After traveling to Turkey a year and a half ago, I resolved to try baking some international desserts (although perhaps not tavuk göğsü, a Turkish dessert made with chicken). Waylaid by other experiments, however, I never quite made it back to my goal. Until now. My step-mother, Helenka, loves baklava. So for her birthday, we decided to try our hand at this sticky, delicious treat. After much research, we settled on tweaking this Alton Brown recipe. I am happy to report that it turned out perfectly. A wonderfully sweet, nutty, crispy, and, yes, sticky baklava is on its way to Ohio.
Baklava is not, as it turns out, difficult to make. The nut mixture is easy–combine the ingredients in a food processor and use about 15 short bursts to create a mix of pulverized and chopped nuts, spices, and sugar. Most of the difficult work concerns painstakingly buttering multiple layers of paper-thin phyllo dough. We found this worked much better with four hands than two.
We used Trader Joe’s phyllo dough. We left the container of dough out for the day to completely defrost it, and then we spread it out on the counter next to a buttered 13x9x2-inch pan. About 1/2 of a sheet of dough fit our pan, so we used half sheets to line the pan, painting each sheet of phyllo dough with butter.
We have a wonderful silicone pastry brush that worked well, but I expect regular pastry brushes would be fine. We used 10 sheets to layer the bottom of the pan, then poured out about 1/3 of the nut mixture, spreading is about evenly, then 6 sheets, another 1/3 of the nut mixture, 6 sheets, the last 1/3 of the nut mixture, then 8 sheets.
A few tips on this process: First, cover the phyllo dough with a damp paper towel to keep it manageable. Second, don’t be too fussy over the dough. It’s okay if there are wrinkles (that’s good!), and you will find that the sheets sometimes break apart. Just lay them out the best you can, and use additional pieces to patch up any holes. Lastly, a second set of hands can really help when the dough slips around (this especially happens on the first layer after the nut mixture–it needs to be held down and gently dabbed with the butter, rather than painted).
After the baklava was prepared, we cut the prepared baklava into diamond shapes (diagonally, and then straight across the pan).
I tried to cut almost all the way down, but not entirely through the bottom layer. I then baked the baklava for 55 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
The final step involves cooling the baklava for about two hours, then making a syrup to pour over the baklava. We first brought the water and sugar to a boil, occasionally stirring, until the sugar was completely dissolved. We added the honey, cinnamon stick, and orange peel, brought the heat down to medium, and simmered at a low boil for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. We then used a ladle to gently pour about one-third of the mixture evenly over the baklava. We allowed this to cool for about 15-20 minutes, then re-heated the mixture and poured another one-third. We allowed this to cool again (longer this time, just because we had some chores to do), then re-heated and poured the remaining one-third. We left the pan out over night without covering it (covering it at this point will make the whole thing turn soggy).
Perfection. We were really pleased with the crispiness of the top layers and depth of flavor. The nuts around the edges of the pan burned slightly, so I cut the edges away. I also found that the bottom layers of the phyllo dough sometimes stuck to the pan. They weren’t actually stuck, in the sense that they could easily come up and were properly cooked. We just needed care to keep those pieces intact with the baklava.
And now for the real instructions:
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp allspice
1 lb unsalted roasted pistachios
2/3 cup sugar
1 lb phyllo dough
6 oz unsalted butter, melted
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 cinnamon stick
1 (2-inch) fresh orange peel
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Place the spices, nuts, and sugar in the food processor and pulse for about 15 short bursts. The mixture should be a combination of pulverised, finely chopped, and roughly chopped nuts.
- Brush melted butter on the bottom and sides of a 13x9x2-inch pan, then lay a trimmed sheet of phyllo dough down so that it fits inside the pan. Use a pastry brush to butter the dough completely, but without saturating. Repeat this step with 9 more sheets of pastry dough. Evenly spread one-third of the nut mixture on top of the 10 sheets of dough. Layer 6 more sheets of phyllo, brushing butter between each layer. Lay another one-third of the nut mixture, then another 6 sheets with butter between each layer. Spread the remaining nut mixture down, then layer 8 final sheets on top, again buttering between each layer. Generously coat the top layer with butter.
- Cut the prepared pan of baklava into diamonds by cutting first at a diagonal and then straight across the pan. As best you can, cut down to the bottom layer of dough, but not all the way through.
- Bake for 55 minutes, until the top layer of dough is a light golden color.
- Allow the pan to cool for about 1.5-2 hours.
- Begin making the syrup. First heat the sugar and water on medium high heat, stirring occasionally, and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the honey, cinnamon stick, and orange peel, and turn down the heat to medium-low. Adjust the heat as needed to keep the mixture at a low boil, stirring occasionally. Simmer for about 15 minutes.
- Turn the heat off and ladle about 1/3 of the mixture evenly over the baklava, being sure to get along the sides as well as throughout the middle. Allow the syrup to set and cool for 15-20 minutes. Re-heat the syrup until it comes to a slight boil. Turn off the heat and pour the next 1/3 of the syrup over the pan. Repeat this step again with the final 1/3 of the syrup.
- Allow the baklava to cool and set for about 8 hours. Re-cut along your previous lines, cutting down to the bottom this time. Serve, or cover and store at room temperature for up to 5 days.
As well as this goes, though, you can’t please everyone: