Baklava (pronounced BA’•kla•va) is a Middle Eastern dessert made of phyllo pastry filled with chopped almonds, pistachios or walnuts and soaked in a sweet syrup—often made with honey. This traditional Greek version uses only walnuts and a sugar syrup (rather than honey) which enhances the lovely spice tones.
Yields 40 servings
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 stick cinnamon
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1-inch strip of fresh lemon peel
8 cups walnuts, chopped coarsely
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 1/2 pounds unsalted butter
1 pound frozen phyllo (also spelled “filo”) dough
Glass pan, 9×13 inch
Phyllo dough. Frozen phyllo must be thawed in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for one hour before using. It is notoriously difficult to handle because it is so thin and dries out easily. To prevent this while you’re working, keep the phyllo under a slightly dampened cloth. Set out ingredients, including defrosted phyllo.
Make the syrup several hours before assembling the rest of the ingredients. The syrup should be room temperature as the baklava is baking—for best results pour cool syrup over the hot baklava. To prepare the syrup, bring the sugar, water, cinnamon stick, lemon juice and peel just to boiling, then turn back the heat. Simmer, without stirring,* for about 20 minutes or until a thermometer reaches 230°F. Remove pan from heat to cool.
* Stirring causes cloudiness in the syrup; the acidic lemon juice prevents crystallization of the sugar as the syrup heats.
- Heat oven to 350°F. Chop the walnuts, then combine thoroughly with the confectioners’ sugar, cinnamon and ground clove.
- Melt the butter over low heat. Keep it warm throughout assembly. Use a pastry brush to butter the bottom and sides of a 9×13 inch glass pan.
- Lay a single sheet of phyllo on the bottom of the pan and brush with melted butter. Repeat 6 or 7 times until pan is lined with butter-covered phyllo.
- Sprinkle a heaping 1/3 cups of the nut mixture evenly over the phyllo.
- Continue layering: 2 phyllo sheets (butter after each) then a scant 1/2 cup nut mixture, phyllo then nuts, etc. After the final layer of nuts, finish off with the final 6 or 7 sheets of phyllo.
- Fold in the phyllo sheets hanging over the edge of the pan and butter them into place, as layers are placed.
- Cut the baklava into triangles before baking. First cut squares or rectangles, cutting only to within 1/8-inch of the edge of the pan rather than to the edge. Then cut across each diagonally. Insert a clove into each triangle to help hold it together (remove clove before eating).
- Bake at 350ºF for about 40 minutes until slightly browned (a convection oven helps obtain even color). To avoid burning the dough, check the baklava often toward the end of the baking time.
- Remove from oven. Pour room-temperature syrup over the pastry immediately, pouring slowly enough to allow the syrup to soak. Cover the entire surface.
Let stand for several hours or overnight before serving. Cover in pan with foil (plastic wrap will soften the crust). Baklava freezes well if wrapped tightly in aluminum foil. It can also be prepared and frozen unbaked. When ready to use, bake (unthawed) in a 300°F oven 3 to 3 1/2 hours or until golden.