Baklava is a beautiful pastry with light, flaky layers of crust and a sweet filling, drenched in a light syrup. I’m not going to get into the history of Baklava but, suffice it to say, this delicious pastry is made in every corner of every region in Greece.
Layers and Layers
On the Greek island of Crete, an ancient recipe called Gastrin is quite similar to the Baklava of modern times. Gastrin was made with nuts, seeds, and pepper layered between thin sheets of dough.
Today, Baklava is made with paper thin sheets of phyllo. The dough can be layered on the bottom and top only, or – with a few sheets on the bottom and top – phyllo is alternated with the filling to form multiple layers.
A Special Dish
As a sweet, rich dish that requires time and expense it is considered a “presentation” dish and generally reserved for special occasions. It is not served as a dessert, but rather as a special treat.
In some areas, Baklava is the most important sweet served at weddings and is actually taken to the church before the ceremony; in others, it is always served at Christmas; and, in some regions, when it is made at Easter, 40 sheets of phyllo dough are used , representing the 40 days of The Great Lent.
Prep is Key
Baklava is not the most difficult dish to make (but don’t tell anyone when you serve it). It’s simply layers – phyllo and filling. The key to success is to have everything ready before starting – all refrigerated ingredients at room temperature, all nuts chopped and measured, all phyllo rolled out (homemade) or defrosted (don’t open until ready to use), all brushes ready, and the oven preheated.
- 1 lb. walnuts (coarsely ground)
- 1/2 lb. almonds (coarsely ground)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tbsp. cinnamon (ground)
- 2 cups water
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 10 cloves (whole)
- 1/2 lemon (juice of)
- 1 lb. phyllo pastry sheets
- 1/2 lb. butter (unsalted, melted)
- Mix the walnuts, almonds, sugar, and cinnamon in a bowl. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Unwrap the Phyllo
- Carefully remove the Phyllo roll from the plastic sleeve. Most packages come in 12 x 18-inch sheets when opened fully. Using a scissor or sharp knife, cut the sheets in half to make two stacks of 9 x 12-inch sheets. To prevent drying, cover one stack with wax paper and a damp paper towel while working with the other.
Assemble the Baklava
- Using a pastry brush, brush the bottom and sides of a 9 x 12 rectangular pan. Begin by layering six sheets of phyllo making sure to brush each with melted butter.
- Add half of the nut mixture in an even layer. Pat it down with a spatula to flatten.
- Continue layering another 6 sheets of phyllo. Add the remaining nut mixture in an even layer. Top with the remaining phyllo sheets.
- Before baking, score the top layer of phyllo (making sure not to go past the top filling layer) to enable easier cutting of pieces later. I place the pan in the freezer to harden the top layers and then use a serrated knife.
- Bake in a preheated 325-degree oven for about 45 minutes or until the phyllo turns a rich golden color.
Prepare the Syrup While the Baklava is Baking
- In a medium saucepan, combine the water and the sugar and mix well.
- Add the cloves and simmer over medium-high heat for about 20 minutes. You want the syrup to be slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and discard the cloves. Stir in the juice of half a lemon. Allow the syrup to cool slightly.
- When the baklava is out of the oven and still warm, ladle the syrup carefully into the pan. Baklava can be refrigerated or stored at room temperature.