March 28, 2023

Niš Baklava

The Balkan Cookbook

Niš Baklava


As a child, I used to visit auntie ‘O’ on St Nicholas’s Day—Santa Claus is my uncle’s patron saint. On this day over a thousand years ago my uncle’s ancestor had given up his pagan gods and become a Christian. It fell to his descendants to honour the anniversary of this ancient christening by preparing a feast and opening the house to family, friends, and anyone that might pass by the door. So every year auntie ‘O’ would prepare a feast, and every year I looked forward to her feast day cakes, particularly her diamond baklava filled with sour cherries.

Auntie ‘O’ was from Niš, a city in southern Serbia bordering Macedonia, where she worked in a post office before becoming a mail order bride—true story—she literally mailed herself.  She liked to show me a black and white photo of herself from the 1950’s; the picture showed Auntie ‘O’ in a white bikini, perched on a rock in Montenegro. She would reminisce about how good looking she was when she was younger—and indeed posing for the camera, hair sprayed up in a Bardot beehive it could not be denied—why she married my uncle I will never know. Anyway if she hadn’t married him my taste buds would never have danced to the sweet tang of her diamond cherry baklava.  I warn you one diamond is never enough.

Before you start, make life easy for yourself by ensuring the width of your non stick shallow baking tray is roughly the same as the width of the filo pastry. I purchased a tray that measures 160mm by 250mm, by 30mm, which is perfect for the filo pastry that I use which has a width of 150mm. I just have to roll out the pastry and cut it to fit the length of the baking tray.

If you are working with a tray of roughly the above dimensions then you will need 500g of filo pastry, which when rolled out can be cut into thirty two, made to measure, filo sheets—give or take a sheet or two.

Preparation is everything in the making of these little diamonds so I recommend that you have everything ready before you start. First drain and squeeze morello cherries to release as much liquid as possible without pulping the cherries. Leave them on a plate to dry out a little more for a few hours. Meanwhile soak dried sour cherries in cherry brandy. Finely chop walnuts by hand, saving twelve walnut halves for decoration. Pre heat the oven to 160c. Clarify butter by melting in a saucepan over a very low heat; separate clarified butter from the milky sediment.

Now you are ready to go. Brush the bottom and sides of the baking tray with clarified butter. Cut filo pastry sheets to size and then place a sheet in the baking tray, brushing the sheet with clarified butter. Repeat this process until you have layered the tray with fifteen buttered sheets. Cover the top sheet in walnuts. Spread morello cherries over the walnuts. Cover the cherries with five more buttered sheets of filo.

Drain sour cherries soaked in cherry brandy, and sprinkle over the top sheet. Cover the sour cherries with another twelve sheets of buttered filo.

Use a sharp knife, and divide baklava from corner to corner into four triangles. Then cut lines in parallel with the first two diagonal cuts to create diamond shaped portions. Decorate portions with walnut halves. Pop in the oven to bake for one hour.

Now make vanilla syrup by gently dissolving vanilla sugar in water over a low heat. Once the sugar has dissolved, bring pan to the boil and simmer until syrup thickens—it takes about twenty minutes.

Remove the baklava from the oven and pour over the syrup. Fill the tray to the lip with syrup. The syrup will gradually soak into the baklava. Leave baklava to cool; when cold serve.


500g filo pastry sheets

2 x 470g jars of morello cherries in syrup

75g sour cherries

250g walnut halves

200g of unsalted butter

400g of vanilla sugar

300ml of water

30 ml of cherry brandy

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