Eat This While You Read That: Margaret Ball

A while back I noted that I had a commenter by the name of Margaret Ball. “Can’t be,” I told the First Reader. “Must be a common name.” I followed the blog link in her username and found a lovely fabric artist’s blog. “It’s not her…” I was wrong. It was indeed that Margaret Ball, and I had a small fangirl moment when I discovered that not only did she follow my blog, she was writing and releasing books Indie. Her Applied Topology series has a special connection for me – I did the covers. So when I asked if she would be willing to take part in this series, it wasn’t a surprise that she said yes.

And it shouldn’t have been a surprise, given the character’s background in that trilogy, that what she gave me was a Greek specialty. Thalia Kostis in the books is a fiery young woman who will tell you emphatically that it’s not magic, it’s simply math, no matter what it looks like to an observer. The books are delightful reads. I found myself giggling over the first one, devoured the second, and have the third fairly high in my TBR pile with some regrets for lack of time to read like I want to. You’ll want to pick up a copy of Pocketful of Stars to start out on the trilogy, and if you are anything like me, you’ll appreciate that the whole series is available for immediate binge reading.

Baklava is one of the First Reader’s favorites, and I’ve always meant to try my hand at making it. I am not, as I assured Margaret when she sent me the recipe, crazy enough to try making my own fillo (phyllo? filo? spellings vary) dough. I’ve worked with that stuff before and whew! it would be like making paper. So I was delighted to dive into this recipe.



1 lb. phyllo pastry, thawed

1 lb. finely chopped nuts (traditionally walnuts, but sometimes I use pecans) [Cedar’s note: I used pistachios, since I have a JMS who doesn’t like nuts but said she’d try it with pistachios]

1 cup butter, melted

¾ cup sugar

2 cinnamon sticks

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

½ cup water

1 T lemon juice

mise en place is very important for this recipe, as you will have to work fast once you open the fillo dough


Preheat oven to 350

Butter an 8 x 11 or larger baking pan. [Cedar’s note: I seem to have lost my 9×13 baking pan in the move. So I wound up using a jelly-roll pan, which is something like 11×17, the exact size of the filo dough I had]

Mix ¼ cup sugar, ground cinnamon, and chopped nuts.

Unroll the phyllo and cut through all layers to fit your baking pan; you should wind up with two stacks of phyllo sheets and some scraps.

Lay down 4-6 phyllo sheets, brushing each with melted butter.

Ground pistachios. I could have used more nuts, because of how large a pan I used.

Now repeat until you run out of nuts:

    Sprinkle ground nut mixture over phyllo

    Lay down two more buttered sheets

(Work fast – the phyllo will try to dry out and go crumbly)

butter, layer, sprinkle…

Finish with 4 buttered sheets of phyllo. With a sharp knife, cut through all layers to create small squares or diamond shapes.

Bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees. [Cedar’s note: I had a very thin baklava, so it only took ~20 minutes]

Thin, and fun to cut neatly. By fun I mean tricky, and a bit of a PITA.


While pastry is baking, simmer water, lemon juice, cinnamon sticks and remaining sugar until the resulting syrup coats a spoon when you stir it. [Cedar’s note: I added about 1/4 cup honey. It didn’t seem right without honey.]


Pour syrup over the baked pastry, cover the baking pan and hide it for at least six hours to give the syrup time to soak in.

it baked up perfectly and soaked up all of the syrup in about 4 hours – all the time I could give it!

The Baklava was both perfect, and different. Not having honey in the original recipe I worked around – the First Reader wants me to make it again in a smaller pan, i.e. thicker, and with honey only. Also, he wants me to omit the lemon. I really liked how the acid cut some of the sickly-sweetness baklava can have, but he didn’t. So tastes vary! But it was so good. Like candy. And as we had guests over the weekend, this pan full lasted through more than 20 people trying it out, some for the first time, and some who had more than one piece because they couldn’t help themselves!

Crispy, sticky, sweet, almost like candy rather than pastry!

For more recipes and books, check out the ETWYRT page, or search the series title on facebook to find the group of folks who enjoy reading, and sharing recipes or books.



7 responses to “Eat This While You Read That: Margaret Ball”

  1. I once saw a copy of my great grandmother’s recipe, that she had written down for my grandmother. The nuts were pistachios, not the pecans my grandmother used.

    1. Like many recipes, I suspect they changed with emigration. Can’t get pistachios? Use pecans.

      1. Margaret Ball Avatar
        Margaret Ball

        I have an Iranian friend who uses pistachios. The Greek lady who taught me used walnuts; I switched to pecans because of having a superfluity of those. Grizzly, where was your great grandmother from?

        1. Not Grizzly 🙂 but his heritage is Lebanese if I recall correctly. I’m going to try it again only with walnuts next time. The First Reader loves baklava!

  2. Draven Avatar

    mmmm baklava

    1. So good. I need to make Turkish coffee to have with the last bit tonight.

  3. OldNFO Avatar

    Drooling over here… sigh