Editor’s note: We seek recipes from Triangle restaurants requested by readers.
Over a year ago, I asked for the recipe for Taverna Agora’s Baklava Cheesecake. I am a cheesecake baker, and this is one of the best I have ever tasted. This delicious dessert is still on their menu, so I thought I would ask again.
Charlotte Heath, Apex
Exactly how Taverna Agora creates its popular Baklava Cheesecake will stay a family secret, but the restaurant does offer its flaky and sweet baklava recipe.
While many cultures claim baklava, the accepted history traces the treat to the 8th century B.C. kingdom of Assyria, which lay in northern Iraq and southern Turkey.
All baklava share three basic ingredients: flat bread, nuts and syrup.
“One of the great things about Mediterranean-based food is the cultures kind of all blend together, and everybody has their own variation on a very similar dish,” said Amber Moshakos, a vice president with Taverna Agora’s parent company, LM Restaurants.
The Greek version uses very thin sheets of fillo (or phyllo) dough layered with walnuts and soaked in a honey syrup. Greek children learn at a young age how to handle the fragile dough, said Moshakos, the daughter of Lou Moshakos, who is president of LM Restaurants.
“A lot of items have fillo dough, and it’s a tradition that I’ve started to pass on to my young daughter, having her stand with me in the kitchen and learn how to delicately prepare some of these authentic dishes,” she said.
The Moshakos family roots rest in Lykovrysi, a small Greek village where Lou Moshakos was born to farmers. He immigrated to Canada in 1964, at age 18, and later met his wife Joy. In 1978, they moved to Florida, launching their first restaurant. The family moved to Raleigh in 1992.
Their latest venture, Vidrio, opened in a three-story building on Glenwood Avenue in January and is among more than 20 businesses under the LM Restaurants banner. Taverna Agora opened on Glenwood Avenue in 2003 and relocated to Hillsborough Street in downtown Raleigh in 2015.
The casually upscale restaurant was inspired by the Greek flavors that Lou Moshakos couldn’t find anywhere else, his daughter said.
“We have a rooftop bar that is spectacular, especially as we’re coming into spring,” Moshakos said. “You’re kind of sitting in the canopy of the oaks downtown. It’s very charming. It’s a great place to sit and have a couple glasses of wine or a couple drinks, and some Greek food.”
Readers seeking to replicate Taverna Agora’s Baklava Cheesecake can use the baklava as a crust for their favorite cheesecake, LM Restaurants brand manager Mindy Wharton said.
Here’s how I would approach it, based on my observation of the finished product. Build the baklava as directed in a 10-inch springform pan, turning sheets to cover all sides of the pan. The fillo dough should overlap the sides of the pan.
Reserve a third of the nut mixture and two sheets of fillo dough.
Fill pan with cheesecake batter and top with the reserved nuts. Fold excess dough over the top and lightly brush with clarified butter.
Add another layer of dough, butter the top, and add a second layer. Fold under the edges and tuck around the cheesecake. Butter the top. Sprinkle with water.
Bake until the cheesecake is set and the baklava is golden brown.
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Taverna Agora, 326 Hillsborough St., Raleigh
Taverna Agora’s Baklava
The recipe keeps fresh for three days, but baklava can be frozen for five months. Wrap in plastic wrap and then in a layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil or place in an air-tight container.
2 pounds walnut pieces
1/4 cup Panko crumbs
1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1 16 ounce box Fillo dough
1 quart baklava syrup (See below recipe)
1 cups clarified butter, heated
Follow the package directions for thawing fillo dough, if using frozen. Dough can crack if it dries out or is too cold. Keep the unrolled fillo pliable while putting the baklava together by covering with plastic wrap and a damp – not wet – towel. Handle gently.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Pulse the walnuts, breadcrumbs and spices together in a food processor until rough chopped.
Grease a 9-inch by 13-inch baking pan and begin to layer 10 to 12 sheets of fillo dough, brushing butter onto each sheet before adding the next one. Rotate the sheets with each layer, cutting to fit if necessary, so that the entire pan is covered.
Top with a third of the nut mix. Layer with seven sheets of fillo, brushing each with butter. Repeat nut mixture and fillo layers two more times. Finish by tucking the rest of the fillo around the sides
Gently cut the baklava with a sharp knife into 32 pieces. Sprinkle the top with a touch of water to keep it from burning. Bake for at least an hour.
While baklava is hot, add a half-quart of syrup. Wait for it to be fully absorbed, and add the rest of the syrup. Let rest before eating to develop flavors.
5 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 1/2 ounces honey
1/2 ounce brandy
1 1/2 ounce lemon juice
1 lemon wedge
1 1/2 cinnamon sticks
Combine all ingredients in a sauce pot and cook until sugar is melted.
Yields 32 pieces.