Want to know what I’m doing right now? Well, aside from typing (duh), I’m eating the last piece of this baklava. Good doesn’t even begin to describe it. If you’ve never had baklava before, allow me to explain what you’re missing out on: crispy layer upon layer of buttery phyllo filled with sugar, cinnamon, and chopped nuts all topped (drenched?) in a honey-lemon syrup. Simply amazing.
This particular recipe is an adaptation from The Complete Book of Greek Cooking. Everything I’ve tried from this cookbook thus far has been excellent, but what would you expect? How could you go wrong with the Recipe Club of Saint Paul’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral? Church ladies know good food.
While baklava is not difficult to make, it is a little fussy and time consuming. The very best advice I can give you would be to, first, make sure you have all of your ingredients, tools, and whatnot ready to go and within reach. Make a little baklava station for yourself. Second, don’t make this when you’ve got other stuff going on or if the wee ones are running mad all around you. If you must, wait until nap time, bed time, or whatever other quiet time you have so that you don’t end up a stressed out, grumpy mess. Third, keep whatever phyllo sheets you aren’t working with hiding under a lightly dampened paper towel or tea towel. If those sheets dry out, they’ll crackle into pieces before your very eyes–and before you’ve had a chance to finish that baklava. And last of all, if you’re going to make one batch, why not make two? One package of phyllo dough will make two 8×8 pans of this glorious goodness and it freezes beautifully. Trust me, once you’ve tasted this dessert, you’ll be glad you’ve got a whole ‘nuther pan stashed for a rainy day.
Makes 24 pieces (One 8×8 pan)
For the baklava layers:
1/2 pound store-bought phyllo sheets (thawed overnight in the fridge)
1 stick butter, melted
2 cups walnuts, chopped fine
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
For the syrup:
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Strip lemon peel
3 tablespoons honey
Before you get going, make sure you’ve got a little Baklava-making station set up for yourself. First, spritz an 8×8 square baking dish with cooking spray. Next, pull out your package of phyllo dough and get a dampened paper towel or tea towel to cover it with come go time. Then, combine the walnuts, 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, and cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside. Finally, have the melted butter and your favorite pastry brush within reach.
Now that you’ve got yourself organized, go ahead and open that package of phyllo sheets. Get them unrolled and then immediately hide them beneath that dampened towel. You’ll notice that the sheets are most likely about 9×13″ in size. If this is the case, use a sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut the sheets into roughly 8×8″ squares and with some smaller rectangles that are about 8×5″ in size. So to be clear, you’re just making one cut. You’ll have one stack of squares that fit your pan perfectly and then another stack of little leftover rectangles. You’ll be using all of these pieces, so be sure to keep them all covered while you’re working.
Let’s build that baklava! Take one sheet of phyllo and place it in your spritzed pan. Brush the phyllo with butter and then top with another sheet of phyllo. Repeat this process of layering and buttering phyllo until you have used 8 sheets. Butter that eighth sheet and then sprinkle with about 1/4 cup of your nut mixture. Top with 2 sheets of phyllo, each individually buttered, and then sprinkle with the nut mixture once again. Continue layering in this way until all of the nut mixture is used up. Once the mixture is gone, layer with the remaining phyllo until all the sheets are used. As always, continue to brush each sheet with butter before adding another. At some point now, you’ll run out of your perfect little squares and then switch to using the rectangles. The rectangles will probably overlap a bit and that’s fine. If you want, you can trim them to fit, but it seriously doesn’t matter. Once you’ve finished, take a sharp knife and carefully cut the baklava into diamond-shaped pieces.
At this point, you can either freeze your baklava for later baking or bake it up now.
If you’re going to bake it now, preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Place a pan of water on the lowest rack and the baklava on the middle rack. Bake the uncovered baklava for about an hour, or until golden brown and beautifully crisp on top. (If you’re ready to bake a baklava you’ve stashed in the freezer, bake it unthawed in a 300 degree oven for about 1 1/2 hours.)
While it’s baking, get on with making the syrup.
In a small sauce pan, combine all of the syrup ingredients except for the honey. Simmer for 10-15 minutes and then add the honey. Simmer for another 5 minutes and then remove from the heat. Toss the lemon peel and allow your syrup to cool a bit.
When the baklava is done baking, pull it out and then immediately pour the syrup over the hot phyllo. (At this point, your kitchen will smell insanely good…I’d try to put it into words, but you’ll find out for yourself!) Allow the baklava to cool a bit and serve either warm or at room temperature.
Nutrition information per serving (1 piece, 1/24 of recipe): 150 calories, 11 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat, 13 g carbohydrate, <1 g fiber, 2 g protein