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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Baklava!



There are no less than 20 items on my Christmas baking list. It's getting a little out of control as I will be out shopping and suddenly remember a new treat that I would like to add to the list. While the usual family favorites like these Candy Cane Crisps, Chocolate Babka, and World Peace Cookies are included on the list, there are also a gazillion recipes that I have not yet tried before (and might end up hating). I like using the Christmas season as an excuse for experimenting.

So, I thought I had my baking list complete until I found a box of phyllo dough in my freezer. And suddenly Baklava catapulted itself to the top of my baking list.

I LOVE baklava. It is probably one of my favorite sweet treats. A sweet blend of nuts sandwiched between layers of buttery phyllo dough and drenched in a honey syrup - who can resist? There is a Greek festival held every summer here and I love going just to sample the baklava. Ever tried baklava slightly warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream? Divine.


I have made baklava a few times before and always end up tweaking the recipes a bit. I have tried baklava with a variety of nuts - pistachios, almonds, walnuts - and found that I really do prefer an all-walnut baklava over any other nut variation, although a blend of walnuts and almonds was a close second. I also like my sugar syrup to have a high concentration of honey as well as some citrus flavors. This version below has just the right amount (in my opinion).

Baklava is really, really easy to make although the assembly is time-consuming and a bit tedious. Thankfully, little Emma was napping peacefully and Matthew was mesmerized with A Charlie Brown Christmas while I was working on this recipe. It was a nice, therapeutic change from the last dessert I made where Emma got fussy right during a critical point in the process and ended up crawling over and gripping onto the bottom of my pant leg while I tried to finish everything off (it's a lot more difficult to move about the kitchen with a whining 20-pound baby wrapped around your ankle).

My Little Shackle.

Baklava is certainly a labor of love, but the end result is so worth it. Plus, it makes a fantastic homemade Christmas gift. Opa!


Baklava

Note: To make this baklava, I tweaked and combined two different recipes. I like a large amount of honey and citrus notes in the sugar syrup like in this recipe but used the method for layering the nuts and phyllo detailed in a recipe from The Best International Recipe Cookbook.

For the Honey Syrup:
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup honey
1 large strip of orange peel (removed using a vegetable peeler or paring knife)
1 large strip of lemon peel
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

For the Nuts:
12 ounces walnuts
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 Tablespoons white sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

For the Pastry:
1 lb. Phyllo Dough, thawed
3 sticks unsalted butter, clarified

Make the Syrup:
Combine all ingredients for the syrup in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently until the sugar and honey completely dissolves. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.

Make the Nut Filling:
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the nuts until they are finely ground. Place the finely ground nuts in a medium bowl and stir in the cinnamon, sugar, and salt. Set aside.

Prepare to Assemble the Pastry:
Clarify the butter by melting in a medium saucepan over low heat. When the butter is completely melted, use a spoon to carefully remove the white solids that rise to the top. Do the best that you can...it never ends up being perfect. Set aside.

Unwrap phyllo dough and place between sheets of wax paper to prevent the dough from drying-out (or you can cover with plastic and then cover again with a very, very slightly damp kitchen towel).

Assembly Part I:
Put one sheet of phyllo dough on the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch baking pan. Brush this piece of dough evenly with clarified butter. Add 7 more sheets of phyllo dough (8 in total) on top of the first piece. Brush each piece with clarified butter before putting on the next sheet of dough. When layer 8 is finished, evenly spread 1 cup of the nut mixture on top.

Assembly Part II:
Place one sheet of phyllo dough on top of the nut mixture. Dot this piece of phyllo carefully with butter.
Add 5 more sheets of phyllo dough (6 in total), brushing each piece with clarified butter before adding the next sheet. When layer 6 is finished, evenly spread 1 cup of the nut mixture on top.

Assembly Part III:
Repeat steps from second part. Afterwards, preheat the oven to 300 degrees with a rack in the center position.

Assembly Part IV:
Place one sheet of phyllo dough on top of the nut mixture. Dot this piece of phyllo carefully with butter.
Add 7-9 more sheets of phyllo dough (8-10 total), brushing each piece with clarified butter before adding the next sheet. On the last layer, do not brush with butter. Instead, firmly press down on the dough, getting out all air pockets. Pour the reserved 4 Tablespoons of butter on top and spread evenly.

Cut the Baklava:
Using a short serrated knife, carefully cut the baklava into small, 1-inch or so pieces. You can cut them in small squares or make diagonal cuts for diamond-shaped pieces of baklava.

Finish the Baklava:
Bake the Baklava for 90 minutes in the preheated 300 degree oven. During the baking, the phyllo will brown and crisp evenly on top. After the baklava is done baking, remove from the oven and immediately pour the cooled honey syrup evenly over the top. You should hear a nice sizzling sound as the syrup is poured over the baklava. Set the pan on a wire rack to cool completely. Once the baklava is cooled to room temperature, cover and refrigerate. In my opinion, baklava gets better as it sits so it is best to let it rest in the fridge for about 24 hours before you plan to serve it. Enjoy!


2 comments:

  1. I'm the same way, 20 some things on my list and it grows every year! I use Christmas as an excuse to try new recipes, love them, and have to have them every year. It's a little out of control since we are eating treats months later! But I do enjoy it.

    I understand the 20lb weight on your leg!! There are somethings I know I just have to wait for a weekend when Matt's home to be on Luke duty.

    I meant to make baklava this year but then forgot when I made my baking list. I might have to try this randomly in January or something. Looks delicious!! Thanks for sharing!

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  2. Baklava is so delicious! What a cutie pie you have helping out in the kitchen! Thanks for linking up with What's Cookin' Wednesday!

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