When I first got married (many years ago!), I wanted to learn to make Baklava. You’ve probably tasted it at Greek food festivals or weddings. It’s a delicious, sweet cookie/dessert that’s been around for ages.
My Aunt KC gave me her recipe and I wrote it down. Since then, we’ve both made subtle changes to the original but the outcome is just as awesome.
Phyllo dough no longer comes in big sheets (in the Athens box!). I don’t use crushed zwieback any more. But this recipe is priceless to me. I had to finally place it in a plastic sleeve to keep it from falling apart. I don’t have the heart to discard my ancient piece of history so I am going to attempt to re-write my recipe here. If you’re comfortable handling phyllo dough, this recipe is a cinch. If you’re not so experienced with phyllo, give it a try anyway. Just keep moving so the dough doesn’t dry out.
1 lb. of walnuts, chopped between coarse and fine (not too fine!)
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
15-20 sheets of phyllo – I use one tube of Athens phyllo dough, thawed in the fridge for a couple of days. Or you can thaw on the counter for a few hours.
8- 10 oz of butter (no margarine!)
9 x 13 glass (preferably) pan
Silicone basting brush
3 and 1/2 cups water
6 cups sugar
squeeze 1/2 lemon
1/2 orange, cut up in slices
1 cinnamon stick or 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Grind the nuts and place in a large bowl. Add the sugar and cinnamon. Lightly mix. Set aside.
Melt the butter over low heat. Be careful not to burn it or let it brown. Make an assembly line of sorts. Place a 9 x 13 (preferably glass) pan in front of you. Place your saucepan of melted butter and your brush above or next to you. Place the phyllo dough next to the pan. Start by laying 5-6 sheets of phyllo down in the pan, buttering each layer lightly.
Sprinkle 1/3 of the nut mixture over the entire pan and smooth it out. Butter two more sheets of phyllo over the nuts (go slow or the dough will rip), another 1/3 of the nuts, two more sheets of phyllo, then the final layer of nuts.
Layer at least 5-6 more sheets of phyllo on top of the last layer of nuts, again buttering between each layer. I don’t saturate each phyllo layer, just a good light coating of butter. Do butter the top layer of phyllo very well.
Place the finished product in the refrigerator for 10 minutes. While it’s in there, pre heat your oven to 300 degrees.
After ten minutes the phyllo will be hardened. Take a good knife and score the baklava before you bake it. I like to do a diamond pattern (see the picture at the opening of this post). I achieve this by making four long lines, length wise across the pan. Then I start at the top left corner and slowly make diagonal cuts about an inch or less apart. Don’t think the phyllo will cut perfectly. It may give you a hard time but just keep at it, working slowly.
Tip: I don’t make my pieces too big. It’s perfect when you can eat one in two or three bites. You are welcome to make your pieces bigger!
Bake the baklava for about an hour. Keep an eye on it after 50 minutes. It will make your whole house smell wonderful. Pull it out of the oven when it is a medium golden brown. You don’t want it too dark.
Let the baklava cool completely (preferably over night). When you’re ready to syrup it, combine the water, sugar, lemon, orange and cinnamon and bring to a light boil. Boil the syrup for 10-15 minutes until it is slightly tacky.
Take the syrup off the heat and set a timer for 5 minutes to briefly cool it. After cooling, take a measuring scoop or soup ladle and fill it with syrup. Lightly pour the syrup over the baklava, going back and forth over the whole pan.
My original recipe calls for 2 cups of syrup per pan but that may be too much. I really just eye ball it. When the syrup comes about half way up the sides (an advantage to having a glass pan), that’s when I stop.
Let the baklava sit and absorb the syrup. Within a couple of hours, you should be able to cup it (use pretty cupcake liners- one piece per liner). Arrange a few in a pretty box or tin and what a gift. Or, arrange on a holiday platter and dazzle your guests.
A few tips:
I usually place a piece of aluminum foil over the pan after I syrup it. I don’t seal the foil yet. You don’t want an airtight seal until the syrup is absorbed. Later, you can seal the foil and this will keep it fresh.
Save the ends of the rows of baklava. They’re not great for presentation but they make a delicious topping for ice cream sundaes. 🙂 Don’t forget the honey or chocolate syrup drizzled on top!
The syrup recipe will make enough for 3 pans of baklava. If you don’t use it all, it makes a delicious simple syrup to use in your tea for the winter.
Resist the temptation to pour hot syrup over hot baklava. One should be hot and one should be cold. Cold baklava, hot syrup.
If you make my baklava, please let me know how it turns out. Happy Holidays!