Saturday, December 25, 2010


I always thought that Baklava was very difficult to make and was rather wary of trying it. When Dan's family was having Middle Eastern food for a holiday get-together, he suggested I make a baklava for the dessert. After reading Alton Brown's recipe from Food Network I decided to try it. For easy reference below is his recipe along with some of the changes I made and tips on how to make this complicated dessert a little less daunting.

For the filling:
  • 1 (5-inch piece) cinnamon stick, broken into 2 to 3 pieces or 2 teaspoons ground
  • 15 to 20 whole allspice berries
  • 6 ounces blanched almonds
  • 6 ounces raw or roasted walnuts
  • 6 ounces raw or roasted pistachio, shelled
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon rose water
  • 1 pound phyllo dough, thawed
  • 8 ounces clarified unsalted butter, melted
For the syrup:
  • 1 1/4 cups honey
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 (2-inch) piece fresh orange peel
I made a couple of changes to the recipe. I didn't have rose water so I used a teaspoon of vanilla extract. I also bought orange blossom honey for the syrup. I also needed more clarified butter then was called for in the recipe so you should make extra. We also didn't have allspice berries, so we substituted ground cinnamon and ground cloves as per this suggestion. Shelling the pistachios was a real pain. If you can get them pre-shelled, it'll cost more but it might save you a lot of time. The hardest part was defrosting the phyllo dough. Alton said you could microwave it to defrost. I DO NOT recommend this. It made it sticky and extremely hard to work with. If you are going to make this defrost the phyllo overnight in the fridge as per the directions on the box. It keeps the moisture out and prevents the dough from sticking together. Another thing to remember when working with phyllo dough is to either work fast or keep it covered. It will dry out fast and will be useless.

To make:
1) Grind the spices together with a spice grinder. If you can't find the whole spices just use the pre-ground versions.
2) Add the spices, nuts and sugar to a food processor and pulse to finely chopped and place in bowl
3) Combine the rose water and water in a spritz bottle.
4) Clarify butter and place in bowl with pastry brush
5) Cut the phyllo to match the size of the pan.
6) Brush the pan with the clarified butter
7) Now you will have to set up an assembly line on a table. I find it easiest to work left to right. So place the phyllo dough on your left, then the pan, then the butter, then the nuts, and finally the spritz bottle.
8) Place a sheet of phyllo in the pan and brush lightly with butter. Repeat 9 times for a total of 10 sheets of phyllo with butter brush between each.
9) Next spread 1/3 of the nuts over the dough and spray with the rose water
10) Next cover with another 6 sheets of phyllo with butter brushed between each.
11) Cover with the next 1/3 of nuts and spray with water
12) Cover with another 6 sheets of phyllo with butter brushed between each.
13) Top with the rest of the nuts and spray with the water
14) Top with 8 sheets of phyllo with butter brushed between each.
15) Brush the top sheet well with butter
16) Place in an oven at 350 for 30 mins
17) Carefully take out of the oven and cut into 28 squares (and you can also cut diagonally cut into triangles which is the traditional way)
18) Bake for another 30 minutes.
19) Cool for 2 hrs
20) In the last 30 mins of cooling make the syrup
21) TO MAKE SYRUP: Place all the ingredients in a pot and set over high heat. Bring to a boil and stir occasionally until the sugar is dissolved. Boil for 10 minutes and strain into something that will make pouring it later easy.
22) Once cooled recut the lines and pour the hot syrup over the whole pan.
23) Let cool completely before covering
24) Cover and let cool for 8 hours. Can be stored for up to 5 days.

Interestingly, Laurie ended up making Baklava twice in a pretty brief time frame. After my Aunt heard that she made it for my parents' get-together, Laurie was asked about making it again for another family gathering hosted by my aunt (the same one where Laurie also brought this special cake paying tribute to my Grandmother). The second time she made it, we ended up using a clover honey instead of orange blossom honey and it was really amazing how much it changed the flavor profile. Because the honey is what really carries the flavor in the syrup, think a lot about the type of honey you want to use. Go check out a Whole Foods or Trader Joe's where they have lots of interesting organic honey flavors. I personally liked the orange blossom honey version better, but the clover honey was more akin to "traditional" baklava that I've had before. Laurie also had me clarify the butter for this recipe and it was something so foreign to me that I wrote a whole post about that too.

1) Leave yourself plenty of time when working with something new.
2) Don't try too many shortcuts. I.E. microwaving dough to defrost

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