Thursday, November 26, 2015

Baklava: Recipe

I've been making baklava since 1982. 
The first time I made baklava--three decades ago--it was a disaster.

Having recently returned from six months studying in Jerusalem (Jan-June 1982), I decided to tackle this Mediterranean treat.

As a novice, I accidentally added the syrup before baking the butter-layered pastry filled with nuts and spices.


I assembled it at my apartment but baked it at a reunion--held at one of our teacher's home, David K. Ogden aka DKO.

When others asked me about the progress of this dessert, I remember looking in the oven and then shouting back over my shoulder, "It's swimming in so much butter and syrup that it's doing the backstroke!"

I've had three more decades to practice making baklava.  May you benefit from my slow learning curve!

Gathering ingredients. 

1 pound of nuts* (4 cups of halves)
1 teaspoon cinnamon and/or nutmeg

3/4 cup of melted butter
1 pkg (16 oz) phyllo dough aka fillo, thawed

2/3 cup of water
1 cup of granulated sugar

3/4 cup of honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

*I prefer pecans, but others use pistachios, walnuts or even mixed nuts.  If they are already chopped, you only need 3.5 cups.


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and butter a 9x14 inch baking dish.

I hand chop pecans even though a food processor is faster.
Keep the thawed phyllo dough in the fridge and in the packaging until immediately before use.

2. Create nut mixture by chopping 3 and 1/2 cups of pieces or 4 cups halves and mixing in the cinnamon.

Sometimes I use cinnamon, nutmeg and/or cardamom. I chop the nuts by hand because a food processor produces very inconsistent results.

3. Separate nut-spice mixture into 5 or 6 custard dishes so that each dish has the same amount of spices and the same ratio of fine to coarsely chopped nuts.

Add nut-spice mixture between
2 layers of buttered phyllo
I recently started dividing the nut-spice mixture into custard dishes before layering.  Previously, the baklava would have uneven layers with very course layers at the bottom and finer and finer layers as I worked my way to the top. 

4. Melt two sticks of butter (1 cup total). I use a glass measuring cup or a glass custard dish.

Check to make sure you remembered to butter the 9 x 14 baking dish.

5. Place a phyllo sheet in the buttered baking dish and dab the first phyllo sheet with melted butter.  Put 2 or 3 layers of butter-dabbed phyllo on the bottom of the baking dish.

Work QUICKLY because the phyllo will dry out and start to tear.

Then sprinkle one custard dish worth of the nut-spice mixture (about 1/2 a cup for each layer), then top with 2 layers of buttered phyllo.

Cut the baklava BEFORE baking
Alternate until you complete 6 layers of nut-spice mixture.  Top that off with 4 or 5 layers of butter-dabbed phyllo at the top.

I don't cover every inch with butter. I create a pattern like circles on the side of dice.  I like my baklava crispy, so I'm moderate with my use of butter. I usually have 1/4 cup of butter left over. 

6. Cut the phyllo into diamonds BEFORE baking.

Make syrup while baklava cooks
7. Place into the oven and set the timer for 30 minutes.

8. While the baklava is baking, create the syrup.

Combine 2/3 cup of water with 1 cup of granulated sugar and bring to a boil, stirring to make sure that the sugar is dissolved into a syrup.

The texture of the sugar water must be a syrup or your baklava will be soggy.

9. Bring to a simmer and add 3/4 cup of honey, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest.

Keep syrup warm on a low burner.

I like the corner pieces because they are crunchy! 
10. I usually check the baklava after 25 minutes. I remove it from the oven when it's golden brown, which can be anywhere from 25 to 35 minutes. This time, it was 30.

11. Place the baklava on a cooling rack and immediately pour the syrup evenly over the top. It will sizzle (so much fun).

Do NOT cool the pastry before adding the syrup. It needs to incorporate with the phyllo and nuts before cooling.

I  usually look at the sides of the pan to ensure that the syrup fills only 2/3 of the way to the top. This creates a two-texture baklava: a crunch on the top and chewiness on the bottom.

Note that they syrup does thicken as it cools in the pastry.

12. Do not cover while cooling (or the steam will make the pastry soggy). Cool 2 or 3 hours before serving. I try to make baklava a full day ahead before serving. The flavors marry better that way. For an ideal texture, store in a cool, dry place, like the pantry (not the fridge).

Serve out of the pan our place into paper muffin cups.

People tell me this freezes well. I have no idea, because my friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members eat the whole pan at the first opportunity.


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  1. This sounds surprisingly easy. I've never imagined that I might be able to make Baklava but you've inspired me. Great instructions. I'll let you know how I go.

  2. I haven't had baklava in ages. Maybe I'll make it with your easy recipe!

  3. I've only used phyllo dough once... always loved baklava. You can tell you have years and years of experience by the great tips throughout this recipe.

    1. My social circles don't identify my as "a good cook," but I do get some street cred for about 5 dishes I make, and this is one of them. I am sure you have some signature dishes of your own! Enjoy food, folks and fun this holiday season, Stephanie!

  4. My parents were friends with a one-eyed Greek who taught me how to make this when I was a kid. Delish!

    1. That's a great origins story for your recipe: "a one-eyed Greek"! Now I'll be picturing this person every time I make baklava. : )

  5. Thank you for this recipe. I have always wanted to make baklava. Every year my girls and I make a dessert we have never made before. I know what we are making this year! Thank you.

    1. Have a great time baking with your girls. I hope it's a hit. (My teens like it.)

  6. I love baklava but never considered actually making it myself. I just may have to try this!

    1. If you decide to give it a try, I hope that the process if fun and the results tasty. Bon Appetit.