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Cranberry-Orange Baklava for Thanksgiving

dried cranberries

Dried cranberries for a sweet-sour inspired baklava. Credit: StockFood.

Here’s a little treat that combines two favorite flavors of this season, cranberries and oranges. I suppose by nature it’s a party snack, but you might serve your Thanksgiving guests a couple of cranberry-orange baklavas to munch on during the dinner proceedings, maybe in place of biscuits or muffins.

By Middle Eastern standards, it’s culinary heresy. Confectioners do sometimes make orange-peel baklava there, (I’ve seen portokalli baklava on a Turkish restaurant menu of the 1930s.) but they certainly don’t use cranberries. Though people relish sweet-and-sour flavors in that part of the world, there seems to be a feeling that sweet-sour is appropriate for meat dishes, not for pastries.

Sweets are supposed to be purely sweet, possibly because they’re traditionally consumed by themselves in the middle of the day, not as part of a meal, where a sour flavor might blend in amongst all the others.

Conversely, the bitter-sweet combination is enjoyed — indeed expected — in pastries; think of all those nut fillings. And it’s largely avoided with meat, so go figure. Anyway, this taste for bittersweet sweets certainly explains how orange-peel baklava arose. I, for one, like sweet-sour sweets. Give me rhubarb pie, give me cheesecake with raspberry sauce, give me lemon drops! And the combination of cranberry and orange summons up warm memories of every Thanksgiving meal I’ve ever enjoyed, though when I was young and foolish, I confess, I didn’t like cranberries, or maybe it was just the cranberry jelly.

This recipe was inspired by the orange baklava in a pastry manual by Necip Ertürk, generally known as Necip Usta (roughly, Master Chef Necip). His name is pronounced ne-JEEP oos-TAH, by the way. He was one of the leading Turkish chefs from the 1950s to the 1970s, serving at a bunch of top Istanbul restaurants and even at a Hilton operation in the United States.

cranberry-orange baklava

Cranberry-orange baklava. Credit: Charles Perry.

As a sign of his status, he wore a huge toque, which, in photos,  looks about 2 feet tall. He’s considered old-fashioned by the Turkish chefs who are currently experimenting with their own style of nouvelle cuisine, but he was a sort of Escoffier figure to an earlier generation.

He never went near a cranberry, at least not when he was making pastries. I’m doing that for him, whether he would have wanted it or not.

Cranberry-Orange Baklava

Yields 24 to 33 pieces


For the syrup:

6 tablespoons sugar

2½ tablespoons water

¼  teaspoon lemon juice

Optional: 1 teaspoon orange blossom water

For the cranberry filling:

3 oranges, or 1 tablespoon candied orange peel

6 ounces dried cranberries, a little over 1½ cups

For the pastry:

About ⅔ pound frozen filo dough

2 sticks unsalted butter, divided


For the syrup:

1. Put the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil and cook until clear, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside. When cool, add the optional orange blossom water.

For the cranberry filling:

1. Use a microplane zester to remove only the glossy, colored zest from the peel of the oranges. (If using candied peel, mince finely.)

2. Mix with the cranberries and process in the food processor until the size of large sand, but not until the mixture becomes terribly sticky. Divide into four equal portions and set aside.

For the pastry:

1. Thaw the filo dough in the refrigerator for three hours or more.

2.  Meanwhile, use ½ stick softened butter to grease a baking sheet generously. When the filo is thawed, melt the rest of the butter in a small saucepan and keep warm.

3. Heat the oven to 400 F.

4. Open the package and carefully unfold the filo on a large workspace and measure it (the measurements on packages are sometimes only approximate). For this recipe we want to end up with 4 stacks of filo strips about 4 inches wide and 12 to 14 inches long — exact size is not crucial — so figure out how you want to accomplish this, discarding any excess length. Thawed filo cuts easily with scissors.

5. Cover the three stacks of strips you’re not working on with a kitchen towel to keep the dough from drying out. Carefully separate one 4-by-12-inch sheet and lay it down on the buttered baking sheet. Brush it with melted butter, and top with 5 or 6 more sheets, buttering each one. Some filo sheets will tear apart or be wasted in some other way, but don’t worry.

6. Finally arrange one-quarter of the cranberry filling in a long, compact line down the middle of the top sheet. Using a spatula, carefully lift up one side of the stack and fold it over the filling, then roll it up, ending with the seam side down. Use a sharp knife to cut the roll into 6 to 8 lengths.

7. Repeat this process with the remaining 3 stacks of filo, making 24 to 32 short lengths of baklava. Set the baking sheet in the oven and bake until the pieces are puffed and golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes.

8. Remove the baking sheet and transfer the pieces to another baking sheet or a work surface.

9. After a minute, brush the pieces with the syrup.

Will keep about 3 days tightly covered.

Photo: Cranberry-orange baklava. Credit: Charles Perry

Zester Daily contributor Charles Perry is a former rock 'n' roll journalist turned food historian who worked for the Los Angeles Times' award-winning Food section, where he twice was a finalist for the James Beard award.