The Goal: Rich, sweet, nutty baklava with crisp layers of flaky phyllo dough.
The Source: Inspired by Baklava
Greetings, people who know what is best in life. Today we’re talking about one of my favorite desserts that exists. When I was growing up, I often frequented St. John’s Monastery near Goldendale in Eastern Washington state. Their bakery has some of the best Greek treats around. I never thought I might be able to actually recreate some of that sweet sticky deliciousness I experienced there.
However, once I tried to make baklava the first time a few months ago, I was astonished to discover that while it’s time consuming, it’s certainly not difficult. To clarify – Making thinner-than-paper phyllo dough is something beyond my skills and experience at this point in time, so I’m sure if you threw in that curve-ball, the process would become much more complicated.
However, as it stands, it’s easy and soothing. The perfect way to spend an evening – watching Netflix and buttering pastry. I deviated from this recipe, but it’s a recipe that encourages deviation! I firmly believe you can choose whatever combination of nuts you like best, and vary the layers, and come up with just as delicious results.
One thing that should not be compromised however, is the honey lemon syrup. Just take the sugar, honey, water, lemon juice, and cinnamon, and toss it all together. Stir and bring to a boil until the sugar is dissolved, then bubble gently for another seven minutes, or until it’s slightly thickened. It does thicken a little more as it cools, but you don’t want to cook it too long as you want it fairly runny. Side note – I added a little extra lemon juice for a pop of tart flavor. I recommend it!
The next step will be chopping the nuts. If you have a food processor – or a kitchen robot – this will be easier, but I do it the old fashioned way as I like to keep them a little more chunky. I’ve made it with pistachios and pecans before, but this time I went with walnuts and pecans, which worked just as well. The recipe says one pound, which comes to about four cups – it’s not important to be precise, as long as you end up with a whole lot of nuts.
Then add the cinnamon, clove, and sugar to the nuts and toss them together. Because the sugar has a tendency to sift to the bottom, make sure when you’re sprinkling the nuts on the layers, to get a good handful with sugar included.
At this point, all that’s left is assembling. Take your thawed phyllo dough, your nuts, your melted butter as well as a pastry brush, and your dish. I used a large glass casserole dish which works perfectly well and is just the right size, but you can trim the phyllo pieces to fit whatever kind of pan you want to use.
First butter your pan, then lay down the first piece of dough. Brush melted butter on top, then another piece of dough. You want to build up good layers of the dough at the bottom before adding any nuts, so repeat this ten times. The recipe I used only suggested eight, but I think this makes the baklava a bit too delicate and not tall enough.
After all your buttered pastry is layered, start sprinkling the nuts. Alternate a layer of nuts with two layers of buttered pastry, until you run out of nuts. Like I said, easy! Once you’ve reached the end, layer another ten layers of just phyllo dough, buttering the top as well.
At this point, you’re almost ready for the oven. You have to make sure to cut your baklava into whatever size and shape you like BEFORE putting it in the oven.
Bake for thirty minutes, making sure the pastry is crisp and perfectly golden brown before removing.
Fresh from the oven while everything is still piping hot, pour the cooled honey lemon syrup over the entire pan. Make sure it covers the whole thing, and seeps down between the cuts you made before. You’ll probably hear a wild sizzling when you first start to pour – that’s good! It means everything is at the right temperature.
At this point, all that’s left to do is wait, which is sometimes the hardest part. I find it’s best to leave at least a few hours, but overnight allows time for the flavors to really mingle together and create the perfect baklava experience.
Suggestion – if you want to make it a little more impressive to the eye, it can be nice to press a whole clove into the top of each piece before baking. This can help hold the piece of baklava together, as well as giving a cute flourish to the presentation, and a little extra clove flavor. I didn’t have any whole cloves, so you’ll have to one-up me on that!
So there you have it, folks. A layered, gooey, crispy, crunchy treat that ticks off all the boxes for me to be the perfect dessert. I hope you give this a try and see how easy it could be.