a story of a Goth, a grandmother and baklava, with a sting in the tale!

honey nut baklava
I am thinking about Christmas baking and alternatives to the usual spiced cakes. I want to make some baklava, filo pastry stuffed with spiced nuts and drenched in a honey syryp, which reminded me of my first ever baklava experience and possibly the most disastrous "meet the family" episodes of my life.

My bad-boy Pyschobilly boyfriend was beautiful; tall, dark and handsome like a young Elvis. I thought I was in-love. With hindsight, I don't know what he was thinking when he invited me to meet his extended family for the weekend, which is what I am guessing they thought when they first clapped eyes on me.

Long ago I was a Gothabiilly - I was too healthy looking to be a true Goth so I was channelling a sort of 1950's pin-up starlet look with a little bit of a Victorian vibe mixed with B-movie schlock horror and the Wicked Witch of the West - a bit kitsch, a bit Goth and a lot of fun. But out of deference to my boyfriend's family, I had toned this down a little as not only did I not want to overwhelm them with first impressions, but I could also just about pass for "normal" since I still had a few items of clothing that could pass muster at a respectable family gathering. If there was a problem with my wardrobe, it was of the Henry Ford variety - I could wear anything so long as it was black. I had removed any clanking chains or studs or jingly-jangly jewellery. But there was very little I could do about my hair, so I decided to wear a hat to entirely cover my crowning glory.

honey nut baklava
It was the height of a hot summer and by the time I arrived at the house in north London, I was baking hot. It was the kind of heat that came up through the soles of your boots and melted your stockings. I really needed to cool down and get rid of the hat.

So having been led into the kitchen to meet the family, I was forced to remove my beret and the family were able to see my hair in all its peroxide blonde and neon pink double-Mohican glory.

It wasn't actually that scary looking - I looked more like a sort of punk butterfly fairy cake. The Greek Elvis' mother looked a bit stunned, his siblings a little gleeful, and there was a rumbling growl from his elderly grandmother sitting in the corner of the kitchen. Things went downhill from then on.

In those days I couldn't cook, let alone bake. I wonder whether the grandmother suspected this and decided to punish me. For she took it upon herself to insist that I help her make baklava. But I was happy to show willing. I mean just how difficult could it be? A bit of filo pastry and some chopped nuts, held together with honey? But the grandmother had had some 60 years of experience and I had had none at all. 

honey nut baklava
After I had ruined many sheets of blameless filo pasty she started swatting at my hands and muttering. I was skittish, feeling faint from the heat. I flinched every time the old lady glared at me. The muttering sounded awfully like a curse from where I was standing.

Eventually I thought I was getting the hang of things, so I swatted back. Unfortunately at the exact same moment as I swatted away Grandmother, I managed to whack a wasp who was diving in to sample the syrupy baklava. It woozily flew off and then zipped back and stung me on one of my sticky paws. Ouch.

There was a stunned silence and then I fainted.

So whether it was heat exhaustion, the wasp sting or a witch's curse, I was carted off to A+E. I never did find out how the party went; needless to say the relationship with the Greek Elvis didn't survive either. I suspect that such was first impressions that there is a family somewhere in north London still talking about the day the strange girl came to stay.

Still, it hasn't put me off baklava, and considering that there aren't any wasps around at the moment, nor witches for that matter, it seems like a good idea to bake it again . . .

honey nut baklava

Skill level: Easy but can be messy!


120g clarified butter, melted (plus extra butter for greasing)
75g fine semolina
200g chopped walnuts and hazelnuts
150g chopped almonds
3 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
2 tbsp caster sugar
about 400-500g filo pastry
100g caster sugar
4 tbsp runny honey (preferably thyme honey or add a few sprigs of fresh thyme to the syrup as it heats)
5-6 tbsp water
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
chopped pistachio nuts, to decorate

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180C / Gas Mark 4.
  2. In a bowl, combine 50 grammes of the clarified butter with the semolina. Add the chopped nuts, sesame seeds, cinnamon and sugar. 
  3. Grease a 23 cm shallow baking tin with melted butter. Layer the dish with 4 filo pastry sheets, brushing each one with clarified butter.
  4. Tip half the nut mixture over the filo and distribute evenly. Repeat with more filo pastry and add the rest of the nut mixture. Add another 4 layers of buttered filo, and then tuck in the sides of the pastry to finish.
  5. With a very sharp knife (I use a Stanley knife), score either diamond or square shapes into the top of the pastry, cutting through the top 4 sheets to mark out the portions.
  6. Cover loosely with a bit of foil and bake for about 50 minutes. If the top doesn't look brown enough, remove the foil about 5 minutes before the end. You want a light, golden-brown colour.
  7. Make the syrup by dissolving the sugar and honey in the water. Bring to the boil, and then simmer for 5 minutes until thickened a little. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice and vanilla.
  8. When the baklava comes out of the oven, allow to cool a little before pouring over the warm syrup. Sprinkle over the chopped pistachios. Allow to cool fully before cutting into portions.


Camilla @FabFood4All said...

These look fab and I do love all your stories:-)

Unknown said...

What a brilliant story! I wish you'd share some pics!! Love the sticky honey baclava too. Gorgeous!

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

Hi Camilla - thank you so much. I have to confess, there was a lot giggling when I was writing it. It only started as a short intro to baking and ended up as a slapstick comedy!

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

Hey Dom - I wish I had some pics too (If only to see me in the days before I had a double chin and when I had a waistline!) Sadly we had a flood a few years ago and I lost the lot . . . I am trying to track some more down. But it seems to me that I am of the generation that was more interested in partying than photographs and the idea of mobile phone cameras was the stuff of sci-fi!

Kavey said...

Ha ha haaaaa oh my god, what a day, what a memory, haa. x