Homemade baklava is a flaky, buttery, sweet treat that reminds me of time spent in the kitchen with my mother, sisters, and grandparents.
Fair warning, this recipe is very personal to me, so a lot of this post talks about that. If you just want the recipe, use the “jump to recipe” button at the top of the page. It won’t hurt my feelings, promise. <3
I can remember one of the last times I made baklava with my mother, sisters, and grandparents. My grandparents were cooking with us, and it was around Easter because we always made grape leaves and cabbage leaves for Easter. I was in late elementary school or early middle school. Finally a young lady old enough to help with most of the preparations.
Making baklava was one of my favorite things to do! Even younger children helped brush each layer of phyllo with butter. I found the motion of the brush and the gloss on the layers of pastry to be very beautiful.
One day, some later year, I also distinctly remember my grandmother coming into the house with a box from Shatila Bakery. The local Arab grocery started carrying their sweets, and my grandmother deemed the baklava good enough that we didn’t have to make it anymore. My heart sank because no matter how good the baklava was (and it is delicious), I knew I was going to miss the moments we shared making it at home.
Honestly, I wasn’t that surprised though. My grandfather seemed to enjoy cooking more. And his sister Margo held the title for best cook in the family. She didn’t speak much English, but she and my mom would communicate in a broken Arabic – one of my grandparents acting as full translator.
Tia Margo (what we called her) would let me help her. She taught by saying “habibti, here” or “this” and demonstrating what we had to do. Then when I got it right I’d hear a “good, good” with a smile. We cooked so much when she came to visit.
My grandfather has been gone many years now, Tia Margo too. My grandmother no longer lives in the country. Honestly, her relationship with my family has grown increasingly strained over the years. I knew those moments we shared in the kitchen meant a lot to me then, I didn’t realize how much I’d miss them later. No family is perfect, darlings. It’s important to cherish the good memories.
Growing up, I didn’t know there was a preferred nut for baklava. We always made baklava with whatever nut happened to be least expensive at the time – rotating between almond baklava, walnut baklava, and pistachio baklava. Sometimes we would even mix two nut varieties, usually almond and something else. Feel free to do the same.
I think all of them taste amazing, and I like the flexibility of using whatever I have on hand, especially since nuts can be an expensive ingredient depending on where you live. Look for unroasted, unsalted nuts to get the best results.
Buy your phyllo dough. I love you and I tell you this because unless you have commercial rolling equipment in your kitchen, you will never get dough as thin as the package. In theory you’ll use the entire pound, but I seem to end up with a little extra sometimes (probably when I lose count between layers) and you can either save that for later, or make an easy phyllo roll up with a bit of cheese on a baking sheet. Think of the extra sheets as a bonus instead of an accident.
I also recommend using a silicone pastry brush to brush on the butter. No matter what brand I tried, the non-silicone brushes would always shed which is kind of gross because then there’s a random brush hair in the food. Not the kind of texture we want. And don’t skimp on the butter. Never skimp on the butter.
Technically, baklava is an anytime treat, but holidays and baklava are synonymous for me. I make a batch (alone) almost every Easter. It’s also part of the Christmas baking. Of course, many people just enjoy baklava any time they order gyros because it’s delicious! Baklava has no season and needs no reason.
The recipe makes quite a bit, but it’s wonderful to share as gifts. It freezes very well, too! Just take it out of the freezer about 30 minutes before you plan to eat it so it has a chance to thaw.
I hope you enjoy this baklava recipe darlings. And I hope it brings you many sweet memories. Enjoy!
Phyllo and Filling
- 1 lb chopped nuts, raw, unsalted, (walnuts, pistachio, or almonds all work)
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 g sticks unsalted butter
- 1 pound phyllo dough, thawed according to package instructions
- 1 cup granulated sugar*
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
- 1 cup honey
- 3/4 cup water
- tbsp juice from half a lemon, work to about 1
- 2 whole cinnamon sticks
- 1 2 " strip of lemon zest - use a peeler to remove this from the lemon before you juice
- In a mixing bowl, combine the nuts, cinnamon, and salt. If you would like the filling to be finer rather than chunky, pulse the nuts and spices together in a food processor until you've reached the desired consistency.
- In a separate bowl, melt the butter.
- Unwrap the first half of your phyllo dough and place under a sheet of plastic wrap covered by a damp paper towel or clean damp kitchen towel. Phyllo dries out very easily. Preheat your oven to 350 F.
- Brush a 9x13 inch jelly roll pan (any baking pan with sides will do) liberally with butter. Lay down your first layer of phyllo. You may have to tear some of the phyllo sheets to completely fill the pan, and that's fine, but be sure to leave a bit of overlap. Brush the phyllo with butter. Repeat for 5 or 6 more times to create the base for your baklava.
- Evenly spread half the nut mixture over the phyllo. Place a layer of phyllo over the nuts and then gently dab with butter. This layer of phyllo will shift slightly so dabbing works better than brushing. Add another layer of phyllo, brush with butter. Repeat four more times, then top with the remaining nut mixture.
- Keep going until you've used all the phyllo or you run out of butter. In theory, this happens at the same time, in practice, I've ended up short on one or the other. This is a very forgiving recipe and the end result is beautiful. You'll have plenty of layers.
- Take a sharp paring knife and cut about halfway through the unbaked baklava using diagonal lines to create diamonds or straight lines to create squares or rectangles. Don't cut all the way through, you just need to cut through the upper half of the phyllo so you have beautiful smooth tops on your baklava after baking when the phyllo is brittle.
- Place the baklava tray in the oven and bake 45-55 minutes until golden brown. Make the syrup while the baklava bakes.
Making the syrup:
- In a small saucepan combine all the syrup ingredients. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar has dissolved.
- Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, stirring frequently, until the syrup has reduced by about 1/3 and thickened slightly. This takes about 10 minutes, but don't wander far as it boils over easily.
- Once the syrup has thickened, run it through a fine mesh sieve into a glass bowl or large mason jar to cool until the baklava has finished baking.
When the baklava has finished baking...
- Remove the baklava from the oven and slowly pour the warm syrup evenly over the hot baklava. The smell will be intoxicating, and it's one of the most beautiful "snap crackle pop" sounds you'll hear.
- Allow the baklava to cool at least 2 hours before using a pizza wheel or sharp knife to cut fully through the baklava and serve. I like to place individual pieces of baklava on a flattened cupcake liner or square of parchment for easier serving and storage.
- Baklava will keep at room temperature or refrigerated for 1 week, may be frozen 1-2 months.
*Sometimes I use half brown sugar and half granulated sugar, especially if I feel like accentuating the flavor of the honey. Do what makes you happy. 😉
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