Greek Coffee and Baklava

  Coffee is the world’s favourite way to wake up. Every morning it’s how I start my day, in fact these days I don’t think I can remember a time before starting my day with a strong cup of coffee.

  Over the years my tastes and preferences have changed from milkier drinks like a latte or cappuccino to a strong black coffee, I like to thinks it is my tastes evolving, but  maybe it’s just getting a bit older and needing the caffeine boost to get me going in the mornings.

  Cafe culture : Go to any major town or city these days and coffee shops adorn the streets and boulevards, spilling out on to squares or piazza. When many of us think of cafe culture and coffee our imaginations immediately turn to Italy; often thought of as the spiritual home of coffee, the streets of Milan and Rome draw coffee lovers from across the world. Romans are famed for their love of strong dark coffee, drunk slowly and at a scorching temperature whilst sitting in a glamorous cafe. So when I recently went to Rome I had high hopes of the coffee. Sitting in one of the many cafe’s in the Piazza della Rotonda with a very milky cappuccino in front of me I wondered where I had gone wrong for the past few days when ordering a coffee and began thinking back to Athens and Greek coffee, or what many of you might think of as ‘Turkish coffee’.

  Athens for coffee lovers : Whilst Athens might not be the first place you think of when you want a great coffee, always overshadowed by its Mediterranean cousins; for connoisseurs looking for a cup of the black stuff, Greece should be at the top of the list. Why, you might ask? As a coffee lover what I am looking for when I order a coffee is a deep, rich, full bodied coffee with a complex aroma as well as being that coffee which can give me a big caffeine boost. When it comes to a richer, stronger, thicker coffee, Greek coffee ticks all the boxes. To be fair I should make it clear that there are two types of coffee which are popular in Athens, one is the uber strong Greek coffee, the other is the Frappe. This is mainly a summer drink, when the thermometer is pushing 30-40 it becomes difficult to have hot coffee so here it is blended with milk, sugar and ice. You get the buzz but also get to cool down just a little.

  Greek Coffee is much thicker and stronger than the coffee we are used to back in the UK. If you are used to a regular latte or cappuccino, then a Greek Coffee could blow your head off! Even if your usual coffee of choice is an ‘espresso’, as found in the big chain coffee shops, then you'll still be surprised by just how strong a Greek Coffee can be. There's a cafe I used to go to in North London and try the occasional Greek Coffee or two, well one is usually enough when it is as strong as a Greek Coffee can be! But when I tried it in Athens it was elevated to a new level. Far darker, thicker and richer than any coffee I had tried before; Greek coffee is prepared in a totally different way to what you’ll find a chain coffee shop. It’s traditional way of preparing uses just a few simple bits a pieces, simple enough to try out in your kitchen at home, but taking a lifetime to perfect. I found the best place to get a coffee was on the edge of the Plaka district, close to the Roman Agora.

  Making Greek Coffee at home : To make Greek coffee at home you will need a couple of simple ingredients and bits of kitchenware. First off Greek coffee should be prepared in a briki which is a tall copper pot which tapers towards the top with a long handle and pouring spout. If you can’t lay your hands on one then you can use a saucepan as I did below. You won’t quite get the same effect as the briki helps the coffee grounds settle to the bottom, but it does a reasonable job. As you will be making small servings you’ll need 2 espresso or ‘demitasse’ cups.

Ingredients :

- Finely ground Greek coffee
- Water
- Granulated brown sugar

  Greek coffee recipe : Fill the two espresso cups with water and pour into the briki or saucepan and add 1 heaped teaspoon of coffee for each cup of coffee. I added a little more as I like it to have a real punch. Add sugar to taste. As Greek coffee can be bitter a good rule of thumb is 1 tsp per cup. Gradually heat over a medium hob stirring to bring the coffee and sugar together. As the coffee starts to boil it will foam and this will rise up. Once this reaches the top of your briki quickly remove it from the heat and let it settle for about a minute.  Serve in the espresso/ demitasse cups with a glass of water and some more sugar if needed.

  What to serve it with? When I think about Greek coffee I can’t help but think about that wonderful sweet and delicious pastry Baklava. Served across the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, it is the perfect mix of crisp pastry, sweet honey and nuts.

So here is my version of the Greek classic, perfect for afternoon tea Greek style.

Baklava :  
- 18 servings
- Cooking time 1 hour 20 minutes

Ingredients :
* 250g unsalted butter,melted
* 300g chopped walnuts
* 200g chopped pistachios + extra for decoration
* 1tsp cinnamon
* 1 pack filo pastry, you’ll need around 20 sheets of it
* 200g caster sugar
* 4tbsp greek honey
* 1 piece lemon peel
* 4tbsp golden syrup
Baking parchment
Roasting dish

Baklava recipe : Preheat oven to 180 C / Gas mark 4. Toss walnuts, pistachios and honey with the cinnamon. Set aside. On a work board unroll the filo pastry and trim 20 sheets to fit the roasting dish, if you need more you can always cut them as needed Line the dish with baking parchment making sure it comes up the sides. This will make it much easier to remove the cooked Baklava later. Place two sheets of filo in the dish and butter the top layer. Repeat until you have 8 sheets layered. Sprinkle 2 to 3 tablespoons of honey-nut mixture on top. Top with two sheets of filo, butter, nuts, layering as you go. The top layer should be about 6 to 8 sheets deep. Using a sharp knife, cut into diamond or square shapes all the way to the bottom of the dish, be careful not to cut the baking paper. Bake for about 50 minutes until baklava is golden and crisp.

Make sauce while Baklava is baking: Boil the sugar and water until sugar is dissolved. Add the syrup and lemon peel then simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until you have a thick syrup. Remove from heat and pop in the fridge to cool.

Take the Baklava from oven and immediately pour the cooled syrup over it and sprinkle with pistachios. Leave it to cool then serve a triangle with your coffee.

Russell Bowes

Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/russellskitchen/