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I recently did my first ever cooking class – with City East Community College. It was a half day class on “Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cooking” and it was delicious.

My favourite thing we made (apart from Za’atar) was the baklava – who knew it was so easy?!

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Made a batch at home the very next day. If you make a batch with half a pack of filo pastry then the other half can be spanakopita for 2-3 people, perfect amounts for me & my fella.

Smash some nuts

Ingredients:

Walnuts
Pistachios
Blanched almonds
1 tablespoon sugar

We used about 1/2 a cup each of pistachios, blanched almonds and walnuts. I imagine you could adjust this to whatever you like. Use a food processor, or a spice grinder like I did to smash this up into coarse sand (or chunkier or smoother if you want).

Set up your pastry station

Ingredients:

Smashed nuts (from above)
Half packet filo pastry – covered with a teatowel to keep it from drying out
100 grams or so of melted butter (or vegan alternative – a sweeter oil like macadamia maybe?)

Assemble your souramenos

Work one sheet of filo at a time and make sure the others are covered so they don’t dry out. Brush your sheet with butter – a few lines should do, sprinkle a handful of the crushed nuts then working from one of the long ends scrunch it up so you end up with a long piece of pastry and nuts – folded a bit like a fan. Then work from one end to roll it tightly into a spiral and place this into your baking tin.

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Once they are all done bake at 200c for around 20 minutes or until they are starting to colour nicely. Then drizzle over a few tablespoons of water and bake for another 5 minutes – this apparently ensures that the centres are cooked.

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While they are baking make the syrup. 

Ingredients:

2 cups caster sugar
2 cups water
Pieces of lemon and/or orange peel
Few drops of rosewater or orange blossom (can be overpowering so go easy!)
Lemon juice

Combine sugar, citrus rind and the water in a pot over medium heat and stir to dissolve sugar, then reduce heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes, should be syrupy but not caramel. Towards the end add the juice of about half a lemon and some drops of rosewater or orange blossom.

Pull your golden little pastries out of the oven, pour over the syrup and let cool. Then eat them! They are not as sweet as many of the store bought ones, and have a lovely citrus note.

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I never understood the attraction of ‘upside down cakes’ when I was younger, mainly because they often had tinned pineapple on them in our neck of the woods. Why anyone would do that is beyond me.

With this however the magical flip and reveal is a beautiful moment, set off nicely by the terror of burning yourself on scalding hot caramel.

The result is so exquisite that the ridiculously easy prep and short shopping list seem almost unfair. This is the perfect thing to do with that spare sheet of puff pastry hanging about in the freezer..

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Isn’t that the prettiest thing you ever saw?

Ingredients

1/2 cup of caster sugar
40 grams butter cubed
3 corella pears (or beurre bosc) peeled, cored and quartered
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (yes I will learn to make this myself one day!)

You will also need a smallish oven proof pan – I used a 17cm enamel cast iron pan like this. If you use a bigger pan just up the ingredients a smidge, it’s not rocket science.

Method

1. Take out sheet of puff pastry to defrost
2. Heat oven to 190c
3. Put sugar in base of pan and place onto medium heat, watch carefully – try not to panic that you are essentially frying sugar. It will start to melt, shake it around until its all melted and let it colour to a rich caramel (darker than a Werther’s original), then remove from heat
4. Add in cubed butter, put it back on the element if if needs help melting, swirl it around but don’t stir.
5. Add your pear quarters, round side down (this will be the top) putting in as many as you can, they will give a little as they cook
6. Take your pastry sheet which will be almost defrosted by now, cut a rough circle a bit bigger than the pan and put this on top, use a knife or spoon to tuck it in around the edges & slash it a few times to let steam out.
7. Bake for about half an hour – you want the top to be a nice dark brown.
Then remove and rest for a few minutes while you grab your icecream & plates.
8. Shake the tart gently in the pan to dislodge it. Put a plate on top and using oven mitts flip it over, et voilà!

The pastry should be nice and dark when you remove it, this will mean the pears are nice and tender.

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