Baklava: a simply sweet Greek treat

Food & Drink / Stories / July 21, 2015

061215_baklava2_LB_13In Greek and Roman mythology, the gods ate ambrosia made with honey and milk and drank nectar to be immortal. Regular mortals also enjoyed the sweet treats – and they still do.

A major staple in Greece, honey is the star of the thick, sugary syrup that’s poured over baklava and binds the filo dough together for a sweet, sticky and crunchy delight.

Here in Jefferson City, Irene Tergin is known for her baklava, reputed to be some of the best around. She has donated it to many a fundraiser, including the annual Heart Ball and Boost BBQ, where it’s a popular item and quickly auctioned off.

What makes her recipe so tasty is that she serves it fresh, just after the syrup is poured on the baked and cooled baklava.

We had a front row seat as she welcomed us into her home to watch her make the dessert. “I can make this in my sleep,” she said.

Tergin came to Jefferson City after marrying her husband, Jim, who was born here. His parents, George and Ourania Tergin, immigrated to America from Greece and and started a shoe shine/hat cleaning business downtown on Madison Street followed by a dry cleaners on High Street.

Jim and Irene Tergin opened Carrie’s Hallmark Shop on High Street in 1976. Today it’s managed by their daughter, Carrie, the mayor of Jefferson City, although they still have a presence there. “Jim and I go to the store daily to help out as much as we can and to see our friends and customers,” Irene said.

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Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin and her mother, Irene Tergin, toast with homemade liqueurs from friends in Greece.

“To me, being Greek is my grandparents – all four of them.
It’s my dad’s parents who lived here with us, because in Greece family means being together, living together, cooking and eating meals together. My grandfather (‘Popou’ in Greek) taught me how lucky we are to be living in America, ‘the best country on earth!’
And it’s my mom’s parents, who showed me where we came from each time we visited them in Greece. The blue sea, mountains, food fresh from the garden, my grandmother (‘Yiayia’ in Greek) who enjoyed Ouzo with a meal, and all of us Greek dancing whenever the mood came over us!
The taste of mom’s baklava is all of that, it makes people happy; Greek filo, nuts and honey, simply sweet!”
— Mayor Carrie Tergin

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Baklava: Step-by-step

Irene Tergin shares her tips to prepare the decadent dessert.

Ingredients:

Baklava:

  • 1 pkg. filo dough
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 4 cups walnuts, finely chopped
  • 1 lb butter, unsalted, sweet, and melted

Syrup:

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1 cinnamon stick
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Defrost filo dough overnight in the refrigerator.

When working with filo dough, move fast. As it’s paper thin, it dries up quickly. A damp towel covering the dough will help keep it moist, Irene, though, doesn’t do this.

Mix together chopped nuts, sugar, cinnamon, and cloves. If you don’t like walnuts, you can substitute your favorite kind of nuts. Turkish-style baklava typically uses pistachios, but almonds or pecans work too.

Melt butter.

Spray bottom of 9×13 pan with cooking spray. Use 4-6 filo sheets on the bottom of the pan, some horizontally, some vertically.

Pour some of the melted butter onto the dough, then sprinkle about 1/3 nut mixture over the top of the dough.

Repeat steps until final top layer of dough, saving some butter aside to pour over before baking.

Score the pan of baklava into diamond-shaped pieces, about an inch and a half tall. Cover with the remainder of the butter. Bake for 35-40 minutes at 340 degrees.

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While the baklava bakes, you can make the syrup.

baclava-steps-59Combine sugar, water, honey, lemon and cinnamon stick in a pot.

Bring to a boil for about 20 minutes, then allow to cool to room temperature.

Leaving both the syrup and the baklava out overnight is fine, but the key is to pour the syrup over the pan right before serving. Both should be at room temperature.

Remove the cinnamon stick and lemon, and pour the syrup over the baklava. Allow the syrup to soak into the dessert.

Cut where previously scored, and serve. The finished baklava will last a week covered on the counter. Irene’s baklava gets eaten or given away before she has the chance to freeze it, but “I have heard that it freezes well,” she said.

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Story by Shelley Gabert | Photos by Anthony Roderman and Leah Beane | Baklava recipe shared by Irene Tergin





Alvin Leifeste




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