Thursday, December 23, 2010


Suppose you haven't seen your family for almost a year and just as you decide to book your airplane tickets to visit them for the Christmas holidays, something important comes up that requires you to stay put and now you have to wait till Easter to see them.

Suppose you have made plans to take a short trip to a romantic European city where Christmas is celebrated in a unique, beautiful manner and a couple of days before that trip you realize you're snowed in and you can't travel anywhere.

There are four possible reactions to these turn of events:

a) You moan and groan and bitch about it, being angry at the weather, at the circumstances and at life itself, until you run out of steam and you realize that you just have to deal with it and make the best you can with what you got, which is not bad at all if you really think about it.

b) You get depressed and moody, believing that there's always going to be a cloud over your head, feeling like a modern day Joe Btfsplk and that your life is doomed because your plans didn't turn out the way you wished, proceeding to ruin your holidays with your brooding and to make those around you feel deflated as well, only to realize a couple of days later, that you just have to deal with it and make the best you can with what you got, which is not bad at all if you really think about it.

c) You get angry and depressed, thinking that life's a bitch and that you probably deserve for some reason to be stuck here but, all this lasts for just fifteen minutes because you quickly realize that you just have to deal with it and make the best you can with what you got, which is not bad at all if you really think about it.

d) You say "eh" and you move on, in which case there's either something seriously wrong with you since these circumstances don't bother you at all or something seriously right with you and you need to teach me how to do that.

I'm gonna leave you guessing which one of these reactions I had when both of the aforementioned circumstances happened to me. What I'm going to tell you though is that in order to get over the fact that I'm stranded in Holland for the holidays, I had to make what I call "my Christmas blues remedy", otherwise known as my grandmother's small rolled baklavas; the ones she always makes during the holiday season.

I'm sure you have eaten a baklava before, right? Those of you who haven't, what are you waiting for? Baklava is a traditional Greek dessert categorized under the "Siropiasta" desserts—like Ravani—which are desserts that are drenched in syrup, and its ancient Greek predecessor, the "Gastrin" or "Koptoplakous", is mentioned in the literary work "Deipnosofists" by Athenaeus, in the 3rd century AD.

Traditionally, to make baklava, layers of phyllo dough are buttered and placed in a large baking tray. Chopped nuts like walnuts, hazelnuts or pistachios are spread over the phyllo sheets and then covered by more buttered layers of phyllo. My grandmother's baklava though is different. Hers are individual, small, rolled baklavas that have their own name in traditional Greek pastry making. They are called "Saragli". A single phyllo dough sheet is generously slathered with melted butter and a mix of coarsely chopped walnuts, ground cinnamon and sugar is placed along its short end. The sheet is rolled carefully and then gently pushed from both edges so the pastry gets all wrinkled and creased.

The saragli are placed in a baking tray which goes in the oven for about forty minutes, until the phyllo is crisp, puffed up and golden. The smell emanating from the oven is that of rich butter mixed with spicy cinnamon and you can hardly wait for them to come out. If you're S, you steal a piece the moment they come out of the oven, completely disregarding their need to get doused with syrup.

The lemon and cinnamon syrup is prepared and poured over the saragli and then all you have to do is wait, again. Wait until all the syrup is absorbed by the thirsty baked phyllo, until it is filled with the sweet essence of sugar and cinnamon, until the bottom of this magnificent dessert is moist and honeyed and the top is still crunchy and crisp. Thank you grandma—this is for you.

Saragli (Greek Individual Rolled Baklavas)

The Greek baklava, as opposed for example to the Turkish or Middle Eastern baklavas, is filled with chopped walnuts. More rarely is it filled with pistachios. You can certainly improvise with these saragli. Use a mixture of hazelnuts and walnuts, or of pistachios and almonds. Have some fun with it.

My grandmother's way of rolling the saragli is by using a rod (a metal long and thin pipe—but you can also use a very thin rolling pin) that is placed on the edge of the phyllo and is used to roll the sheet. She then wrinkles the pastry and takes the rod out. Since I don't have a similar rod or rolling pin, I do it all by hand, which is easy after you get the hang of it. You just need to make sure you roll it tight but not so tight as to tear the phyllo. It might not be as even as when you use a rod but hey, that's what homemade means sometimes; uneven, but delicious.

There are versions of saragli where multiple phyllo sheets are filled with nuts successively and then rolled. There are also versions of saragli where nuts are spread along the whole sheet. There are also different versions of syrup with different flavors and different consistencies. My grandmother's version is a light one, where each saragli is made with a single phyllo sheet and the filling is spread along the edge of one end of the sheet. This is the version that I love and prefer to always make.

Working with phyllo dough is easy. Don't believe those who tell you otherwise. I may be speaking from a point of advantage since I've been working with phyllo my whole life, like any other self-respecting Greek girl who cooks, but still, it is easy. You just need to follow some rules.
Rule #1 : Use good quality phyllo dough. It does not dry out easily as the poor-quality ones, it is smoother, lighter and it is crispier when baked.
Rule #2 : Use phyllo dough within a small period of time after you've bought it. It keeps in the freezer well but don't just leave it there for months before you use it.
Remember, once it is thawed, don't freeze it again.
Rule #3 : Always work quickly with phyllo dough. Don't mess about. Don't stop right in the middle of preparing let's say a spanakopita, to cut more onions. Have everything ready before you start assembling a pie or dessert using phyllo dough.
Rule #4 : If you're using phyllo to make for example individual baklavas, like in this recipe here where you need to work with one phyllo sheet at a time, cover the rest of the sheets with a damp tea towel and preferably keep the sheets rolled (like how you bought them). Keep them within reach, so you can work fast, but not near a working oven or any other working heat source.
Rule #5 : Don't panic. Even if one sheet of phyllo is dried, there's always more. If the phyllo has a small tear, it really doesn't matter. It doesn't affect the end result.
Rule #6 : If you like working with phyllo dough, learn how to make it yourself. My own recipe will come at some point. I think.

You can chop the walnuts coarsely or a bit more fine but not too fine. I always prefer to chop mine coarsely so they have more texture and don't become soggy when drenching the saragli with the syrup.

Yield: 36 saragli


for the saragli
450 g phyllo dough with 12 sheets (around 50 x 40 cm each) (1 package), thawed
250 g unsalted butter
200 g walnuts plus 50 g for sprinkling on top
30 g (2 Tbsp) sugar
3 g (1 tsp) ground cinnamon

for the syrup
500 g sugar
450 ml water
½ medium-sized lemon, cut into wedges
1 large cinnamon stick

Special equipment: large baking pan about 35 x 25 cm, small food processor, pastry brush


for the saragli
Chop 200 g walnuts coarsely either in a food processor or using a large knife. Place them in a medium-sized bowl along with the sugar and ground cinnamon and mix them with a spoon.

Place the butter in a small saucepan and melt it over medium heat.

You will need a large, clean work surface to prepare the saragli. Take one phyllo sheet (keep the others rolled and covered with a damp tea towel and away from any heat source) and butter its entire surface lightly, using a pastry brush.
Working from the short end of the sheet, place 1 - 1 ½ Tbsp of the walnut filling along the edge of that short end and roll the sheet to a 1 - 1 ½ cm in diameter roll. With your fingers, wrinkle the roll and place it seam side down in the baking pan.

In the meantime, preheat your oven to 175 degrees Celsius.

Continue with the rest of the sheets in the same manner.

When you finish filling, rolling and wrinkling all the sheets, pour the remaining butter (you will be left with about 3/4 cup of melted butter—if it has solidified, melt it again) over the rolled sheets in the pan.
Place the pan on the lower rack of the oven and bake saragli for 40-43 minutes until the phyllo becomes crispy and takes on a golden color. Don't let it become dark brown.

When saragli are ready, take the pan out of the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool. This will take about 1 hour. When it cools, take a large, sharp knife and cut the rolls into 3 equal pieces thus creating 36 small saragli. Cut them carefully so the phyllo doesn't break.

for the syrup
The syrup must be hot when you pour it over the saragli and saragli must be cool. So you need to start preparing the syrup while the saragli are cooling down.

In a medium-sized saucepan, add the water, sugar, lemon wedges and cinnamon stick. Heat over high heat, stirring continuously until the sugar is dissolved, and bring to the boil. Lower heat to medium-low and leave saucepan uncovered. The syrup must simmer for about half an hour until it thickens slightly. Once ready, remove the lemon wedges (which you can eat by the way) and the cinnamon stick.

Once the saragli are cooled and cut into pieces, pour the hot syrup slowly and carefully over the tops of the cooked saragli. The syrup is not supposed to cover the saragli pieces completely but only come up their sides by about two-thirds.
Allow the saragli to soak up all the syrup. This will take around 3 hours but it is best if you leave them overnight in the pan. Don't refrigerate or cover the pan.

The saragli will not soak all the syrup. Some will be left on the bottom of the pan.

Take saragli out of the pan and arrange them on a serving platter.
Chop 50 g of walnuts in a food processor and sprinkle them on top of the saragli pieces.

The saragli can be kept for up to 10 days at room temperature, covered lightly with cling film.
Do not store saragli in the refrigerator. It would be best if you didn't cover them at all the first couple of days or if you just laid a piece of cling film over them. If you cover them completely, they will become soggy and the phyllo will lose its crispy, crunchy texture.

The saragli have a better taste the following day and each day that passes they are even more delicious.



  1. I just love it!!....I will make it together with your almond pastries!!.....Έχετε μια υπέροχη παραμονή των Χριστουγέννων και του σπιτιού σας ξεχειλίζει με την ειρήνη,
    χαρά, την αρμονία και την αγάπη ...... αγκαλιές, Marcela....I hope the translation is good!!.....Thanks to Google!!

  2. Marcela, thanks for the wishes in Greek! :) It's an almost perfect translation. Google is doing a good job. Merry Christmas to you too!

  3. These look fantastic. I love the syrup photographs. Someone must teach me to behave like d)

  4. So sorry you got stranded, but you rock it!! I love rolled baklava - these are gorgeous.

  5. Easy for d) to say. It is heartbreaking when you are looking forward to something and the world seems to be working against you. Take several deep breaths and have a merry christmas :)

  6. Baklava is one of my all time favorite treats, though I've never tried making it myself. I wish i could snatch those yummy baklava right off my computer screen and gobble them up. THey look divine.
    So sorry to hear about how you got stranded, I wouldn't have handled it well. I'd be kicking and screaming and throwing a HUGE tantrum.
    *kisses* HH

  7. So sorry you got stranded. I can understand how disappointed your family back in Greece must be. Your saragli looks delicious and perfect.
    My best wishes to have a wonderful time with friends.

  8. Denise — yes, me too!

    Belinda — stranded but full of sweet treats. That's something.

    Tracy — I'm at the stage of acceptance. It's too bad our plans didn't work out but we are determined to have a merry Christmas :)

    Heavenly Housewife — It threw a fit and now I'm over it. I'm concentrating on the baklava instead. If you get the chance do make these saragli. They taste divine.

    Ivy — my mom is pretty sad but it's ok, Easter is just around the corner, isn't it? ;)

  9. I really love the calm way you with which you convey your anger at being stranded and disappointment with weather.The saragli looks very tasty & a neat sweet to enjoy.I like that there are individual pieces coz cutting baklava is often a messy job!This sweet would have lifted your spirits for sure..Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  10. Saragli ... sounds like a great way to get over anything that may be bothering you! Hope you enjoy the holidays wherever you may be celebrating and may the new year bring you love, good health and propsperity each and every day. Kala Xristougenna Magda!

  11. Tanvi — thank you, happy holidays!

    Maria — thanks, Καλά Χριστούγεννα!

  12. Gorgeous and sorry about the travel woes...pop a Baklava in your mouth...all forgotten!

  13. Merry Chrismas to you and all your family and friends!!! You managed to make baklava look so...gourme!!! And so delicious for sure...!

  14. Merry Christmas Magda, so sorry you got I totally can relate as we had friends who visiting us from Houston - they were stuck in London for 2 days, couldn't make their connection and had to come by ferry. I'll send you an email for your address.....hopefully some Spanish paprika will wipe some blues away. LOL

  15. Peter — a baklava is the best medicine

    Marina — thank you Marina. Merry Christmas!

    Oz — thanks for your sweet thought. Merry Christmas!

  16. Merry Christmas Magda- good that you are remaining positive. It is wise staying put. I am staying in Holland too this year.
    Wow This looks delicious I have made Baklava before together with little Feta triangles
    (called Borek I think?). I found the phyllo extremely difficult to work with. (I vowed to try the fresh stuff next time) I'm pretty sure I made the Baklave with the 'broken' phyllo- it was divine.

  17. Looks delish. I mush make it soon.
    Sorry about your plans. Baklava is the perfect hibernation food.

  18. Hi Magda,
    Very sorry to hear you´re stranded! I did not make this recipe (yet), but I loved your way of writing once again. Keep up the good work and very happy holidays to you and S.
    Grtz. Simon

  19. Looks like what you did with your disappointments is to go into your Zen Mode and started making Baklava. Nothing like a little cooking/ baking therapy. Your neatly ordered and organized pastry rolls and beautiful calm pictures surely will help anyone get over their blues.
    Merry Christmas a Happy 2011.

  20. Vanessa — I love feta triangles, we call them tyropitakia in Greece. I hope I've given you some helpful tips on how to work with phyllo. Merry Christmas!

    Rochel — you're right.

    Simon — thank you. Happy holidays to you too and to your family. Merry Christmas!

    Sandhya — Zen Mode, yes something like that happened I guess :) Merry Christmas, thank you for the wishes!

  21. Happy Boxing Day, Magda! These look wonderful - and the upside of your plans falling through is that WE received the gift of your post! I hope you and S. enjoy the remainder of the holiday season there... It is sunny and warm in the Southwest desert (but cold enough in the evenings to sit by the fireside!)... David

  22. So sorry to hear that, Magda. I managed to escape from Germany but it was really a close call, with airports closed the days before and after we left. I really admire your spirit and your baklava. I love the way you roll it, I usually just stack the leaves, but in this way it is so much nicer.

  23. David — thank you!

    Caffettiera — thank you, I prefer baklava in this manner too. It's also easier to eat. Happy holidays!

  24. Hi Magda--Your grandmother's Saragli look so good---and much prettier than the baklava I know. Terrific phyllo tips, too. Re: your foiled travel plans-- Things happen outside our control, and the only thing we can control is how we deal with them. Your humor will carry you through! I hope you still had a lovely Christmas and wish you all good things in the new year.

  25. sorry you were stranded, I would have cried like a baby..i love your baklava, I recently purchased some for thanksgiving and it was horrible, horrible , your step by steps
    happy holidays!!


  26. Magda, These look amazing- delicious and artistic. What are you cooking for New Years? I'm trying to plan a menu, just for me and my hubby, who are staying in!

  27. Nancy, sweetlife — thank you both! Happy holidays!

    Nicole — I'm planning on making goose, a whole goose for just the two of us! I'm looking forward to it since it will be the first time I'll be making it. It's supposed to be easy though. I'll serve it with gravy made from the pan juices and my favorite roast potatoes.

  28. These look fabulous! Best wishes for the holiday season and beyond. :)

  29. Your baklavas look so perfect. I'm drooling!

  30. yummy! so similar to the lebanese version.

  31. When I first read this recipe I knew I wanted to try them. I tried to leave a comment about how sorry I was about your trip, but had problems. Now I just wanted you to know I tried them!! You did a great job explaining. Thanks Magda!!

  32. I'm so glad you liked them! :)

  33. Hi Magda once again i am so glad I found you:) I so want to try these ... we have something similar like you mentioned in Palestine and Joedan.. they are filled with Walnuts and rolled very tightly .. and they are my favourite out of the Filo dough family of sweets... They look both simple and complicated ... do you think Ill be able to roll them out ok? Also by they way I know how to make Melomakarona( sorry for word spelling) I had them in Skopelos made by may ex boyfriend's mother.... lol... i think when the relationship ended I cried for them rather than the BF.... So I leant how to make them:)

  34. Wow. These are fantastic. My wife and daughter could not believe these came out of our kitchen. Made half a recipe and it worked out quite well. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for trying my recipe. Glad you liked it! :)

  35. My Armenian aunt and mother make these, called Boorma. One of my favorites! I use a wooden dowel to roll them around, works great!