One of my oldest and dearest friends got married last night :-)
It was a beautiful, simple, and elegant wedding, and it perfectly suited the couple. Instead of a traditional multi-tiered cake to feed all the guests for dessert, they had a small cake and asked a few friends and family to make a dessert to be served alongside it. I was honored and happy to make one of my family’s favorite desserts for this special occasion- baklava!
Baklava is one of those things that most people don’t make from scratch. Usually, people have it when they visit a Greek deli or go to their local Greek festival once a year. It’s a little intimidating, especially for non-Greek folks. But let me assure you, this recipe is easy to make (albeit a tad tedious to assemble) and uses only a few ingredients. It’s a delicious, impressive dessert that’s buttery, sweet, and filled with the warming spices of cinnamon and clove.
Traditionally, baklava is topped with a syrup consisting of sugar, honey, and water. I cheat with a trick my mom taught me- instead of making a syrup, I just use plain ol’ honey to top it off. (to ensure the honey is not too thick and coats the baklava evenly, I set it on top of the stove while the baklava is baking, which heats it up and thins it out really well.)
This recipe is certainly not 100% unprocessed (there is white flour in the phyllo dough and white sugar in the nut mixture), as most of my recipes are. However. Using honey does cut down on the amount of white sugar in favor of a more natural one. Plus, nuts are super good for you! So, not only is it a wicked impressive dish to make- it’s also certainly not the MOST unhealthy thing you could consume for dessert :-)
Working with phyllo dough: Phyllo dough can sometimes be difficult to work with, so just make sure you are in a patient mood when using it. Phyllo consists of very thin layers of dough separated by a dusting of flour. Sometimes the layers are stuck together, which can make them tear. This is fine- just patch up pieces of the phyllo as necessary! No one will ever know. In addition, you will need to work rather quickly, since the dough has a tendency to dry out. One final thing- the phyllo dough will come in a size that needs to be cut down. Put your baking dish on top of the phyllo after rolling out and use a sharp knife to cut the stack of dough to the size of the baking dish by tracing it- and put your geometry skills to work by getting as many pieces as possible out of the dough.
Making ahead: Baklava can be assembled ahead of time and stored in the fridge or freezer until you are ready to bake it, which makes it a really great option for entertaining!
Serving suggestion: You can make baklava sundaes by chopping up a piece of baklava and serving it over vanilla ice cream. YUM.
- Preheat the oven to 325 and butter a 9x13 baking dish.
- Mix together the walnuts, sugar, and cinnamon in a medium sized bowl.
- Unroll the phyllo dough and, using a sharp knife, cut the stack down to the size of the baking dish (You can place the dish on top of the phyllo to trace it. You should be able to get two baking dish size cuts out of the stack, with a few scraps.)
- Place one piece of phyllo on the bottom of the baking dish. Using a pastry brush, brush melted butter on top of it. Layer another piece of phyllo and repeat until you have 6 layers.
- Spread 1 cup of the walnut mixture on top of phyllo layers in baking dish.
- Layer 6 more layers of phyllo on the walnut mixture, and repeat until you have no mixture left, ending with the rest of the phyllo dough (the top layer may have more than 6 layers).
- Spread the rest of the butter evenly on top of the last layer of phyllo.
- Using a sharp knife, cut the top layers of phyllo into small squares, diamonds, or triangles.
- Stick a whole clove in the center of each piece.
- Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until golden brown.
- While the baklava is baking, place the jar of honey on top of the oven. This will thin it out and make it easier to pour.
- When baklava is done, pour entire jar of honey on top of baklava.
- Allow to cool completely, then finish cutting the baklava through to the bottom.
** You can make this without the cloves, but I recommend having them- it makes the baklava look beautiful and gives it a great flavor!