I'm officially back! After hundreds of hours of studying and thousands of practice questions over the course of the past 5 weeks I finally took my boards this past Wednesday. It is such a relief to be finished. This test has been in the back of my mind since last September and it is so wonderful to finally be free of that constant worry.
So let's celebrate! How about some baklava? I've always liked baklawa, but I really learned to love it when I lived in Dearborn, MI for two years. In case you didn't know, Dearborn has a huge Middle Eastern population which, happily for me, meant some absolutely wonderful Middle Eastern bakeries. I was spoiled with some of the best baklawa you'll ever find. But trust me, this homemade version is pretty close to being just as good. It's flakey, buttery and sweet. If you've ever wanted to try making baklawa I highly recommend it. It's totally worth it!
I always thought that baklawa would be complicated to make, and although the recipe looks fairly long with a couple of different steps, it was surprisingly not as difficult as I thought it would be. The original recipe called for clarified butter, but I really didn't feel like dealing with that so I just used plain melted butter and it seemed to turn out just fine. I happened to have some mini cupcake liners and they turned out to be the perfect thing for the individual pieces of baklawa. It is really quite sticky, so having the liners to separate each piece was very helpful, but I would guess some wax paper would work well too, even if it wouldn't be quite as cute.
The recipe makes quite a lot of baklawa, it's so rich that you don't need a big piece. I think it would be great to take to a party, definitely something different and plenty to go around!
- 1 lb. box phyllo dough, room temperature
- 6 oz. (¾ cup) butter, melted
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- ¾ cup water
- 1 T lemon juice
- 3 cups walnuts, toasted
- 1/3 cup sugar
Thaw the phyllo:
Refrigerate the frozen phyllo overnight, then bring to room temperature. Do not cut open the packages of phyllo until just before you are ready to assemble the baklawa.
Make the simple syrup:
In a small saucepan, combine sugar, water and lemon juice and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Pour into a heatproof container and cool completely. It is essential that the syrup be at room temperature when you pour it over the hot pastry after it comes out of the oven.
Make the sugared nuts:
The nuts can be coarsely chopped in the food processor using pulses, but be careful not to go too far. Some nut-dust is unavoidable, but it is better to have a few nuts that need to be broken by hand than to process too much, which will produce nuts that are too finely chopped. Combine the toasted chopped walnuts and sugar stirring until all of the nuts are coated and appear damp.
Assemble the baklawa:
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Open the phyllo and unroll it on top of the plastic it is packaged in. Keep the phyllo covered with a towel.
The size of the pan you use does not matter, but the pan should be metal (ideally not dark). For a 9”x13”x2” pan, trim the phyllo to fit. If you have the smaller box of phyllo, the two packages inside will need one inch trimmed off of the long side. If you have the larger box of phyllo, the one package of phyllo will need to be cut in half and trimmed to fit the pan. It’s better to leave the phyllo a little larger than the pan because it will shrink when it bakes.
Brush the bottom of the pan with melted butter. Lay one stack of 20 phyllo leaves in the pan. Spread the nuts over the phyllo in one even layer. Lay the second stack of 20 leaves over the nuts, taking care that the top layer is a sheet that is not torn. Take a layer from the center of the leaves for the top layer if necessary.
Brush the top layer with melted butter. Using the tip of a very sharp chef’s knife, cut the baklawa into diamonds by cutting six rows (5 cuts) lengthwise and ten rows (9 cuts) crosswise on the diagonal. Lightly score the top with your knife so you can see where the cuts will be.
Use your dominant hand to cut and the other hand to hold the top layers of phyllo down while cutting, and be sure to cut all the way through to the bottom of the pan. This is essential so that the butter will seep through all layers. The knife is held almost perpendicular to the pastry, cutting straight down into the phyllo and nuts. The top layer will lift and and fold, but just lay the phyllo back down where it belongs and move on. The sharper your knife, the easier the cutting will be.
Pour the melted butter over the baklawa evenly. Allow the butter to settle in, about 5 minutes. Bake on the oven shelf second from the top until deep golden brown, 50-60 minutes. Rotate the baklawa halfway through baking.
Remove from the oven and immediately pour the 1 cup of the cooled syrup evenly over the baklawa. Let the rest sit, uncovered, for several hours or overnight to allow the syrup to absorb. Cut and serve from the pan as needed, keeping the baklawa lightly, not tightly, covered with plastic wrap or waxed paper. The baklawa will keep, in the pan, for two weeks.