I never visited Scheherazade, the legendary fresh-phyllo maker that used to be in San Francisco's Sunset neighborhood. But I had dreams about it.
Probably 10 years ago I saw a segment on some random cooking show showing an older man hand-stretching phyllo dough. He gracefully swung the king-sized bed sized elastic sheets over a large table, his hands and fingers working from memory to pull the phyllo to onion-paper thinness. He had rhythm, the sheets flowed like a river in his hands. I remember the announcer saying that they wouldn't be around much longer because he couldn't find anyone to take over the business. My heart broke at the thought that I had missed that, a chance to eat something so beautiful from hands that held a lifetime of experience.
The scenes of his work played in my mind as I rolled the fresh phyllo for this month's Daring Bakers challenge. I had a large, unbroken counter to work on - but I knew I didn't have the skill to swing and stretch the dough like the man from Scheherazade. Nonetheless I rolled and rolled and floured and floured. The dough was pliable and forgiving. By my second sheet I could roll it thin enough to see through it. I carefully dusted and managed the ever-growing stack, and had all the ingredients ready for layering when I was done with the dough.
Hours later my teeth sunk into layers of nuts and syrup only to stop at a leathery-hard shelf.
Looking back now, it's so clear what I did. In fact, it's so clear that the thought woke me from sleep so I could fret over it.
My first mistake was not recognizing I was tired. I'd been on my feet for hours prepping and rolling the dough, which had followed several hours of gardening and housework. From there on out, my decisions were in question.
My neat dough in a stack, I carefully placed the pan on top to cut it to fit the pan. When I cut the dough (I used both a knife and then kitchen shears when I got frustrated), I basically pinched the edges of the entire stack together, forming a seal like a ravioli. To pull the sheets apart now, I had to tear at the now-pinched edges, making them ragged and sticky from stretching.
Exasperated, I shook the now deformed sheets free of their flour, but I couldn't lay them down to brush off the excess flour because 1) my pastry brushes are still in storage (I didn't think I'd need them today) and 2) my once-clean counter was littered with torn and stretched edges of the formerly-beautiful phyllo sheets and I didn't have anywhere else to lay them down.
Pushing on, I laid the slightly-floury-but-probably-more-floury-than-I-thought sheets into the pan and brushed them with melted butter. A lot of melted butter. Which, of course, bound to the flour still on the sheets and when covered with the next imperfect sheet, formed a tight seal like caulk or drywall mud.
And that was the leathery shelf my teeth hit hours later. Well, one of them, because I'd followed the same steps every 5 sheets between a nut layer.
I hadn't had a bite yet when I asked Todd if it was good enough to take to work to give the extra away. In an uncharacteristically charming way, he shook his head no, but then quickly reassured me that he liked it, even though it was more like a greasy pie than baklava. He ate two pieces before bed and two pieces for breakfast this morning. Guess he liked it, just enough.
Erica of Erica’s Edibles was our host for the Daring Baker’s June
challenge. Erica challenged us to be truly DARING by making homemade
phyllo dough and then to use that homemade dough to make Baklava.