After using two cups of walnuts in my hedgehog cookies, I still had a lot left. I could’ve made more cookies, I suppose, but I was out of chocolate sprinkles and plain cookies didn’t seem nearly as interesting. I was trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my walnuts when I saw the half-package of phyllo in my freezer (left over from a strudel adventure) and knew immediately that I had to make baklava.
Baklava is apparently a dessert that you either love (because of the delicious honey-soaked crispy layers and toothsome nuts and general awesomeness) or hate (because you’re a heathen). Can you tell which side I’m on?
Sadly, my friends and coworkers do not appear to share my love of the dessert, and the last time I brought in a panful to work it just sat there, rejected, for most of the day. So I suppose it’s just as well that I only have enough nuts and phyllo to make a small 9×9″ pan worth, rather than my usual 9×13″.
Despite the complicated-looking layers, this dessert is actually extremely easy to make– you just boil up a syrup, chop some nuts, and then start assembling. All the layers actually make the recipe basically foolproof, because even if you mess up one layer, the rest will make up for it and you’ll end up with a gooey, crunchy, delicious pan of sugary heaven.
Baklava (adapted from Natasha’s Kitchen)
Half of a 16-oz. pkg phyllo dough; thawed according to package instructions (overnight on the counter)
1 stick (4 oz) melted unsalted butter
2 cups finely chopped walnuts (I use the food processor to grind them up small)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup honey
1. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9×9″ square baking pan and preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.
2. In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, honey, lemon juice, and water. Bring to a boil over med/high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved, then reduce heat to medium-low and boil an additional 4 minutes without stirring. Remove from heat and let syrup cool while preparing baklava.
3. Mix the walnuts and cinnamon together in a bowl.
4. Cut your phyllo in half so each half is roughly square. The pieces should be just about the size of your baking pan. Set up your thawed phyllo on the counter, covered first in plastic wrap and then with a damp towel (just spritz the towel with a spray bottle periodically). This will keep it from drying out as you assemble the baklava.
Here’s what my setup looked like:
5. Lay your first sheet of phyllo into your buttered pan, folding the edges in if necessary to fit the pan. Brush with butter, using a pastry brush. Repeat until you have 10 layers.
6. Sprinkle 1/5 of your nuts over the phyllo (about 1/3 cup).
7. Layer 5 more pieces of phyllo into the pan, brushing each layer with butter. Add another portion of nuts.
8. Repeat this process until your nuts are gone. Add 10 layers of phyllo to the top, and brush a final layer of butter over the top.
9. Using a sharp knife, cut the baklava into vertical strips, then cut diagonally to make diamond shapes. It’s okay if you don’t get down to the very bottom layer– you can always do a final cut after baking, when the phyllo has firmed up.
10. Bake at 325 degrees on a center rack for about 40 minutes, until the top is golden brown.
11. Remove from the oven and immediately pour syrup all over the baklava. You’ll hear it crackle! Let cool uncovered at room temperature, and let sit for at least 4 hours before serving.
1. My phyllo came in two rolls of 9 x 13″ sheets, so in order to fill in my 9 x 9″ pan I would rip alternate half-sheets (9 x 6.5″) in half so I could use a half-sheet and a quarter-sheet to make a full layer. Feel free to cut the sheets down however you need to, and remember that it’s perfectly fine to overlap and patch up your sheets to form each layer– it doesn’t have to be perfect and seamless as long as you offset your seams on each layer. It’ll all work out in the end.
2. The toughest layers to butter will be the ones directly over the nuts– don’t worry about doing a heavy layer of butter on this (or any) layer, or you’ll end up ripping the delicate phyllo. Just dab it on and spread it around a little, and keep in mind that the butter will even out among the layers eventually, so you don’t have to cover every square inch.
3. If you start to notice that you’re running short of phyllo before you hit the end, it’s okay to reduce the number of sheets to as few as 3 per layer. Just make sure you’ve got enough phyllo to do the full 10 layers for the bottom and top. You need the bottom for a firm base, and you want the top so you get a nice crunch when biting into it.
4. Do not refrigerate your baklava, or seal it in an airtight container! It’ll make your layers go all soggy. Instead, rest assured that with all the sugar and honey and the lack of really perishable ingredients, this will keep, lightly covered, at room temperature for over a week.