Smoky Chocolate Baklava recipe and cookbook review: Orexi! by Theo A. Michaels


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Smoky. Chocolate. Baklava. I’m listening. Theo Michaels has you smoke chocolate on the stovetop for a few layers in his baklava. Then there’s a few layers of pistachios, hazelnuts, walnuts, and cinnamon. Encased in flaky, buttery phyllo. Obviously, that needed to happen. I have one of those big old macho smokers in my backyard, so I smoked the chocolate in there. Then I made it a second time baking the whole baklava right in my smoker. Yeah. Either way, that baklava is even better than the title sounds. A huge thanks to Ryland Peters and Small for letting me share that recipe with you! I’ll tell you all about the book after the recipe. I have a terrible fondness for Greek cookbooks, and that shelf is extensive. Orexi! is my personal favorite to date. Hope you love it, too!


Smoky Chocolate Baklava

kapnisti chokolata baklava

Whenever I think of times I’ve spent in Cyprus, there are certain images that always come to mind. One of them in the leathery-skinned old men playing backgammon in the street outside a cafe, dark bitter coffee perfuming the air and camouflaging the smoke from their cigarettes, and something sweet served on a tea saucer. This is my tribute to the memory of that scene.

100 g / ¾ cup walnut halves
100 g / ¾ cup pistachios
100 g / ¾ cup hazelnuts
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
30 sheets filo/phyllo pastry
200 g / 1 ¾ sticks butter
, melted

SMOKED CHOCOLATE SAUCE
10 g / 5 ½ oz. 70% cocoa solids dark/bittersweet chocolate
, broken into pieces
250 ml / 1 cup double/heavy cream
1 Tablespoon sugar
a pinch of salt

COFFEE SYRUP
400 g / 2 cups caster/granulated sugar
250 ml / 1 cup cold water
3 Tablespoons strong freshly brewed espresso coffee
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

60 g / 1 cup wood chips, ideally fruit wood, such as apple, cherry, or maple
a 33 x 23-cm / 13 x 9-inch baking pan, greased
4 wooden skewers

Makes at least 12 but more depending on size cut.

Prepare all your ingredients in advance before assembling. Start by coarsely grinding all the nuts with the cinnamon and set aside.

To make the smoked chocolate sauce, combine the chocolate, cream, sugar, and salt and put inside a small heatproof dish. Line a frying pan / skillet with foil, put the wood chips on top and set over high heat until the woodchips start to smoke, about 5-10 minutes. As soon as they do, lay the skewers on top to act as a mini grate. Place the chocolate dish on top and cover the whole thing in foil. Leave to smoke on a low heat for 10 minutes, then remove from heat, cover, and leave for 10 minutes.

After this time, uncover the chocolate dish and mix thoroughly with a metal spoon to create a smooth chocolate sauce. Set aside.

Cut the filo pastry to the same size as your baking pan. Place a sheet of filo inside the prepared baking pan and brush the filo with melted butter. Repeat until you have layered 10 sheets of filo. Add a layer of ground nuts. Add another 5 sheets of filo, brushing each layer with more butter. Pour in enough chocolate sauce to create a thin even layer over the filo, then lay another sheet on top and smooth out with your hand before buttering. Continue layering with 5 sheets of filo, a layer of ground nuts, 5 sheets of filo, a layer of chocolate sauce, and finish with 5 sheets of filo.

To make the syrup, put the sugar, water, and espresso in a high-sided saucepan over a medium heat and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. Once it starts to boil, turn the heat to low and let it simmer gently for 5-10 minutes, until the syrup starts to thicken, then set aside to cool (but not in the fridge). Cut the baklava into squares or diamonds. Flick some water over the top to stop it burning. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes. I went with 350°F since that’s the standard for baking ~ Jen Remove from the oven and immediately pour over the cooled syrup. Leave to soak at room temperature, ideally overnight but for a few hours at least.

Jen’s two cents
Alternative cutting! He gives instructions for a normal rectangular baklava, then has this round, ornate one in the book. I looked at it as a geometric puzzle and broke it down into its components. And people say a math major doesn’t come in handy! Pssssh! Here’s my step-by-step sketch if you’d like to try that, too. The first is what I did. The second is more elaborate with two sets of cuts in each. I found that too many for my little baklava.

Alternative baking! Okay, since I’ve got a big old macho smoker in the yard, I decided to try the whole thing a second time, baking it right in my smoker. You need a bbq thermometer right at the cooking grates where your pan will go. Fire your smoker to maintain 350°F. Mine fluctuated between about 325 and 375, but basically hung at 350. It worked beautifully. Do this if you want a more intense smoke flavor.


Let me tell you all about that book…..

This book is filled with mouthwateringly divine dishes. Everything we tried was company-worthy. I adore Greek cookbooks and this one’s my personal favorite to date. Super fresh, super flavorful, good for you, and pretty to boot. Most of the recipes are pretty easy, and if there are a few extra steps, it’s worth it. Everything was absolute perfection.

My thoughts and pics of the dishes we tried:

1) Grandmother’s Meatballs – p 41. These are easy and terrific.

2) Seared Goat’s Cheese with Hazelnuts & Honey – p 22. We loved this. It’s a combination of earthy vegetables with the tangy goat cheese that picks up a little nuttiness when seared and then dressed with hazelnuts.

3) Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Fiery Tzatziki – 149. Really simple but perfect. Hugs to the author for this one. My kids don’t like lamb or duck because they find it gamey, and they both really enjoyed this. He uses a lot higher salt ratio than I usually use with meat. I’m going to try that with duck next time.

4) Charred Courgettes (Zucchini) – p 132. Strong lemon and garlic flavor. These are craveable.

5) Spicy Chicken Souvlaki – p 151. Easy and strongly flavored. My grocer didn’t have any red (fresno) peppers, so I substituted in jalapeno.

6-7) Smoky Chocolate Baklava – p 173. We loved this. His instructions are for smoking the chocolate on the stovetop, but I have a big smoker in the backyard, so I just smoked it in there after I pulled dinner off. I think I’ll actually bake it off right in there next time to make it even smokier. Killer baklava. There’s no honey involved. He has you make an espresso syrup to compliment the chocolate.

8) Pork Fillet with Smoky White Beans & Pickled Apricot Salsa – p 90. This is heavenly. The pork tenderloin is brined, seared, quickly roasted, and then rests while you finish everything else. The result is the juiciest tenderloin. The beans are flavored with bacon, onions, garlic, bay, wine, and chicken stock. The pickled apricots balance everything perfectly. This one has a few steps but is way beyond worth it. Gorgeous dish!

9) Greek Salad – p 109. Simple perfection.

10) Cauliflower with Tahini – p 37. Lots of flavor with just a few ingredients and a quick roast in the oven makes this a great side dish.

Some others I have flagged to try: Salt Baked Beetroot with Wild Garlic – 17 * Rainbow Tomato Salad – p 18 * Vegetable Tempura – p 30 * Prawns Baked in Feta and Tomato Sauce – p 63 * Hake ‘En Papillote’ with Fennel & Preserved Lemon (I will probably need to substitute cod unless it’s a particularly lucky day at the grocer) – p 64 * Lamb Sirloin with Cumin Crust – p 74 * Ten Cloves Garlic Lemon Chicken – p 97 * Feta & Mint Greens – p 102 * Oven Baked Vegetables with Harissa – p 118 * Fresh Figs with Goat’s Curd & Orange – p 126 * Grilled Aubergines (eggplant) & Feta – p 132 * Barbecued Salmon in Spiced Yogurt Marinade – p 137 * Cod with Kalamata Olives wrapped in Dry-Cured Ham – p 141 * Skewered Goat Cheese, Date & Pancetta Parcels – p 146

*I received a copy to explore and share my thoughts.


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Orexi!