A classic of European and Middle Eastern cuisine, baklava is a sticky sweet layering of crisp phyllo and spiced nuts, soaked in a honey syrup with vanilla and lemon. It’s a simple and elegant dessert, to be sure, but with just enough gooey sweetness to give it a hint of pure, lick-your-plate decadence.
Arguably an occasion unto itself, indulging in baklava is an exotic treat equally fantastic for entertaining a group, or for a special night at home. Its flavors logically pair well with the cuisine of its countries of origin, and its markedly rich sweetness is usually best prefaced by light yet flavorfully spiced foods. These Parsley-Orange Chicken Sticks with Tzatziki Dipping Sauce are a fantastic complement, offering just enough savory freshness for a delicious and diverse meal.
Because baklava is composed of only a few key ingredients, each has a very important role in creating its unique, sweet-and-spiced flavor. The main structure of the dessert is made up of phyllo, which provides a crispy yet moist bounty of thinly layered dough.
Though the fragile sheets of phyllo can be a bit tricky to handle, the dessert itself is forgiving. With so many layers, imperfections melt away between their honeyed, sweet glaze.
Baklava’s origin is impossible to pin down to one location, and consequently, ingredients and recipes vary. I’ve included walnuts and almonds here, but almost any nut, from pistachio to pecans, can be used. Go with what you like, but be sure to remember to cut the baklava prior to baking — it will be nearly impossible to cut through all those crispy layers after the fact.
For a larger crowd, baklava is great cut into smaller, petit-four-sized bites, and its intense sweetness makes it great for nibbling. But that’s not to dismiss its indulgent nature. Extravagantly large, diamond-shaped wedges are the classic and, in my opinion, best and most inspired way to consume this rich, wonderful treat.
- 10 to 12 sheets of phyllo dough
- ½ cup chopped walnuts
- ¼ cup chopped almonds
- ½ cup butter, melted
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ cup honey
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter an 8 × 8 inch pan and set aside.
- Thaw the phyllo dough sheets and them roll out. Cut into 8 × 8 inch squares and cover with damp cloth until ready to use.
- Toss the chopped walnuts and almonds with the sugar and cinnamon until evenly coated.
- Place 2 sheets of phyllo in the pan and butter thoroughly. This can be done with a pastry brush if you have one. Repeat until you have 8 layers of buttered phyllo sheets.
- Sprinkle a thin layer of nut mixture on top of sheets.
- Cover nut layer with another 2 sheets of phyllo. Butter the sheets and again sprinkle a thin layer of nuts.
- Repeat this process until you have 6 sheets of phyllo left.
- Butter the remaining phyllo sheets individually and use them to create the top layer of the baklava.
- Using a sharp knife, cut baklava into desired portions prior to baking.
- Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown and the edges are crisped.
- In a small saucepan, add the water and sugar and boil over medium heat.
- Once boiled, add honey and lemon juice and continue to cook until the honey is combined and the sauce has thickened.
- Remove from heat. Let cool.
Once the baklava has finished baking, remove from oven and immediately spoon the cooled sauce over the hot baklava. Allow to cool completely before serving.