Mini-peclavas made with phyllo dough cups and chopped pecans (hence the name peclava). / photo via the authors

Mini-peclavas made with phyllo dough cups and chopped pecans (hence the name peclava). / photo via the authors

Paklava and Boorma: Same Ingredients; Different Results

by | April 25th, 2011 | 1 comments
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Armenians aren’t known for elaborate desserts. We do have something of a cultural sweet tooth, but fancy treats aren’t featured items on the traditional, rustic Armenian menu.

Most Armenians of old favored simple sweets such as fruits, plain or candied. Plus simple cakes, or sweetened breads like gatah. Sugary cookies were a favorite, of course, although sugar was too dear to use so lavishly every day.

And really, who needs it? A drizzle of honey over a bowl of fresh, cold madzoon beats anything Ben and Jerry have ever churned up.

But for those times when simple just won’t do, Armenians almost always think of paklava, or its close relative boorma. Both are desserts that say you care enough about your guests to invest a little effort and skill into making them happy.

Paklava is a remarkably universal indulgence enjoyed by Armenians from East to West and throughout the Diaspora. And, let’s face it, by our neighbors — all of whom claim it as their own.

Each version of paklava (or baklava) shares essential ingredients: multiple layers of phyllo dough brushed with melted, clarified butter. The center is filled with chopped walnuts or pistachios and cinnamon, then topped with more layers of buttered phyllo dough. The assembled dessert is cut into diamond shapes, then baked until golden brown.

As the tray is removed from the oven and the paklava is still hot, simple syrup is lightly poured over the top producing a tantalizing, sizzling sound.

Robyn says: If you’ve never made paklava because it seemed too daunting, give it a try. I taught high school culinary students how to prepare it and, for most, using phyllo dough was a first-time adventure.

Before demonstrating the art of working with phyllo dough, and supervising the students’ hands-on experience, I began the lesson by showing the class a video called ‘The Art of Traditional Armenian Cooking’ produced by the Armenian Film Foundation.

The video is hosted by Susan Ounjian, a lecturer and performer. Ms. Ounjian, who graduated from the Virginia Commonwealth University in art education, later specialized in Armenian Classical Studies in Yerevan.

In the video, Alice Bezjian, a renowned chef and author of The Complete Armenian Cookbook, leads a group of skilled chefs as they share step-by-step demonstrations of traditional Armenian foods.

In the phyllo dough segment, Ounjian explained her version of the origin of the word “paklava.” She stated that the word came from an old Lenten tradition: “With ‘pak,’ meaning Lent, and ‘halva,’ meaning sweet, the story says that paklava was made with 40 layers of dough to represent the 40 days of Lent. After Easter services, paklava was served in celebration.”

Boorma: Paklava’s Delicate Cousin

We’re just as happy to celebrate any occasion with boorma. Both share the same ingredients, but their shape and texture differ.

The technique used to prepare boorma is unique. A wooden dowel is used to shape the dough. Each sheet of phyllo dough is brushed with melted butter, sprinkled with chopped nuts and cinnamon, gently rolled around the dowel, then the ends pushed in toward the middle of the dowel, creating a crimped appearance. After baking, simple syrup is drizzled over the boorma, giving it the same taste as paklava, but a more delicate texture.

Making Paklava and Boorma

There are 3 components — the clarified butter, simple syrup, and the main part — phyllo dough and nut filling. Thank goodness, we can buy the dough instead of making it — a laborious task because it’s so thin.

It’s best to prepare the clarified butter and simple syrup in advance.

Clarified butter:

  1. Slowly melt 2 pounds of unsalted butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Let butter rest 5 minutes.
  3. Skim foam from the surface and discard.
  4. Ladle clarified (clear) butter into a bowl, being careful not to scoop up any milk solids and water which have sunk to bottom of saucepan.
  5. Refrigerate until ready to use, then melt the amount you’ll need for the recipe when it is time.

Simple Syrup:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • A drop of lemon juice
  1. Heat sugar and water in a saucepan until sugar is dissolved.
  2. Add lemon juice.
  3. Cool until ready to use.

*   *   *

Left, Robyn’s aunt, Arpie Vartanesian, passing along the boorma dowel to her, right, boorma. / photos via the authors

Making Paklava:

  • 2 cups, finely chopped walnuts or pistachio nuts
  • 1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 pound package phyllo dough
  • about 1 ½ to 2 cups melted clarified butter
  1. Mix together the nuts and cinnamon. Set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  3. Lightly spread some of the melted butter on the bottom of a 13-inch-by-9-inch pan.
  4. Place about half of the phyllo sheets in the pan, spreading melted butter on every other sheet. Trim any excess length of dough.
  5. Spread the cinnamon – nut filling over the dough.
  6. Continue with the remaining phyllo sheets, brushing each layer with melted butter.
  7. Chill pan of unbaked paklava in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes. This will make it easier to cut.
  8. Remove from refrigerator and, with a sharp knife, cut into diamond shapes by cutting vertical lines lengthwise, two inches apart, then cutting diagonally.
  9. Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes to an hour, or until it is golden in color.
  10. Remove from the oven, cool 5 minutes, then spoon the prepared simple syrup over each piece of paklava.
  11. When completely cooled, place each paklava on a cupcake paper liner for serving.
  12. Remaining syrup should be served with the paklava.

*   *   *

For a special treat without all the fuss, paklava can be made using prepared phyllo dough cups, found in the freezer section of your grocers.

Here’s a simple, time-saving recipe for Mini Paklava:

Mini-Paklava, Yield: 30

  • two 15-count packages. Pre-made Phyllo cups

Filling Ingredients

  • 2 cups finely chopped nuts (walnuts or pistachios)
  • 1 ½ tsp cinnamon

Procedure:

  1. Mix them together and set aside.

Simple Syrup

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • A drop of lemon juice

Procedure:

  1. Heat the sugar & water in a saucepan, until sugar is dissolved, then add lemon juice.
  2. Cool until ready to use.

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Place each phyllo cup on a baking sheet.
  3. Put a teaspoon or so of nut filling in each cup.
  4. Bake for 10-15 minutes.
  5. Remove from oven. While still hot, drizzle some of the simple syrup over each cup.
  6. Serve warm or at room temperature. (Note: for a neater presentation, place each phyllo cup in a mini cupcake paper liner.)

*   *   *

Robyn’s Boorma Recollection

My aunt Arpie Vartanesian has always been our family’s boorma-maker. Throughout my entire culinary life, I avoided making boorma because I thought there was some great mystery behind making this classic dessert. Turns out, it’s pretty easy — as long as you have the right tool.

The “tool” is a wooden dowel (about 3/8 inch in diameter and 18 inches long), the kind that you can purchase at a home improvement center. It is the key to shaping boorma. Aunt Arpie’s dowel was handed down from her mother, so it has made many a boorma.

The recipe is pretty simple. Aunt Arpie graciously prepared the recipe on camera for all to enjoy, while teaching me the simplicity of it all. You can view Aunt Arpie making this classic Armenian dessert on YouTube.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZ14hVCIOAw

After we were done preparing the boorma, Aunt Arpie passed her wooden dowel on to me. I’m honored to continue our family’s boorma tradition.

Making Boorma

Ingredients:

  • 1- 1 lb. pkg. phyllo dough, at room temperature
  • 1 lb. chopped walnuts or pistachio nuts
  • 3 Tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 sticks unsalted butter, melted

Directions:

  1. Lay out the phyllo dough on a work surface and cover it with a dry towel. (Aunt Arpie prefers a dry towel to a slightly dampened one. She says a moist towel tends to make the phyllo dough soggy.)
  2. Mix the chopped nuts, sugar and cinnamon in a bowl.
  3. Take a single phyllo sheet and fold it in half. Brush with melted butter, especially the edges.
  4. Sprinkle a tablespoon of the nut mixture all over the dough.
  5. Place the dowel on top of the dough at the end closest to you, and loosely roll the dowel away from you.
  6. With one hand on either end of the dough, squeeze inward toward the middle, crinkling the dough.
  7. Gently slide it off the dowel, and place on a greased baking sheet.
  8. Continue to do this until all phyllo sheets and filling are used.
  9. Bake in a preheated 350º F oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until boorma is golden brown.
  10. Cool completely.
  11. Once the boorma is cooled, drizzle each one with simple syrup just before serving. The boorma will be slightly sweet, and crispy.

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