In a fit of idiocy (or a spirit of adventure, I’m not sure which) I volunteered to make a traditional baklava to take to class tonight. I’ve never made one, so that’s why I volunteered.
Baklava isn’t hard, but it’s sort of fiddly and a little time consuming. I spent less than an hour in hands-on time, so it’s not really a time sink. The syrup needs to be cooled when you pour it over the pastry, so I made that first and let it simmer while I assembled the baklava. The syrup simmers for 25 minutes, and its time was up before I was finished getting the pastry together; I just took it off the flame and let it sit there. Getting the pastry together took about 35 minutes, and all the hands-on time including getting out the ingredients through putting the baklava in the oven was about 45 minutes.
The leaves are very thin and fragile, and they dry out quickly. Everyone says you need to unroll the leaves and cover them with a damp towel, then take one leaf at a time and immediately re-cover the leaves. It’s true. The leaves feel a little like fabric, and they tear easily.
I decided even before I got started that I wasn’t going to worry if they tore or didn’t lie smoothly. You can cut the leaves to fit (which I wouldn’t do if you paid me), let the edges hang over the edge of the pan and fold them in later (which I did), or arrange the leaf to more or less fit into the pan (which I’ll do next time and see what happens). The leaf sticks to the butter on the leaf below it, so buttering them isn’t hard, but buttering the one that covers the nut mixture is a little tricky because there’s no butter for the leaf to stick to.
Baklava is one of those things you know when you see it (or taste it), but there’s no one standard recipe. I found a bunch of different ones on the Web and this one is an amalgam of several of them. It turned out pretty well! Alton Brown has one that calls for three kinds of nuts (walnuts, almonds, and pistachios) and rosewater to spritz them. That looks good, and now that I see how cheap phyllo dough is ($2 for a 1-lb package!), I’ll try that one next.
For the syrup
12 oz (1 cup) honey
5¼ oz (2/3 cup) water
2 tsp lemon juice
1 small cinnamon stick
seeds from 4 whole green cardamom pods
For the pastry
2 cups chopped walnuts
4 oz (½ cup) sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 lb phyllo dough, thawed (a 1-lb package contains about 20 leaves)
8 oz (2 sticks) butter, melted
Equipment: 9″ × 13″ baking dish; pastry brush
Makes 36 pieces (if you cut the pastry better than I did)
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. Get the syrup started.
3. While the syrup is cooking, assemble the baklava and put it in the oven.
4. When the syrup is cooked, strain it and set it aside to cool.
5. When the baklava is done, set it on a rack to cool for 10 minutes, then pour the syrup over it.
6. Allow the soaked baklava to cool completely before serving.
To make the syrup
1. Combine the honey, water, lemon juice, cinnamon stick, and cardamom seeds in a small saucepan.
2. Bring to a boil and simmer for 25 minutes.
3. Strain into a bowl or pitcher and set aside.
To make the pastry
1. Combine the nuts, sugar, and cinnamon in a bowl and set aside.
2. Brush the baking pan with melted butter.
3. Lay a sheet of phyllo dough in the baking dish and brush it with butter. Repeat this step for a total of 5 sheets.
4. Spread about 1/3 of the nut mixture over the dough.
5. Repeat step 3 and spread half the remaining nut mixture over the dough.
6. Repeat step 3 and spread the rest of the nut mixture over the dough. Repeat step 3.
7. Cut the pastry lengthwise into 5 strips about 2 inches wide.
8. Cut on the diagonal into 9 strips about 2 inches wide.
9. Bake at 400°F for 30 to 35 minutes or until the dough is golden.
1. Cool the baklava for 10 minutes.
2. Pour the cooled syrup over the baklava.
3. Let the baklava cool before serving.
This was pretty good. It’s very sweet, but baklava is very sweet, so I think I did it right.