Baklava Debacle – The Good in Failure
So last night, I made baklava. If baklava is a tasteless, gummy, oddly-salty pan of nut goo and flaky shame – then yes, I made baklava.
Now, I have made baklava before and it was flawless. Honey sweet, crispy light, hint of lavender. So what went wrong?
The grand plan was to make four pans of baklava – one for my work, one for Daz’s work, one for a gathering Friday night, and one for us at home.
I planned. I shopped. I talked myself up. I can DO THIS! Even though I was tired from work. And each pan takes 20+ minutes to prep and and hour fifteen minutes to bake, I would make it work. Even though the basal joints on my thumbs have been aching all week. Even though I still have household chores and work tomorrow. Me? Tired? No! I MUST do this thing.
So, I enlisted Connor’s help and we set about making one of the most demanding, finicky yet delightful desserts on the planet. Personally, I don’t like it. I am a chocolate fan and baklava falls way short of what I would waste my dessert calories on. But last time I made it, RAVE REVIEWS!
Who doesn’t want to be the hero that sweetens everyone’s week?
I set a big ole agenda and high standards for myself.
Connor, infinitely patient with me and liking the process itself, laid out the phyllo dough as I buttered each sheet. We processed the cinnamon-nut mixture and evenly filled the layers. We prepped 3 pans of 60 sheets of phyllo. We cut the parallelograms. We mixed the simple syrup.
AND THEN A BAZILLION LITTLE THINGS WENT WRONG:
-When I went to make the 4th pan, I realized we were entirely out of nuts. So….Three pans it is!
-When I cut the layers prior to baking, I inadvertently made little holes in the aluminum pans. So all the butter leaked out onto the bottom of the oven. Well, I guess that made it crispy. It definitely made the kitchen smell like greasy, smoky death. Note for weekend: Clean Oven. Yes, I am already tired.
-When I mixed the simple syrup, the first batch tasted off – sour and oily? I had to dump it, rewash the pot and start over. It needed to be cool by the time the baking was done. The second batch tasted okay, but sugar syrup is not my thing.
-When I removed the pans from the oven, I poured a little too much syrup in them. This was just fine because the holes that I mentioned before allowed it to leak all over the baking sheet, the stove top, the floor and me.
-We had just battled ants last month, so I now had to scrub down everything the simple syrup – you know, the one thing you make for ant bait – touched.
-The idea is to let the pans sit overnight and allow the syrup to soak into the layers. But since I am still in PTSD emotional recoil from the ant invasion, so I put a cover on the pans. You know, air plays a vital role in baking. Air is the ingredient you can’t force – it needs time to work its magic. When deprived of air, baklava gets soggy and sad and so, so depressed. And in its passive aggressive state, baklava can become salty and greasy and unforgiving.
-Ingredient Swap. Pecans. Just eff pecans. Walnuts are what you want. The recipe just said nuts and I was trying to be democratic and inclusive. But yes, eff pecans because they are bitter to begin with.
-Ingredient Swap #2 – Anxiety. Where my prior baklava was truly Bak-LOVE-ah, this was not. By half-way through the first pan assembly, I was feeling regret and pressure. I was feeling achy and tired and just wrong. Now this was a self-imposed project. No one begged me or obligated me to make anything. But it had been floated around – this idea of how good the last baklava was. And OH, LET’S HAVE THAT AGAIN and SHARE IT! But there was no love in this. I ran out of love before I ran out of nuts. I DID have an overabundance of anxiety though and I threw that right in the mix. Lack of sweetness? You bet!
-This morning, I had the idea that maybe I could crisp it up a little in the oven. Save all that work and money and time and maybe save my pride. It came out crispy. Angry and dry and gross and crispy.
-I yelled at Daz. I snapped at Connor. I was upset at myself. My hands hurt and I face another workday tired. And for about 10 minutes, I was full of rage glaring at the three pans of brown, salty garbage cooling on the table.
WHAT GOOD CAME FROM THIS?
I would not trade the time I spent with my son yesterday. He kept me going and made me laugh. Connor is a young adult with Asperger’s Syndrome. He has a job and attends an adult transition program. He is very high functioning, a talented artist and an all-around good human. The process itself was enough. The product was crap, but the conversation and skill practice and time in each other’s company was not.
I would not trade Daz’s acceptance of me despite my failures like this. On our third date, I made Irish soda bread. Except it was the consistency of cement. He joked that this is what people were stoned with in the ancient times. Six years later, he still fearlessly eats my cooking.
I’m still disappointed a bit and that will pass.
There are people who make beautiful baklava in this world effortlessly. I am not one of them. And I don’t have to be. I’m okay with that.