Baklava is a middle eastern dessert which layers nuts and spices between layers of light and flaky pastry and combined with a honey and lemon flavored syrup. The recipe is simple and straight forward, but the assembly and use of the fillo dough can be challenging when first encountered.
|1 c||unsalted butter, melted (2 sticks)|
|1 pkg||fillo dough|
|3 c||nuts, chopped (walnuts, pecans, pistachios or almonds)|
|1/3||zest of one lemon|
|2 Tbsp||lemon juice or juice from one lemon|
|1 Tbsp||orange flower water (optional)|
|2/3||zest of one lemon|
Special Equipment Required
Follow package directions to defrost and prepare the fillo dough.
Preheat oven to 325ºF.
Combine the chopped nuts, sugar, cinnamon cloves and 1/3 the zest of a lemon in a small bowl.
Butter the bottom and sides of a 13” x 9” baking pan. Trim the fillo so that is slightly larger than the baking dish. Take as single leaf of fillo dough and carefully lay it across the bottom of the pan so it is centered, and gently smooth it into place. Using a pastry brush coat the entire surface of the fillo sheet with butter. Add a second leaf over the first and coat with butter as with the first layer. Build until there are at least 6 layers of fillo dough. Sprinkle ¼ to 1/3 of the nut mixture over the top layer of fillo dough, then lay out 4 more leaves of fillo, buttering between each. Repeat this until all the nut mixture has been used. Add a final 6 leaves over the final last of the nuts, continuing to butter each sheet, including the topmost layer.
Once baked, the layers fillo dough will be very light and flaky, and cannot be cut without entirely breaking into little pieces. Therefore, the baklava must be sliced before it is baked. Often it is cut into triangular or diamond shapes, but any pattern that makes convenient serving sizes will work. With a very sharp knife, using clean, long strokes slice through all the layers, but if you do not cut entirely through the bottommost layer it will not cause a problem. The top layer of dough may try to shift while you cut. Gently use your fingers to hold the dough in place as you slice.
Bake the baklava for 45 minutes to an hour, until the baklava is a golden brown.
About 15 minutes before baking is complete, combine the sugar, honey, lemon juice, lemon peel and orange flower water in a saucepan, heat to dissolve the sugar and then bring to a gentle boil for at least 5 minutes to create the syrup. Pour the syrup directly over the baklava once baking is complete. Pour the syrup gradually, making certain to coat an cover all portions of the baklava. The syrup with bubble up, when poured over the hot pan. If poured too rapidly, this bubbling of the syrup will lift the top layer of fillo from the baklava and allow to float away from it’s place. To prevent this, pour slowly but steadily, traveling across the surface to coat all areas evenly.
Allow the baklava to cool for at least a half hour, and re-cut the pieces, making certain to cut through all layers this time. The baklava may be removed when cool enough to handle and served upon reaching room temperature.
Tips & Tricks
Phillo or fillo dough is a wheat dough that is rolled into very, very thin leaves. Butter is used between each leaf of dough, creating crisp flaky layers upon baking. Philo dough can be temperamental at the best of times. If the dough is improperly stored and goes through multiple freeze thaw cycles ice crystals can form which, when they melt will cause the leaves of dough to stick together, making portions or multiple layers of the dough unusable. This dough also dries quickly, so must be worked with quickly. Package directions often suggest keeping the dough covered with plastic wrap, with a lightly dampened towel over the plastic wrap.
The use of the honey in this recipe will thicken the syrup considerably when it cools. If you find it difficult remove the pieces of baklava from the pan once it cools, warm it in a low oven (250ºF.) for ten minutes, which will soften the syrup enough to make the pieces easily removed.
The type or combination of nuts used can greatly effect the flavor and to some extent the texture of baklava. Try using different nuts and altering the quantities and types of spices once your are comfortable with the recipe. Fillings other than nuts can also be used. I’ve at least once seen a raspberry baklava, so don’t avoid experimentation. Any filling used should be dry, as excess moisture will turn the fillo dough into a soggy mess. That said, the use of butter does lock out, or at least slow down the absorption of moisture, so just use care in selecting potential fillings.