Baklava is a classic Greek syrupy dessert made with layers of crispy phyllo and lots of nuts!
Before our Mia Kouppa launch about 7 months ago, we established a few goals and rules to keep us focused, and on track. Our goals included increasing our reach (that’s blog speak for people seeing our stuff) every week, learning all about Tweeting and Pinning, and being invited to appear on Ellen. Some goals are clearly more attainable than others. As for the rules, we decided that we would post twice a week (Mondays and Thursdays), not talk about our blog incessantly to friends, family and strangers, and never use the descriptors “THE BEST ever”, “THE MOST delicious”, “THE WORLD’S greatest”, in reference to any recipes we shared. How could we make such bold assertions? We are not that worldly…but baklava is!
Baklava is one of the most popular and delicious Greek desserts, and it is also an international favourite; there are variations of this sweet treat in many middle Eastern and European countries. Lucky for us (and you), baklava may be the easiest dessert you will ever make. Truly, there is actually no way you can mess this up. Even if you tried, we don’t think you could ruin it. It is impervious to destruction. It is less baking and more assembling. If you were really committed, we suppose you could burn it, but then you might burn down your whole kitchen, and we don’t think it is worth it, just to prove us wrong.
Given the many, many variations of baklava out there, and our pre-established rules, we’re not going to tell you that our parents’ baklava recipe is the best you will every find. We will not claim that this will be the best baklava you will ever eat. But we can, with confidence, tell you that this is the absolute best baklava WE have ever eaten; and we have tried many (for research purposes, of course). Our parents make a baklava which is sweet, but not overly syrupy. They use a mixture of walnuts and almonds to give great flavour and texture. They also include an unexpected ingredient which, according to them, is essential. Yet still, we wouldn’t dream of proclaiming that this is the world’s best recipe. There is no rule however, about other people claiming this to be THE BEST BAKLAVA EVER…so go ahead. We won’t mind.
Phyllo dough (sometimes referred to as filo dough) has a bad reputation as being a finicky ingredient which is difficult to work with. Many recipes warn against the fact that it dries out quickly, tears easily and should therefore be handled with extreme caution. We say, hogwash! Sure, phyllo can dry up when exposed to air for a long time…but it has to be a pretty long time, longer than it will take for you to prepare this dessert, even for the first time. To help avoid the horror of dried phyllo however you can always cover, with a clean cloth, the phyllo you are not yet working with. And yes, it tears…but you know what…who cares? You will have to use several layers of phyllo dough in this dessert. If you have a few tears, no one will notice and it won’t affect your end product in the least. Just try to make sure that your top-most layers remain intact, for pretty purposes.
You can find phyllo dough in pretty much any Middle Eastern or Mediterranean grocer, or any well stocked supermarket. It is often available both frozen and fresh. We prefer the fresh variety because we find the frozen phyllo sometimes gets a bit soggy after it has thawed. If the frozen phyllo is all you can find however, go for it! (You may remark that these phyllo paragraphs appear familiar…that’s because they were copied and pasted from our galaktoboureko recipe 🙂 Why reinvent the wheel, right?)
Our parents use primarily walnuts, along with some almonds, in their baklava. We think that this combination is simply perfect. Instead of buying already chopped nuts, we suggest that you do the chopping yourselves. We place walnut halves and whole almonds in a food processor and grind them until they reach a consistency where you have finely ground nuts mixed in with some larger, coarser pieces. This allows you to have the texture of the finely ground nuts, while at the same time giving your baklava some body and bite. We highly recommend you do it this way too. If you don’t have a food processor, you can use a knife to chop up your nuts. We have also used a slap chop, which was once gifted to one of our daughters (when she was six…don’t ask). It requires a little more muscle, but works like a charm.
Unusually (we think), our parents add finely ground, plain breadcrumbs to their nut mixture. When asked why, they explain that the breadcrumbs help to hold in, and evenly distribute, the butter which is also added to the nuts. The breadcrumbs also, they claim, aid in soaking in and suspending the syrup. Huh? Really? If we asked them a year ago, our parents would have explained that they add breadcrumbs….because, they do. (We think that this food blogging thing has gone to their heads). In any case, given that this is truly the best baklava WE have ever had, regardless of the reason, just add the breadcrumbs.
You will notice in the ingredient list below that butter is listed twice. That is not a mistake. It is because you have butter used in two different ways. The first is to mix in with the nuts and breadcrumbs, and the second listing of butter is to brush onto the phyllo dough.
You should be sure that the syrup you will pour onto your hot baklava is cool. Remember: hot baklava + cool syrup. This will keep you phyllo dough from getting soggy. And speaking of soggy phyllo, the best way to prevent this from happening is to keep your baklava at room temperature, and to cover it with a clean tea towel or piece of cheesecloth after it is completely cooled. It can remain this way for several days (if your baklava lasts that long), and your phyllo will be just as great as the day you baked your baklava.
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- Baking pan
- Mini food chopper, optional, but handy to crush the nuts
- Small sauce pot
- 1 ¼ cup (200 grams) crushed almonds
- 3 cups (420 grams) crushed walnuts
- 1/4 cup (35 grams) plain breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 pound phyllo dough
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) unsalted butter, melted (for brushing onto the phyllo dough)
For the syrup:
- 1 ¼ cup (250 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 ¼ cup (310 mL) water
- 3/4 cup (180 mL) honey
- 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 slice lemon
- 1 cinnamon stick
Prepare your syrup:
- Bring to a boil the sugar, water, honey, lemon juice, lemon slice and cinnamon stick. Lower heat and cook just until sugar melts, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees celsius).
- Combine in a large bowl the almonds, walnuts, breadcrumbs, ground cinnamon, salt and melted butter. Stir well to combine. Set aside.
- Butter the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch rectangular glass baking pan. Place 2 sheets of phyllo on the bottom of pan. Your sheets of phyllo will be too large to line the bottom of the pan perfectly. This is good. Leave one end of the phyllo sheets hanging over the long end of your pan. Using a pastry brush or your fingers, brush on some melted butter. When brushing the butter on the phyllo sheet do so lightly. The goal is not to saturate the phyllo with butter. Then, add 2 more phyllo sheets, this time letting the phyllo overlap on the opposite end of your pan. Brush on more melted butter.
- Repeat with 2 more phyllo sheets, overlapping this time on the original side. So, to summarize, your bottom layer of baklava will be 6 sheets of phyllo, with butter being applied between every second sheet, and with phyllo hanging over the two long sides of your pan
- Onto this bottom layer of phyllo, evenly spread 1 ½ cup of the nut mixture. Top this with 4 layers of phyllo, brushing on butter after every second phyllo sheet. Again, remember to allow the excess phyllo to hang over alternate ends of your pan.
- Evenly spread 1 ½ cups of the nut mixture. On top of this add 4 layers of phyllo, as above. Add another 1 ½ cups of the nut mixture, and then top with another 5 layers of phyllo. Spread the remaining nut mixture (it will be less than 1 ½ cups). Top your baklava with 6 to 8 layers of phyllo dough, using some of your overhanging phyllo sheets. Simply bring them over, two at a time, to cover the baklava. You will need to cut off carefully (and discard) some of the excess phyllo dough. Lightly butter the top layer of phyllo.
- Using a sharp knife, carefully score the baklava making 3 cuts lengthwise, and then creating a type of herringbone pattern alongside these cuts. This is not an exact science and in fact, the only thing you really need to know is that the vents you will create by scoring the phyllo will help it to bake properly. They will also be your guides when it comes to cutting out serving pieces.
- After you have scored your phyllo dough, sprinkle it with about a tablespoon of water using your fingertips, this will prevent the pastry from curling. Place in the middle rack of an oven set at 350 degrees Farenheit (177 degrees Celsius). Bake for approximately 30-40 minutes, or until top is golden brown.
- Remove from oven, and while your baklava is still hot, pour on the cooled syrup. Pour the syrup evenly over all parts of the baklava.
- Allow to sit at least a couple of hours before cutting and serving.
- Baklava can be kept at room temperature for several days. Do not cover it tightly with plastic wrap, as this will cause your phyllo to get soggy. Instead, when it has cooled completely, use a clean tea towel or piece of cheesecloth to cover your baklava. This will keep it fresh and crispy.