There are many ways to make baklava. Google it. There are thousands of recipes, all of them a bit different. After years of trial and error, tweaks, additions, and deletions, this is the recipe I’ve come to like best. Most baklava recipes call for walnuts, and you will see that mine does not. I hate walnuts. You’re free to adapt your recipe as you see fit. Party on.
Food processor or a hammer (I’ll give you a guess which one I use…)
Spice grinder or coffee grinder
9×13 glass pan
A new, clean paint brush
A new, clean spray bottle
Damp hand towel
Two big glass bowls
Small sharp knife
Small strainer or sifter
1-2 pieces (abt 6-8”) cinnamon stick
20 allspice berries
10 oz dry roasted, unsalted almonds, finely chopped
8 oz dry roasted, unsalted pistachios, finely chopped
1/2 c. ginger snaps (finely ground into crumbs)
1/2 c. graham crackers (finely ground into crumbs)
2/3 c. brown sugar
2 tsp rose water
1/2 c. water
1-2 boxes phyllo dough, thawed per instruction on the box
1 lb unsalted butter, melted and clarified
1 1/2 c. honey
1 c. water
2/3 c. brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2-3” piece of fresh orange peel
Before you begin:
Take the phyllo dough out of the freezer and the butter out of the fridge. Thaw the phyllo per instructions on the box (usually 1-2 hours), and let the butter warm to room temp on the counter while you’re making the filling. Pour yourself a glass of wine and make yourself a sandwich. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
Grind the cinnamon sticks and allspice berries in a spice grinder until a fine powder. Sift them into a glass bowl to keep the chunks out. You don’t want someone gagging on a shard of cinnamon stick. If you don’t have actual cinnamon sticks, you can use ground powdered cinnamon and allspice like the kind you probably already have in jars in your cupboard, but trust me, grinding up whole spices tastes different (and better, IMO.) If you’re going to this much work for a dessert, why not go the full distance and get whole spices?
Add nuts to the bowl. Make sure they are finely chopped. If you purchased whole nuts, lightly pulse them in the food processor until fine. Or place in a Ziploc bag and hammer on them until they’re in little bitty pieces. (This is a great job for a kid. Refill your wine glass and watch them happily smash away.)
Important: Be sure not to pulse the nuts too long or mush them up until the oil comes out. You don’t want a nut paste – you just want finely chopped dry nuts.
Add the ginger snap crumbs and graham cracker crumbs to the bowl. Either grind them in the food processor or smash them in a Ziploc bag. Just make sure they’re small. I use a sifter to keep the big chunks out.
Thoroughly toss the spices, nuts, and crumbs together in a mixture. Set aside.
Ok, the filling is now done. Congrats. You made it this far. Take a break and each your sandwich.
Other prep work:
Combine the rose water and the regular water in a clean spray bottle. Set aside.
Clarify your butter. Put the butter in a pot and slowly melt it on very low heat. Once it’s fully melted, decant off the clear yellow liquid (ghee) into a glass bowl. Skim the surface of the bowl with a spoon to remove any butter fat that found its way into your ghee. Discard the leftover white part from the pot. You want to get most of the butter fat (white stuff) out of the ghee. Set the bowl aside to cool a bit. When it’s time to assemble the baklava, you will want to work with the butter while it’s barely warm, slightly above room temp.
So now the filling’s done and the butter is ready. It’s time to set up your work space.
You’ll need a good amount of table top to do this. I prefer to set up in the living room so I can watch a movie while I assemble it. Since baklava is so much mess and work, I usually triple or quadruple the recipe and make a lot of it all at once. Therefore, I like to be sitting down and comfortable. I put down parchment paper on our big coffee table and also on the floor, and I toss a blanket on the sofa in case I accidentally get crazy with the butter. This is also the time that you’ll need to put your pets in the bathroom or basement. Food and curious pets don’t mix.
If you need to use the restroom or refresh your drink, do it now. Once you start the assembly, there’s really no stopping.
Get your bowl of filling, bowl of butter, paintbrush, 9×13 pan, sharp knife, rose water spritz bottle, damp towel, and one package of phyllo dough.
Open the dough and carefully unroll it. If it’s not fully thawed yet, just be patient and go do something else. You cannot rush it. Frozen dough will crack and break. Don’t microwave it or try to speed-thaw it. You will fail.
Unroll the dough onto the waxed paper that it comes packaged in. When unrolled, it will be about 9×13 size. Get your damp hand towel and lay it over the dough to keep it moist. Dry dough cracks and breaks like frozen dough. Phyllo is some tricky stuff.
Using the paintbrush, brush some butter onto the bottom of the 9×13 pan. Then take about 8-10 layers of phyllo dough and lay them out together as a stack in the pan. Brush the top with butter. This is the only time you will be laying out a stack together without brushing each layer individually with butter. Using a chuck of phyllo instead of individual sheets keeps the bottom of your dessert firm and prevents it from becoming gooey.
Layer on about 1/4 of the nut filling. Lightly spritz the filling with the rose water. Don’t go crazy. No one wants to feel like they’re eating a flower garden. The rose water should be used sparingly.
Now comes the tedious part. Layer on one piece of phyllo, brush with butter, and keep repeating. Yes, each layer needs to be put on individually and brushed with butter. About every 10-12 layers, put on another layer of nut filling, spray with rose water, and keep going. You will end up with 4-5 layers of nut filling, sandwiched in between 10-12 individually-brushed layers of phyllo. Don’t skimp or skip on this. It makes a difference. If you lay down 2-3 layers at a time in order to try and cheat, your baklava will not be awesome. Also, I will be very disappointed in you. There’s something to be said for doing things the right way. Have some pride in your craftsmanship.
After you put down the last nut filling layer, put about 12-14 individually-brushed layers of phyllo on top to finish the dessert.
Note: Periodically, during the assembly process, you’ll notice that the corners of your pan will start to become thick with the extra phyllo that turns up at the ends. The pan has rounded corners, but the dough is rectangle. This is where your sharp knife comes in. Every few layers, carefully trim back the excess phyllo so the layers stay level. Discard the cuttings.
Once fully assembled, use your sharp knife to cut the baklava lengthwise in about 1-1 ½ inch strips. Make sure to carefully cut through ALL the layers. It will look all stripey, like an American flag without the star part. Except this is totally not an American dessert. It’s Middle Eastern/Mediterranean.
Then, cut diagonal lines about 1-1 ½ inches apart. This will form diamond-shaped pieces of baklava. Be sure to cut through all the layers.
Now you’re ready to bake.
Bake at 350 for about an hour until golden and crispy. If you notice that the bottom is starting to burn, pull it out early. Usually an hour is perfect, though.
Cool on a wire rack for 2 hours.
Refill your wine glass. Take a break. You’ve earned it.
While your baklava is cooling, make the syrup.
Add water, honey, sugar, orange peel, and cinnamon stick to a pot. Bring to a low boil, stir, and make sure sugar is fully dissolved. Only boil for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Discard orange peel and cinnamon.
IMPORTANT: Do not boil too long or too hot, or your sugar syrup will hard-crack and be completely useless. It will be like cement when it cools, and all your work will be for nothing because the bad syrup will make your baklava inedible. The raccoons won’t even touch it. Tread carefully.
Let the syrup mixture cool down to just above room temp. After it cools, if you find that it’s still runny, you can re-boil it for 1-2 more minutes. Just take care that you don’t push the temp past the hard candy stage or you’ll have to toss it out and make new syrup.
At this point, take your sharp knife, and re-cut the lines you originally cut in the baklava. This just makes sure that each piece is individually separated. Then slowly pour the syrup over the baklava, letting it seep in to the cracks. Pour a little, pause, and wait until it soaks in before you pour more. Don’t over-sauce your baklava. You will want to have the syrup soak into the layers but still have them be dry enough to remain crispy and flaky.
Garnish with a sprinkle of nuts if desired.
Allow baklava to sit 6-8 hours or overnight to completely set up. Store covered at room temperature. Serve at room temp. Will keep for about a week without refrigeration.
Give yourself a round of applause. You just made one of the tastiest and most time-consuming desserts on the planet. You’re a badass! Instagram it! Tweet me a pic of your creation at @AmenaTM and tell me how it went!
When your kitchen is all cleaned up, go take a shower to wash off the sheen of butter and sugar that you have acquired, and hit the sack. There’s a tasty treat waiting for you in the morning!