Irini Tzortzoglou is a Cretan chef, food author, olive oil & honey sommelier and culinary professor who splits her time between Greece and the UK. After flying through the competition in 2019 on the cusp of the pandemic, Tzortzoglou didn’t let it derail her success, going on to publish her Mediterranean cookbook Under the Olive Tree, opened her cook away culinary school in Crete, and has hosted and judged a plethora of prestigious culinary competitions across the UK and Europe.

Always committed to bringing quality and authenticity to her predominantly Greek dishes, Irini is highly skilled in introducing Greek flavours to other cuisines as well as spinning traditional taverna style dishes into Michelin-style show-stoppers. With huge emphasis on quality ingredients and an uncompromising approach to perfect presentation, Tzortzoglou infuses each dish with the importance of unity and togetherness that made her fall in love with cooking as a child.


The ever-artistic and goldmine of flavour that sealed Irini’s win back in 2019 was dubbed by judge John Torode to be “as good as it gets”. Today Irini’s more home-cook friendly take on her winning dessert which was originally served with fig leaf ice cream will be paired with a less ambitious but no less delicious mascarpone cream. If you have access to fig leaves you can dry these in a dehydrator or in a low oven, break up and store to use to infuse cream and milk to make your own ice cream. Or, make some syrup as she has done here to drizzle over some bought shop vanilla ice cream to achieve a similar flavour palate. If you happen to have some candied figs (the generic name of candied fruit is ‘spoon sweets’ and are sold in jars over the internet or in Greek shops), chop and scatter around the plate when serving.





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Cook Time



20cm Traybake Tin, Baking Paper, Silicone Spatula, Saucepan, Scissors, Chef Knife, Peeling/Paring Knife, Roasting Tin/Baking Tray, Food Processor/Chopper, Pastry Brush, 2 Cutlery Dessert Spoons, Hand Mixer, Sieve


For the Baklava

250g soft dried figs, roughly chopped
250ml dry red wine
1 cinnamon stick
a strip of orange peel
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 packet of filo pastry leaves
200g blanched and roasted hazelnuts
150g of unsalted butter, melted

For the Baklava Syrup

350ml water
300g caster sugar
1 strip of lemon peel
1 cinnamon stick 

For the Roasted Figs

4 fresh figs
2 tbsp orange blossom honey or other raw honey
½ orange, zest only
2 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice

For the Fig Leaf Syrup

150g caster sugar
50g glycose
100g water
10g dried fig leaves food grade green colour

For the Mascarpone Cream

200ml double cream
200g mascarpone


For the Baklava Syrup

1. Firstly, put all of the syrup ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a soft boil until the sugar has melted.

2. Boil for 1 more minute and take off the heat. Be careful not to burn as this will leave the syrup with a bitter flavour. Leave to cool.

For the Fig Leaf Syrup

The fig leaf syrup can be prebought, for those looking to try their hand at it the recipe is below:

1. Put the sugar and water into a small saucepan and bring to a soft boil until the sugar has melted.

2. Add the dry fig leaves, boil for an additional 2 minutes, turn off the heat and leave the leaves in to steep for 15 minutes.

3. Strain the syrup over a sieve and add a drop or two of food grade green colour to achieve the “leafy” effect (optional).

4. Transfer to a small bowl or a squeezy bottle and keep till needed.

For the Baklava

1. To a saucepan add the chopped figs, red wine, cinnamon stick and orange peel and bring to a soft boil. Continue to cook down until all the liquid has been absorbed (approx. 10 minutes). Leave to cool before discarding the orange peel and cinnamon stick.  Add the chopped rosemary and stir.

2. Line a baking tray with a piece of kitchen parchment or silicone mat. Roast the blanched hazelnuts in a preheated oven at 180 C Fan for 6 minutes. Leave to cool and chop roughly using a small blender or food processor until coarse but not completely ground – you are making a crumb here and not a flour or butter.

3. Preheat the oven to 160 C, and brush a 20x20cm traybake tin with melted butter. Lay one sheet of filo into the tin. Use a brush to drizzle some butter over the filo and scatter a few hazelnuts. Top with another leaf of filo, drizzle with butter and scatter some hazelnuts. Repeat with the 3rd filo leaf. Spoon the cooled dried figs onto the 3rd filo and top with the fourth. Repeat with the butter and the hazelnut until all the filo sheets in the packet have been used. Fold in any overhanging pieces of filo and drizzle with butter every time.  Finish by sprinkling with some cold water in order for the filo not to lift as it bakes.

4. Use a sharp knife to the baklava into intersecting triangular formations (see video) and bake in the bottom shelf of the oven for 60 minutes. Check that the filo has cooked all the way through with a knife and bake for another 10 minutes if necessary. You may need to cover the baklava with some silver foil at this stage so as not to burn the top. 

5. As soon as the baklava comes out of the oven, whilst piping hot spoon the cold baklava syrup over it and leave to absorb. It is crucial that the baklava is piping hot at this stage to ensure optimal absorption and subsequent stickiness.

6. For garnishing, preheat the oven to 180 C. fan. Cut each fresh fig in two. Drizzle each half with a tbsp of orange juice and blossom honey. Bake the figs for 10 minutes. Baste the figs with any residual liquid that is sitting atop the baklava in the tin and sprinkle with the orange zest.  Bake for a further 5 minutes and leave to cool.

For the Mascarpone Cream

1. If you are serving with mascarpone cream, mix equal amount of double cream and mascarpone cream and use a hand mixer to whisk until thickened and forming peaks.

2. Serve a single triangular piece of baklava with a half-fig add a quenelle of the mascarpone cream which you drizzle with some fig leaf syrup and pieces of candied fig if you have them available.*

*For a guide to achieving the perfect quenelle, see our gourmet plating article from the ‘Plate Like a MasterChef Champion’.