Chocolate and walnut baklava roll

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This moreish chocolate and walnut filled baklava, drenched in a honey syrup, has to be one of my favourite versions of the classic Greek dessert. If you’re a fan of this crispy layered pastry you’re probably also aware that the recipe usually contains a lot of butter and sugar. This month I’m sharing a healthier recipe using only honey as a sweetener and a few ingredients with big flavours, such as walnuts, 70% dark chocolate, cinnamon, rose water, and lemon.

Why have I removed butter and sugar from this traditional dessert?

  1. Sugar is really not good for you. You’ve probably heard it a million times already, I know. It is one of the most addictive food ingredients and only fuels inflammation based illnesses. Once you’ve made peace with that, reducing the amount you consume becomes easier.

  2. Olive oil is a healthier substitute for melted butter, and a more tummy friendly ingredient for those who struggle with dairy. It is also an ingredient that is deep-rooted in Greek cooking - we use it in everything, not just salads.

All sweeteners including natural sweeteners such as honey should be consumed in moderation, so don’t try to eat the whole baklava roll in one day. In fact is tastes better after a day or two so pace yourself. The 70% chocolate make this dessert rich and tasty. You can also make this recipe completely dairy free by substituting with a good quality dairy free chocolate. I choose organic dark chocolate for eating and cooking.

Phyllo pastry is commonly used in Greek sweet and savoury dishes. The sheets of pastry are very thin and need to be handled carefully as they tend to dry out quickly and break. To prevent this from happening, we place a damp towel over it while preparing the dish. You can find them in the refrigerated or freezer section of your supermarket and t’s worth mentioning that reading the ingredients list is important in choosing a good quality phyllo pastry. Look for the ones which have the least ingredients. Many well known brands use additives to extend the shelf life of the product but these do not make a better quality or healthier product.

Chocolate and walnut baklava

Makes one 9 inch / 23 cm pastry

Syrup

1 cup honey

1/2 cup water

1 stick cinnamon

1 piece lemon peel

Filling

300g walnut halves

150g 70% dark chocolate

3 teaspoons ground cinnamon

4 tablespoons rose water

12 phyllo (filo) sheets, defrosted if frozen

Extra virgin olive oil for brushing

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Grease and line a 23 cm (9in) loose bottomed cake tin with a baking parchment circle.

  2. To make the syrup, place the honey, water, cinnamon, lemon peel and lemon juice into a small pot. Bring to a rolling boil then simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. The syrup will thicken when cooled. It’s best to make the syrup earlier in the day or the day before and keep it cold in the fridge.

  3. To make the filling, place all the ingredients except the rose water into a food processor and pulse a few times until the walnuts and chocolate are chopped into small pieces. You can also do this by hand with a sharp chopping knife. Place everything into a bowl and stir in the rose water until the mixture moistens a bit and set aside.

  4. Roll out the phyllo pastry and cover the top with a slightly damp kitchen towel. Place one sheet of phyllo on a clean surface and brush the olive oil thinly over the top. Repeat two more times so you have three layers of oiled pastry on top of each other.

  5. Take tablespoons of the filling (you’re going to make four rolls so divide the filling evenly) and place it all along the longest side of the phyllo, about a 1/3 of the way down. Carefully and tightly roll up the baklava starting from the nut side until you have a long sausage roll looking pastry. Place it around the edge of the prepared cake tin. Then make three more rolls and stuffing them into the cake pan in a circular direction as per the image below. The whole pastry needs to be fairly tight in the pan so that it doesn’t fall apart afterwards.

  6. Dot the top of the roll with more olive oil and bake for about 20-25 minutes or until the baklava roll is golden on top. Remove from the oven and pour over the cold syrup. You can remove the baklava roll from the pan when it has cooled and all the syrup has been absorbed. Keeps for 2-3 days in an airtight container.

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