This recipe is from an old friend who would make this Baklava each year for the Greek festival in Portland, Oregon. Making Baklava seems complex but it is really not difficult. Take one step at a time and you will be surprised at the delicious results. This is a wonderful dessert to serve at Christmas, Easter, Ramadan, Rosh Hashanah, and Purim
Baklava is a rich, honey sweetened, Mediterranean pastry, made with layers of thin phyllo pastry sheets, butter, and a sugary spiced nut mixture. Baklava may be made with pistachios or pine nuts, but popular versions use walnuts or almonds, or a combination of nuts. Baklava is cut before baking, typically into diamond, triangle or square shapes. After the baklava is baked, sweetened syrup flavored with lemon, cinnamon, and honey is poured over the hot pastry and allowed to soak in.
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups water
¼ inch slice of lemon
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
¼ cup honey (preferably clover honey)
1¼ pounds (5 sticks) unsalted butter, clarified
2 pounds (about 8 cups) walnuts, finely chopped
½ pound (about 1½ cups) blanched almonds, finely chopped
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 pound phyllo pastry sheets (Filo Dough) 12x17 inches, #4 size, room temperature
Tip: See Blanching Almonds. Use a food processor and pulse the nuts until finely ground.
- Make the syrup in advance to allow time to cool. The syrup can also be made a day ahead of time and refrigerated, then bring to room temperature before using.
- In a medium heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, water, lemon slice, and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring frequently until sugar completely dissolves. Reduceheat so mixture is simmering; simmer for 10 minutes without stirring. Remove from heat, stir in the honey. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
- Clarify Butter: Melt and simmer the butter in a saucepan over low heat for a few minutes. Skim off and discard the white layer that forms on top. Let the butter sit and cool for about 5 minutes to allow the milk solids to sink to the bottom of the pan. Carefully spoon out the clear (clarified) butter into a small bowl. If you think you’ve accidently scooped out some of the milk solids from the bottom, strain the clarified butter through a piece of cheesecloth to remove the solids. Discard the milk solids.
- In a large bowl, combine walnuts, almonds, sugar, and cinnamon; stir to thoroughly mix; set aside. Set aside.
- Using a pastry brush, brush the bottom of one 12x17x1 inch Jelly Roll pan with a thin layer of clarified butter. Place one pastry sheet in pan, brush top with clarified butter. Repeat with 5 more pastry sheets so that there are a total of 6 pastry sheets layered in the bottom of the pan. Tip: Brush each phyllo pastry layer with a thin layer of clarified butter. Don’t over-saturate the phyllo, but make sure to butter the phyllo completely.
- Brush top of sixth layer with clarified butter and sprinkle about ½ cup of the nut mixture evenly over the top. Place another pastry sheet on top, brush with clarified butter, and sprinkle with about ½ cup of the nut mixture. Repeat until all of thenut mixture is used, and there are 6 pastry sheets remaining.
- Place one of the last 6 pastry sheets on top of mixture, brush top with clarified butter. Repeat with remaining pastry sheets to form the top 6 layers. Brush top of last pastry sheet with clarified butter.
- Cover pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes to solidify the butter and firm up the layers. This step will make it easier to cut the pastry.
- Remove from refrigerator. Using a very sharp large kitchen knife, gently hold down the pastry with one hand and cut diagonally from one corner to about 3 inches off from the diagonal corner and cutting about ¾ of the way through the pastry, not all the way to the bottom of the pan. Make parallel diagonal cuts about 1½ inch apart. Once all the diagonal cuts are made, make straight cuts lengthwise about 1½ inch apart, creating diamond shaped pieces.
- Bake 90 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown, and the center is not soggy. Remove from oven and spoon cooled syrup evenly over hot pastry. Place baking pan on wire cooling rack to cool and allow the pastry to absorb the syrup.
- Make the clarified butter in advance and let cool to room temperature. If any milk solids are left in the butter the butter may tend to thicken as it cools. If this happens don’t worry, put the pan over low heat to re-liquefy the butter.
- Brush each phyllo pastry layer with a thin layer of butter. Don’t over saturate the phyllo, but make sure and cover the phyllo completely. The butter acts like a glue and binds everything together.
- The phyllo dough needs to be at room temperature; this will help prevent it from being brittle and tearing easily. Remove the phyllo dough from the box, but leave sealed in the wrapping, and leave on the countertop for 2 hours before using.
- If you are using a 12x17x1 inch Jelly Roll pan for this recipe, the phyllo dough may seem to be a bit larger than the pan. You can cut the phyllo dough to size, however this isn’t necessary. Don’t worry if the bottom layers lay up a bit on the sides of the pan. As you add the nut layers the phyllo will fit perfectly.
- If the phyllo dough rips or tears while using, don’t worry, just piece it back together and brush with butter to hold together.
- When placing a piece of phyllo pastry on top of the nut mixture the pastry will seem more delicate and try to slip around. Gently hold down with one hand while brushing with butter with your other hand. Dab butter, instead of brush, the corners and edges of the phyllo with butter to help keep the phyllo in place, and then brush the rest of the phyllo with butter.
- Keep the phyllo pastry close to the pan. I like to have the pan right in front of me, with the long edge parallel to the edge of the countertop. Lay the stack of phyllo pastry sheets right behind the pan. Pick up each phyllo pastry sheet with 2 hands by grabbing the edge nearest to you and just slide the pastry into the pan.
- Phyllo pastry dries out quickly. If you think you will get distracted by ringing telephones or answering the door, or other activities, then keep the unused phyllo covered with a damp kitchen towel to keep from drying out. If you plan to assemble the baklava all at one time, then you will be using the phyllo quickly enough that the sheets won’t dry out and you shouldn’t need to cover the unused pastry sheets with a damp towel.
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