I do not remember when I first ate baklava, but for some time now, when I have extra phyllo dough, usually after making a spinach pie, I will make a batch of this most wonderful decadent treat, that never seems to last. There is an extravagance in baklava, because it requires a good amount of nuts, something that is generally rather expensive, and that in many American dishes, is an ingredient, which is considered optional, not necessary; as well as honey, despite the fact that it is made with sugar.
Baklava varies by taste and region, like most things that I cook, I add more of everything; so while my recipe may not meet your “traditional” notion of how it should be prepared or how it should taste, I find it delicious; but by all means, as always, taste as you go along – especially the syrup, you may want to add more citrus or rose essence or perhaps more cardamom – taste and be bold!
Do not be afraid to work with phyllo dough, follow the directions, on the box. I have never made fresh phyllo dough; I find the frozen to taste as good as any, I have had in the parts of the world, where this dish originates. In general, you want two clean and lightly moist dish towels to cradle your dough, while you are working. You do not want to work in a hot kitchen, so do not turn on the oven until just before you are ready to put your prepared dish in the oven.
1 package of Phyllo Dough – thawed overnight in the refrigerator
At least 1 stick of Butter – you may well need more
3 cups of Water
1 cup of Sugar
½ cup of Honey (I know very extravagant)
2 tablespoons of Lemon Juice
2 tablespoons of Orange Juice
2 teaspoons of rose water (optional, but delightful)
1 tablespoon of Cardamom
1 tablespoon of Cinnamon
1 teaspoon of Cloves
¼ teaspoon of Salt
I really believe in cooking “simple syrups” well. For me, this means that I bring the water and sugar(s) to a quick boil, and turn down to simmer, for a good half hour or more, feeling free to add up to a half cup more of water, if it seems like too much has evaporated. Once it starts to simmer, I will add the rest of the ingredients, and begin tasting. After about a half hour, turn the stove off, scrape down the sides of the pan, and put the syrup to cool and thicken. When you bring the hot baklava out of the oven, you will pour the cooled syrup over the baklava, making sure it seeps in through the cuts, made before baking.
3-4 cups of coarsely chopped Nuts (For this batch I used 3 cups of Walnuts and 1 cup of Almonds). It is best to pour the Nuts onto a cutting board and with a very sharp knife, chop away! (Pistachios are also a great choice.)
¼ – ½ cup of Sugar
1 tablespoon of Cinnamon
1 tablespoon of Cloves
1 tablespoon of Nutmeg
First make the syrup, to give it time to thicken and cool. Then chop your nuts and season them, setting them aside.
The phyllo dough should be thawed, in the refrigerator, overnight. Place a clean, moistened dish towel on the counter, open the dough, remove it from the package, and gently unroll it onto the towel.
In a small dish, melt the butter; with a pastry brush butter the sides and bottom of a baking dish. Place one sheet of dough on the bottom, and brush it well with butter. Do not be upset if it tears or it takes you a while to separate the sheets, if two sheets are put down in one layer, it will be fine – I promise, just keep going!
You can use between five to ten sheets per section, depending on your taste. I think ten sheets per section is best; this means you will add ten sheets of dough, one sheet at a time, buttering both the bottom and the sides, as you lay it sheet down. Then when you have approximately ten layers, add half of the nut mixture, then repeat adding an additional ten layers, add the rest of the nuts, and then ten more layers of dough.
With a very sharp knife, cut the baklava into small pieces (you can see by the picture, I am hesitant with a knife, do not follow my example, cut boldly) and place the pan into a 350 degree oven, for about an hour. You are looking for a crispy golden brown color. As soon as you pull it out of the oven, put the pan on a cooling rack, and pour the syrup over every delicious inch.
This is a dish you want to cool, hopefully overnight, and serve the next morning with a perfect cup of Cuban coffee!