Now that Ramadan is over, the owners of Jaafer Sweets in Albany Park can rest a little easier, but business is still brisk, since they supply grocery stores all over the region and ship their sweets all over the US and Canada. Their specialty? Baklava.
"Baklava is several layers of phyllo dough filled with either pistachios, walnuts or cashews," said Hannah Moses, co-owner of Jaafer Sweets.
But before the filling, there is the prep: an intensely-flavored melted butter is slathered around the bottom of a baking pan, serving as a flavorful bed for the ultra-thin layers of phyllo dough. Imported pistachios are generously spread over the top, forming an even layer; another layer of phyllo goes on top, and the baklava is trimmed to fit the pan.
The baker uses a knife to cut the baklava into manageable pieces. Finally, more butter is ladled over the top, which oozes into the crevices and helps puff up the dough. The baklava is baked in a giant oven, and once it's removed, the entire kitchen smells of sweet, nutty richness.
"The process in which we make our baklava is very unique. We use a couple of special ingredients that we put on, we put, before we bake the baklava. And then we have a couple special ingredients that we put on after we bake the baklava," said Moses.
There is much more than baklava of course - including cheesy kanafeh and halawa - as well as delicate cashew fingers. The phyllo is rolled up on a narrow wooden rod about a third of the way, pausing briefly to sprinkle on some crushed cashews, then he continues rolling it up, enveloping the cashews.
At this point, the long, cashew-filled roll of phyllo is squeezed together like an accordion, giving it its unique shape. The roll is slid off of the wooden dowel and coated in a shower of melted butter to give it added richness.
Moses says while baklava is her company's primary canvas, there are dozens of shapes and fillings at her disposal.
"It's just variety, in the American world, we have different kinds of cookies - some are square, some are round, some are long, some are short - so you know instead of just having traditional square baklavas, we have different shapes," Moses said.
I also like this Knafeh, which has got cheese in the middle, some shredded phyllo on top, and a little dusting of pistachios; like some of the baklava, also available sugar free. Now if you can't get to the store here, you can also find these products at Potash Bros., Fox and Obel, even 7-Elevens around Chicagoland.
4825 N. Kedzie Ave.
Besides baklava: kanafeh, fatayar, harresa (nammoura), bamia, awameh, macaroon, zalabia, mamoul, galache, barazik, gouribeh, halawa, halawit-L-Jibin