother, it takes them back to living in rural India where they were born and where, on special occasions, trays of similar sweets would be laid out (though drenched with so much sugar it apparently hurt their teeth). The same for my best friend Aisha, who is from a Pakistani family and who couldn’t believe how similar it tasted to a pastry that her Mum has always made to go with cups of tea. When I bought my flat two years ago, I invited my agents round for dinner. Billy, the New Faces booker, is Turkish Cypriot and made me make the baklava again (and I had to obey: she’s my boss after all). She said it was made her feel like she was back home and she wanted to show off to her Mum that one of her models made Turkish Cypriot food just like her!
So, April is now over, and I feel as fattened as a Pascal lamb. As you can probably tell from this article, I’m lucky enough to have family and friends from a wide range of cultures. I celebrated Christian Easter with my family, Passover with Theo’s Jewish family, squeezed (literally) in a surprise swimwear shoot in Croatia (not ideal timing) as well as celebrating my birthday. There’s been a lot of food and cake. Now I’m sat, top button loosened on my skirt, feeling not one iota of regret. Food is central to my life and I’m delighted I can now enjoy it guilt-free. Today was particularly special for me. After the succulent shoulder of lamb rubbed with smoked paprika, crispy roast potatoes and far too much tsoureki smeared with butter (don’t tell my agency), I brought out my baklava. Theo’s Dad, Dimitri, is 81 and these family gatherings are rather hectic with all the shouting, children running and general chaos of a big family occasion. But when I placed the tray in front of him – a little dishevelled after being carried on two buses, a tiny bit too browned around the edges – his face lit up. He looked pointedly at Theo and stroked my face and asked, “Did you really make this?” We leaned down to smell the rose and the star anise, and even though he doesn’t have a big appetite, Dimitri ate every last bit. It felt as though it was only the two of us in the room together, as though we’d made a real connection in that moment. Food is my language of love, and today, with a slightly wonky (but nevertheless delicious) baklava, I showed Dimitri how much I love him.