Halloween is observed in countries around the world, but probably no one celebrates it with the gusto that the U.S. does: the gallows pranks; the ghoulish parades and masked parties; the trick-or-treating in costumes. And then there is the ubiquitous grinning jack-o’-lantern, carved from the season’s plentiful pumpkins.
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Along with the spirit of Halloween goes a devil-may-care attitude about eating sweets. What’s a Halloween vigil without pumpkin-themed treats? For those who’ve outgrown the candy corn and pumpkin marshmallows, why not go Greek for Halloween with baklava — pumpkin baklava, that is. If you like that flaky pastry, you might enjoy this lightened version even more.
For an American spin on an ancient classic, I can’t think of a better trick than to slip the proverbial pumpkin between the buttery layers of this autumnal treat. Here’s the recipe that a fine New Jersey cook and baker, the late Matina Colombotos, a second-generation Greek-American, taught me one October 30 years ago.
Matina’s Pumpkin or Squash Baklava With Honey-Walnut Topping
Baklava is a traditional nut-filled pastry that is soaked with honey or syrup. Matina layered the phyllo sheets with a sweetened squash mixture and drizzled a little honey over the baked pastry. To keep the phyllo moist while you work with it, cover the sheets with foil or waxed paper and then with a barely damp towel. Leftover phyllo can be wrapped, sealed tightly and refrigerated up to three days.
Prep Time: 1½ hours
Cooking Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Total Time: about 2 hours, 45 minutes
Yield: 18 pastries
2 pounds pie pumpkin or butternut squash, halved, seeded, peeled and coarsely grated (about 7 cups)
½ teaspoon salt
⅓ cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
24 phyllo sheets (13 inches by 9 inches each), thawed following package instructions
10 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped fine (4½ ounces)
½ cup golden raisins (3 ounces)
1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
For the baklava:
2. Mix the squash and ½ teaspoon salt in a large colander set in the sink; let stand 45 minutes, frequently pressing on squash with the back of a spoon to release excess moisture. Transfer drained squash to a large bowl. Add brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg; toss to combine.
3. Place 1 sheet of phyllo in a buttered 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Brush phyllo sheet with some of the melted butter. Place a second sheet of phyllo over the first sheet and, again, brush with some of the melted butter. Repeat layering with 10 more sheets of phyllo, brushing each sheet with butter.
4. Spread squash mixture evenly over the layered phyllo and then sprinkle walnuts and raisins over the squash mixture. Place another sheet of phyllo over the squash mixture. Brush the phyllo sheet with melted butter. Repeat layering with remaining 11 sheets of phyllo, brushing each with butter.
5. With the long edge of the pan positioned toward you, cut the baklava, from top to bottom, into six strips that are about 2 inches wide. Turn the pan, short edge toward you, and cut the baklava into three 3-inch wide strips to make a total of 18 rectangles.
6. Adjust oven rack to the middle position. Bake 40 minutes; then reduce the oven temperature to 350 F and bake until the phyllo leave are golden, about 30 minutes longer.
For the topping:
7. Drizzle warm baklava with honey and sprinkle with walnuts. Cool slightly. Serve. (You can cool it completely, cover and store at room temperature up to two days.)
Main photo: Jack-o’-lantern. Credit: Nathan Hoyt