I seriously don’t know how I have managed to have this blog for over three years and never blog baklava. Surely I have made baklava in that time but it’s always been something I take to work or over to a party, etc. so I guess I never remember to photograph it and write a post about it. This time, too, I made the baklava for my coworker’s birthday. Making a whole tray of baklava for Tom and myself is not really a good idea – in many ways. This way, we still get to steal a couple pieces without going overboard. Plus, I know my coworker’s a big fan, and I figured this would be a different departure from your standard birthday cake or cupcakes. (Last year I actually brought her a Greek walnut cake, karidopita, which I have also apparently never managed to blog…).
Baklava varies by country. Greek baklava tends to just be walnuts, while some other varieties (Turkish, Lebanese, etc.) use pistachios, almonds, etc. Any combination of nuts will be delicious, but I tend to just stick to the basics and go with all walnuts.
Baklava is easy enough to make. I’ve never been a huge fan of working with phyllo, but so long as you work relatively quickly and are relatively patient, it’s fine. In fact, this is one of the easier things to make with phyllo because everything just gets layered so if you tear a sheet here or there, no biggie (and you should have a few extra sheets of phyllo leftover anyway, to replace any casualties). I also keep a damp towel on the phyllo I am not working with, to keep it from cracking/breaking.
Although the layering takes a little time, everything still comes together quite easily as there aren’t many other ingredients or steps. The finishing touch to the baklava is the syrup that gets poured over it, which soaks into all the layers and makes an indulgent, syrupy, delicious triangle of walnutty heaven. I make the honey syrup for pretty much every Greek dessert the same way, which is equal parts sugar, water, and honey. Many people use less honey, but I love honey, so I use a little more. I also don’t add sugar to my filling. Some do and some don’t, but the syrup is sweet enough for me (especially with extra honey) and permeates the baklava, so I don’t think sugar in the filling is necessary. By all means, add a couple tablespoons of sugar to the walnut mixture if you want it to be sweeter, though.
In my opinion, this is best made the day before it’s eaten. The syrup gets a chance to soak in more, and besides, who doesn’t like having a chance to make something in advance instead of having to worry about it the day of?
1 lb. walnuts (add a couple handfuls more if you want it nuttier)
1.5 heaping tsp. cinnamon
1/4 – 1/2 tsp. ground cloves (I tend to go toward the higher end, but it’s about what you want)
1 (16 oz.) package phyllo dough, thawed
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup honey
1 cinnamon stick (optional)
strip of lemon or orange peel, or a couple tsp. fresh lemon juice
Toast the walnuts, either in a dry skillet or a 300 degree oven, until fragrant. Place in a food processor along with the cinnamon and cloves, and buzz until walnuts are pretty finely crushed (obviously you don’t want a powder, but no huge chunks, either).
Preheat the oven to 350.
Grease a 9×13 pan, and place one layer of phyllo at the bottom. Brush the phyllo with the melted butter, and then add another layer of phyllo, and brush with more butter. Continue this process until you have layered about 7 sheets of phyllo.
Spoon 1/4 of the nut mixture evenly over the top. Repeat the process of the phyllo/butter layering again, but this time only use about 5 sheets of phyllo. Continue the layering of the 5 sheets of phyllo and 1/4 of the mixture of walnuts. Finish off with 7 layers of buttered phyllo (and don’t forget to brush butter on the top layer, too).
Using a sharp knife, cut your baklava into diamonds or triangles (at this point, you can also trim any ragged ends or phyllo that sticks out). I used to do diamonds but mine were always a little funky shaped so now I just do triangles. Place in the oven, and bake for about 50 minutes, until golden brown.
To make your syrup, combine all the ingredients and bring to a low boil. Turn the heat to simmer and simmer about 10-15 minutes. Allow the syrup to cool before pouring over the hot-from-the-oven-baklava. Alternatively, you can pour hot syrup over a cooled baklava. It’s your choice, just remember one has to be hot and the other shouldn’t be.
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