This is my honey & rose baklava, a crisp, sticky pastry I’ve made many times over the years. Star anise, cardamom and cinnamon give a depth to offset the cloying nature of some sweet pastries. I’ve adapted this recipe; instead of orange blossom freighted over from New Zealand, I always use British honey. Having completed a beekeeping course and protested outside Parliament in a beekeeper’s suit, I’ve developed a heart for those hardworking insects! As for the rose, though it’s my favourite scent in the world, jars with my palette in excess, so I put in a bit less.
What I relish so much about this recipe is that it spans cultures. For my Mum & Gran, it takes them back to living in rural India where they grew up and where trays of similar sweets would be laid out (though drenched with so much sugar it apparently hurt their teeth), and my Turkish Cypriot boss demands I bake it for her as apparently it’s just like her Mother makes! Today, I’ve made it for a mammoth Greek Easter feast at my boyfriend’s Dad, Dimitri’s house along with traditional red eggs. Just one bite of this baklava and I’m back on the island of Zakynthos where we go every year, breathing in the intoxicating pine forests, lulled by the sound of the dazzling turquoise sea and sipping a bitter Greek coffee.
So how did this baklava go down? After far too much succulent lamb & tsoureki smeared with butter (don’t tell my model agency), I brought it out. Dimitri is 81 and finds the chaos of these family gatherings a little hectic. But when I placed the tray in front of him – a little rough around the edges after being carried there on two buses – his face lit up. He stroked my face and asked, “Did you really make this?” We leaned down to smell the rose and the star anise, then savoured every bite. It felt as though it was only the two of us in the room together. Food is my language of love, and today, with a slightly wonky (but nevertheless delicious) baklava, I showed Dim just how much I love him.