Nutty, crunchy and drenched in syrup

Syrup-drenched and packing a hearty nutty crunch, the so-called “siropiasta” (syrupy) sweets that combine a varieties of nuts with layers of wafer-thin or finely shredded phyllo pastry are so delicious that almost every country east of the Ionian likes to claim them as their own.

Their execution is not the stuff of top patisseries -- requiring precision in measurement, skilled action with the whisk or a whole arsenal of specialized utensils and equipment -- but there is a knack for getting them right.

The essentials of siropiasta are pretty basic as they depend on good-quality butter, nuts and pastry and a rich-but-not-too-thick simple sugar syrup. Once these are in place, you can assemble the sweets in layers, coils, baskets, bite-size nibbles or large trayfuls of crispy buttered phyllo interspersed with walnuts, pistachios, almonds and even hazelnuts. For something more adventurous, you can mix different nuts together or jazz up the syrup with orange zest, liqueur or a few drops of rose water.

Pastry chef Stelios Parliaros takes the ABCs of siropiasta and elevates them to another level, merging different recipes to create new and exciting flavors.

Baklava cheesecake
(for 12 portions)

For the cream
1,400 gr cream cheese
200 gr all-purpose flour
4 eggs + 2 yolks
400 gr creme fraiche

For the baklava
1 packet thin phyllo pastry
250 gr cleaned walnuts
125 gr sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
200 gr butter, melted
400 gr honey

For the cream
Mix the cream cheese and sugar in a blender on a whisk setting until the sugar dissolves. Add the whole eggs and the yolks one at a time and continue mixing until fluffy. Add the flour and then the creme fraiche.

For the baklava
Grease a baking tray (30x30 cm preferably) and start laying half the phyllo sheets on the bottom, building them up one on top of the other in a crisscross manner and buttering each layer carefully as you go along. Preheat the oven to 170-180C. Meanwhile, in the blender, crush the walnuts together with the sugar and the cinnamon. Sprinkle half the mixture over the phyllo in the pan. Add the cream mixture evenly on top and then sprinkle the rest of the nut mixture over it. Fold the ends of the phylo sheets inward and then lay the remainder on the top, trimming the excess bits off with a pair of scissors and making sure to butter every layer thoroughly. Bake the sweet for 1 hour and 10 minutes. When it is ready, douse the phyllo in honey that has been warmed slowly over a medium heat. Let the baklava cool down before serving.

Saragli with nuts
(for one large rectangular baking pan)

500 gr phyllo pastry
500 gr butter
300 gr walnuts, roughly chopped

For the syrup
500 gr sugar
400 gr water
1 stick cinnamon
1 tsp glucose powder

Melt the butter in a small saucepan and, using a brush, grease the baking pan well on all sides. On your work surface, lay out a sheet of pastry, butter it and fold it in half. Sprinkle the nuts generously over the surface and then roll the pastry into a long tube, making sure to butter the clear sides as you go. If you want to make the rolling easier and to give the saragli its customary wrinkled look, place a knitting needle in the center, roll the pastry and then hold the needle upright and gently press down on the roll, before removing the needle. Repeat the process with all the sheets of phyllo, laying them into the pan as you go. Bake in a preheated oven at 150C for about one hour until golden brown. A few minutes before removing from the oven, prepare the syrup in a saucepan by boiling all the ingredients together for three minutes. When the saragli are done, douse them in the syrup and allow to sit for at least one hour before serving.

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