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Pass The Baklava: Feast At Bergenfield Church Festival

Margaret Klarer of Dumont carrying a tray of baklava ready for the oven. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
The baking committee at St. Anthony's Church in Bergenfield making baklava layer by painstaking layer. Pair in the foreground is Genny Mandalakis of Fort Lee, left, and John Ziemba of Old Tappan. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Genny Mandalakis of Fort Lee says she is American born but of Greek background. She knows her way around filo dough. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Saban Aboueid of Paramus, originally from Lebanon, co-chairs the massive baking effort at St. Anthony's. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Making baklava, step one: Alice Ziemba of Old Tappan and Lois Dedes of Paramus add a layer of filo dough. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Making baklava, step two: Betty Gakos of North Caldwell, left, and Ellen Dahlan of Bergenfield brush on liquid butter. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Making baklava, step three: Nick Dedes, parishioner and owner of Echo Tap & Grille in Mountainside, measures and cuts. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Making baklava, step four: Ghazi Aboueid of Paramus is in charge of baking. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Baklava in the oven. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Making baklava, step five: Maria Filler of Tenafly pours cold syrup over hot baklava for a nice glaze. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Baklava cooling. The baking team at St. Anthony's puts a cinnamon stick on the pistachio baklawas to distinguish them from the walnut baklavas. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Conferring in the kitchen are, from the left, Margaret Klarer of Dumont, Maria Filler of Tenafly, and Sabah Aboueid of Paramus. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
The bakers at St. Anthony's Orthodox Church in Bergenfield prepare all the food for their international festival using recipes from "Traditional and Exotic Cookery," published by the church Women's Guild in the 1970s. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash

BERGENFIELD, N.J. — The baking committee for the 39th Annual International Festival at St. Anthony’s Orthodox Church in Bergenfield knows exactly how many layers go into a baklava —39.

More than a dozen of these citizen bakers met at the church recently to make 11 pans of the filo dough pastry.

Each pan is sliced into 80 pieces. So that’s 880 slices.

They’ll all be served to the 2,000 people who show up for the festival, which runs 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, at the church.

A formidable task? Yes. But not a problem for this group of parishioners, who hail from Dumont, Paramus, Lodi, Old Tappan, Tenafly, and Fort Lee.

“We put on four pounds of filo per tray,” said Lois Dedes of Paramus, co-head baker.

“First, we put a base of filo and then we start alternating filo with nuts for the middle section,” she added. “Then we put a layer of filo on top.”

The other co-head baker is Sabah Aboueid, also of Paramus, whose sister, Almaza Fahat of Lodi, also is part of the team.

The baklava, a Greek treat, features walnuts seasoned with cinnamon and sugar.

The bakers, however, also made baklawa, the Arabic version, with layers of pistachios seasoned with a Syrian orange blossom flavoring.

Between each layer of filo on both versions, the team brushes melted butter. Lots of it, too, so the dough gets crisp when it bakes.

“How many calories in one piece?” asked Genny Mandalakis of Fort Lee. "We don't discuss it.”

Many of the bakers – who also produced almost 1,000 stuffed date and nut cookies in another session— have been church members for decades.

Dedes, who has run the bakery for years, now has her daughters – Melissa of West Milford and Nicole of Cedar Knolls – working with her. Her grandchildren help, too.

The baked goods, as well as the entrees and side dishes, represent all the ethnicities of the parish, including Middle Eastern, Slavic, and Eastern European.

St. Anthony’s is a Pan Orthodox church that embraces many cultures.

Also on the festival menu are: 2,000 pierogies; 1,500 meat and spinach pies; 2,000 rolled grape leaves; and 600 stuffed cabbages.

All authentic, all homemade.

But this ethnic extravaganza isn’t only about the food.

“Visitors can enjoy the entertainment we feature each evening,” said Mike Hakim, who co-chairs the festival with Jim Vagias.

“They also have tremendous shopping opportunities at lots of booths,” he added.

Wares include designer sweaters, jewelry, accessories, scarves, evening bags, holiday centerpieces, decorations, ornaments, comforters, towels, tablecloths, pillows, and holiday gift items for children and adults.

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