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Pakhlava

Pakhlava

For the Dough
3 cups all-purpose flour
8 ounces unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
2 egg yolks

For the Filling
2 cups sugar
2 egg whites
3 cups (10 ounces) walnuts, ground (they should be somewhat crunchy in the pie, so do not grind finely)
For the Top
1 egg yolk, to glaze
Handful of walnut halves, to decorate

Method
Prepare the dough. In a large bowl, combine the flour and butter. Using a pastry blender or a knife or a fork, cut in the butter until coarse meal (pea size crumbs) forms.

In a small bowl combine the sour cream and baking soda and add to the butter mixture. Add the eggs yolks. Toss with your hands until the mixture comes together in a rough mass then knead briefly until you obtain smooth and gentle dough.

Divide the dough into 3 equal parts, forming each one into a thick disk. Wrap each disk in a plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Prepare the filling. In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar and egg whites. Using an electric mixer, beat until until well blended, 3 minutes. Add the walnuts and stir with a spoon to combine.

Butter the bottom and the sides of a 8 x 12-inch baking pan.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Lightly dust your work surface with flour. Using a rolling pin, press firmly to roll out the dough into a rectangle the size to fit the pan. Carefully transfer the rectangle to the prepared pan, gently pressing the dough against the bottom and the sides of the pan. (Also, slightly stretching the dough to the sides and sealing the edges will keep the releasing juices inside.) Repair any tears in the dough.

Spread half of the filling over the dough layer. Roll the second disk in the same way and place on top of the walnut filling. Spread the remaining filling over this layer.

Roll the third dough disk and cover the walnut filling with it. Press slightly on top.

Brush with the egg yolk. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut the baklava in cross-hatching diagonals to make diamond shapes (first cut 4 parallel lines lengthways, then several across and at an angle) , cutting through the filling all the way to the bottom. If you wish, you can also cut the baklava into squares. Pace half a walnut into the middle of each baklava piece and press slightly to adher to the dough.

Bake on the middle rack of the oven until golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven. The baklava will will appear puffed up - this is normal; as it cools off it will settle. Allow to cool completely (Important!) in the pan, then carefully lift out the baklava pieces from the pan. Store in a covered container.

Along with scrumptious multi-layered pakhlava (baklava) and tender nut-filled shekerbura, spice-infused flaky bread shorgoghal (alternative spelling: shor goghali) is another irresistable edible attribute of Novruz. In fact, the three are a must on a festive goodie-filled tray, khoncha, a centerpiece of Novruz table. For its shape, the golden crust and the yellowish spice filling it encases, shorgoghal is regarded as the symbol of the sun. There can be as many as 9-12 layers of thinly opened dough in the shorghogal. This recipe yields 9 layers, but you can go as high as 12 if you roll your dough into smaller circles. A common wisdom holds that the more layers in the dough, the flakier the baked breads will be. Usually, shorgoghal is enjoyed with sweetened black tea, the authentic Azerbaijani way.

Happy Spring, Happy Novruz to all of you!