Why did it take me so long to make this??
It’s really not all that difficult, but it is time-consuming, and phyllo dough requires a gentle touch.
Shall we proceed?
Now, I used kind of a blend of a couple different Baklava recipes. I’d found one in my trusty Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook, and, in the interest of authenticity, I consulted Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.
The main difference between the recipes was in the syrup. In the Good Housekeeping recipe, the syrup is just warmed honey. In Ms. Roden’s book, the syrup is a simple syrup made of water and sugar, with the addition of lemon juice and rose water. Her baklava recipe is Turkish, and she provides variations as well. “In Greece,” she writes, “they stir a spoonful or two of honey into the syrup.”
So. I didn’t want JUST honey, but I didn’t only want a spoonful or two, either, so I kind of met somewhere in the middle by making a smaller amount of simple syrup and adding half a cup of honey and a couple drops of vanilla to it.
But enough chatter.
The first thing I did was to grind up my walnuts.
I used the food processor, and pulsed it over and over until the majority of the nuts were chopped small but still substantial enough to provide texture and crunch. There were some larger bits remaining, but I didn’t worry about them.
There aren’t a lot of ingredients in Baklava. Phyllo, melted butter, nuts, sugar, cinnamon (optional), water, sugar, honey, vanilla (optional).
I buttered my 13” x 9” pan.
I mixed the nuts with the sugar and cinnamon.
I measured out some honey.
And then I made my syrup.
I combined water and sugar in a pan, heated them until the sugar was completely dissolved, and then stirred in the honey and vanilla.
The syrup can be set aside now, or refrigerated if you’re making it ahead of time. You’ll warm it up again before you pour it onto the baklava.
Next – put your butter in a pan and melt it on low.
Once that’s done, you’re ready to assemble the layers.
Because phyllo dough is so fragile and dries out easily, you don’t want to open the package until you’re ready to work with it.
Now, I often read that you should unroll the phyllo dough and cover it with plastic wrap and then a damp dish towel.
I don’t think I’ve ever done this. The dough is rolled up with a sheet of plastic already, so I just unroll that, take a sheet of dough, and roll the rest back up in the plastic. It seems to work. None of my phyllo sheets dried out while I was assembling the baklava. But if you’re more comfortable with the plastic wrap and damp towel method, by all means, do it that way.
Now, both recipes I used have you start out by lining the bottom and sides of the pan with several layers of phyllo. My phyllo sheets were about 14” x 9”, so I used two sheets to line the bottom, placing the sheets the long way across the pan so they overlapped along the long edge. Then I placed two more sheets perpendicular so the ends of those hung over the shorter sides of the pan.
In case that’s confusing, I drew a little diagram that illustrates the positioning of the first 4 layers of phyllo. For the next 4 layers, you just repeat the pattern again. Here’s the picture:
I hope that’s helpful, or that it at least gives you something to laugh at.
Of course, you have to brush each sheet with melted butter before you add the next. I ended up using 8 sheets for this bottom layer.
Now, you take about a cup of your nut mixture and sprinkle it evenly over the buttered phyllo.
Now, you layer in about 6 more sheets of phyllo on top of the nuts, buttering each before you add the next.
The first sheet might slide around while you butter it, so just hold it in place and brush the butter on gently, and after that the other layers will behave.
You might need to overlap these layers a tiny bit, just to make sure the nuts are completely covered.
And that’s all you do, layer after layer. Lather, rinse, repeat.
When you are finally done and have all 4 layers assembled, use the rest of your phyllo for the final top layer. Next, trim all the overhanging edges of dough.
They’ve probably dried out by this point, and that’s okay. Just trim them off down to about a quarter inch or so above the level of the topmost layer.
Next, take a sharp knife and score the baklava about halfway through so you end up with a diamond pattern.
Of course, if you’re me, the diamonds might look more like squares if you tilt the pan a certain way, but I assure you no matter what the shape, the baklava will taste just wonderful.
Then I put the pan into a 300 degree F oven and baked it for about an hour and a quarter.
Here’s a peek at the halfway point:
As it baked, the kitchen filled with a succession of mouth-watering aromas.
First, just a basic baking smell. It could have been any sort of baked item – sweet or savory.
Then a bit more of a buttery fragrance.
And then, the sweetness of the cinnamon-sugary nuts broke through and proceeded to torture me for the rest of the baking time.
I pulled the pan out after about an hour and twenty minutes.
I gazed at it for a long time. (And took lots of pictures.)
Okay, now, before the Baklava cools, you need to warm up the syrup again and spoon it over the whole thing, kind of following the lines so the syrup can sink in.
Now, for some reason I worried that the syrup wouldn’t make it to the lowest layers. I don’t know why I thought that, because none of the recipes I looked at said to finish slicing through the rest of the layers before spooning the syrup. But sometimes I ignore years of sense and just do what I think I should do. Don’t be like me. Just trust that the syrup will soak in just fine. It will.
But anyway, I got a knife and sliced through the lower layers and then spooned the syrup on.
Then I took more pictures.
After at least an hour – or overnight – you can serve the Baklava.
Or you can amuse yourself by taking more pictures.
And, of course, you can eat one.
Anyway, if you’d like to make Baklava, go right ahead. Don’t put it off. It’s easy, and impressive, and delicious.
Here’s my version:
1 pound of phyllo (I bought a box in the freezer section in the grocery store.)
1 1/2 – 2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
About 3-4 cups walnuts, finely chopped
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
Additional butter to grease the pan.
What to do:
1. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F.
2. Butter a 13” x 9” pan. I used a cake pan, but you can probably use a pyrex baking dish if that’s what you have.
3. Combine the nuts, 1/3 cup sugar, and the cinnamon. Set aside.
4. Make your syrup. Combine water and sugar in a pan, heat until the sugar completely dissolves. Remove from heat, stir in honey and vanilla. Set aside.
5. Assemble the baklava. Using 6-8 sheets of phyllo, line the bottom and sides of your pan, allowing phyllo dough to hang over the edges a bit. Brush each sheet of phyllo before you add the next. Sprinkle about 1/4 of the nuts onto the phyllo.
6. Layer another 6 sheets of phyllo on top of the nuts, but this time you don’t need to overlap the edges of the pan. Add a third of the remaining nuts.
7. Repeat step 6 two more times. Then layer in the remaining sheets of phyllo (you’ll have more than 6, probably) and brush the very top layer with butter.
8. With a sharp knife, cutting about halfway through the layers, score parallel lines across the Baklava and then another batch of lines across those, to make a diamond pattern.
9. Bake for about an hour and fifteen minutes or so (depending on your oven), until the Baklava is golden brown and smells intoxicating.
10. Warm the syrup and spoon over the Baklava, especially along the lines, so the syrup sinks into all the yummy layers.
11. Allow the Baklava to cool for about an hour, then finish cutting through the layers and serve.
12. Remember, it’s nice to share.