Phyllo dough comes and goes seasonally in the freezer section at Trader Joe’s. Every time I spot it, I always think: baklava. Crisp, flaky layers of super-thin phyllo dough, filled with sweetened chopped walnuts and drizzled with a honey syrup – yum! Want to look like a master chef as you impress your family, friends, and even yourself with your magical cooking abilities?! Make some baklava!
I really like my recipe for baklava because it has just the right amount of sweetness. I find most baklava overly sweet and sticky. It’s usually super-saturated-sickly sweet, soaked through with syrup and almost a bit soggy from it. A full piece is just too sweet for me and I feel like the other elements get overpowered and lost. In the Middle East, granted it’s very sweet, but in Iran where I grew up, baklava is cut into tiny bite-size pieces that are meant to be enjoyed with unsweetened tea. Here in the US, baklava dessert portions seem to have gotten super-sized and stayed just as intensely sweet. I use about half the sugar (and half the butter) as most recipes but I find it’s yummy and I can enjoy an entire piece without feeling queasy afterwards.
Baklava is relatively easy to make. However, the recipes for baklava always seem a bit daunting and intimidating. Why? Recipes with lots of layering and multiple fillings (e.g., lasagna, moussaka) often have instructions that seem long and technical. Lasagna is pretty easy, right? But not the first time you make it. The first time you make it, the instructions on how to layer all the various components makes the recipe seem like a complex math problem. But after you make it once, suddenly it’s not that hard. Baklava is the same way. The description of the layering makes it seem complex when it’s really not.
Let’s break it down:
- You have your phyllo dough, about 20 sheets.
- There’s melted butter that you will brush on top of every two sheets of phyllo.
- You have a chopped walnut filling that will go in a few layers in the middle.
- There’s a honey syrup you’ll drizzle on after you bake it. That’s it!
The other tricky thing is that you cut baklava before you bake it. After the whole thing is assembled, you will take a sharp knife and cut about halfway to 2/3 of the way down into the layers, avoiding the bottom. Cutting into the baklava before baking will allow the top layers to fluff and rise and flake as it bakes, resulting in those feather-light crisp layers that are so characteristic of baklava. Once it’s baked, the syrup is drizzled in and the baklava rests for a couple hours. When serving, cut the rest of the way through, revealing the beautiful layers and filling.
- 1 (16-oz) pkg frozen phyllo dough, thawed
- 1 (16-oz) bag walnuts (I used California Walnut Baking Pieces)
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 Tbsp rosewater (optional)
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. If using whole walnuts, grind them into small pieces using a food processor. I used California Walnut Baking Pieces from Trader Joe’s which are already the right size.
- In a medium bowl, combine walnuts, cinnamon, and sugar.
- In a small saucepan, combine water, honey, vanilla, and rosewater. Heat until dissolved; set aside.
- Carefully unroll thawed phyllo dough. Using a silicone brush, lightly brush melted butter on the inside of a 9×13-inch baking dish. Place two sheets of phyllo in pan (the edges can be slightly crumpled to fit). Brush/dab the top sheet with melted butter. Continue adding phyllo sheets 2 at a time, and brush top sheet with butter; repeat until you have 8 sheets down.
- After 8th sheet, continue brushing with butter and sprinkle each pair of layers with 1 cup of the walnut mixture (you will do this 4 times). Add the remaining 6-8 sheets and brush every pair with butter, except for the very top sheet.
- Cut uncooked baklava into a 3×4 grid with sharp knife, cutting about half way down (do not cut all the way to the bottom.) Now cut each square diagonally.
- Bake for 50 minutes until top is flaky and golden.
- Remove from oven and immediately spoon the honey syrup into all the cut edges. Let cool fully (2 hours or more) before serving.
Thaw the phyllo dough overnight in the refrigerator. Don’t attempt to unroll before it is fully thawed or else it will fall apart. If using another brand of phyllo, note that some sheets are larger and will have to be cut in half to fit a 9×13-inch pan.