I recently made my first proper spanakopita, which went over so well that I immediately bought more phyllo, with the goal of making another one the very next week, while my ricotta, fresh dill, etc. were still good. But for whatever reason Chris kept talking me out of it...and suddenly I had phyllo sitting in my fridge which had been there for three days. Something had to be done. I had everything I needed for spanakopita, but I had promised myself after the hortopita I made a few posts back, that my next foray into phyllo would be a sweet recipe. My friend Kate prides herself on her baklava and has always claimed it was easy...and all I'd need was honey and walnuts. What was there to lose?
Well ok, I knew I wanted to use honey in the syrup, but I knew that I would need some inspiration, if not instruction, so I did a search of the posts I'd read/saved in my Google Reader, and came across the perfect recipe over at Elly Says Opa's blog, which I combined with some elements from Joumana's recipe at Taste of Beirut.
Greek baklava (with an Eastern twist)
~1 lb. walnuts
1.5 heaping tsp. cinnamon (next time I'd add a bit more)
1/4 – 1/2 tsp. ground cloves (I used 1/2 tsp., but I'd add more, I like my nut mix well-spiced)
1 (16 oz.) package phyllo dough, thawed (I used Sobey's brand)
salted butter, melted in the microwave - I took out a stick of butter and melted it a bit at a time as I needed it, not sure of the exact amount.
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup honey
1 cinnamon stick
dash of lemon juice
dash of orange blossom water (at the end)
dash of rose water (at the end)
Combine your water, sugar, honey, lemon juice and cinnamon stick, and bring to a low boil, then turn down to simmer for 10-15 minutes.
While you are waiting for the syrup, toast the walnuts pieces in a dry frying pan. I forgot about this step until I'd already sat them in the food processor and added sugar and cinnamon to them - it wasn't a problem, but you do run the risk of burning the sugar when you toast the nuts. Did make the whole kitchen smell like cinnamon though, that was a plus.
Put your walnuts in a food processor along with the cinnamon and cloves, and pulse until there aren't any big chunks left.
Once the syrup is ready, add your orange blossom and rose water - if you don't have these don't worry, they're optional, but you can buy them at Scoop and Save in Fredericton if you want to try something exotic. Stir for a few seconds, then take it off the heat. Once it's lukewarm, pour it into something (I used my 4c. liquid measuring cup) and put it in the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 350.
Grease a (9×13) pan (I don't remember what size mine is, but you can trim your phyllo down to fit), and slowwwwwwly and carefully unroll your phyllo leaves. You can handle phyllo, just don't be rough with it. Cover it with a damp kitchen towel when you're not using it so it won't dry out and become a huge pain to work with! Now, count your phyllo leaves - I found that the Superstore brand phyllo had less leaves than the Sobeys brand package did. I think I had 22, some of those got damaged while baking. Just flip through one of the corners.
Having decided how many sheets you have to work with, place your pan on top of the phyllo and cut away the excess with kitchen shears, and place one layer of phyllo at the bottom of your pan. Brush the phyllo with the melted butter, and then add another layer of phyllo, and brush with more butter. I stopped when I had gotten to 5 sheets, where I added what I like to think of as a "rubble" layer, like putting rubble fill inside a wall - cheap, easy, ugly, but when you put a nice top layer on no one will know! I got this idea from Joumana's post above so for pictures, check hers out. Basically you take your phyllo trimmings, and scrunch them up like tissue paper and make a layer of that, drench it with butter, then cover it up with a nice smooth phyllo sheet. I find it gives me a thicker bottom without using more sheets, and it's quick, too!
So, smooth your phyllo down (this would be sheet 6) on top of your rubble/rag layer, butter it, maybe put one more layer if you want, then start dumping out your nut filling. Elly calls for 1/4, because she does four layers of walnuts - I didn't have enough sheets and my tray was big, so I only did two. You'll have to judge what you want to do based on how many leaves you have, how much filling you have, etc. Anyhow, dump out 1/4-1/2 of your mix and then pick your pan up and gently shake it from side to side, which will give you a nice, even layer of nuts. You might have to push a few into the corners, but it works like a charm.
Add another 5 layers of phyllo, buttering between each one (or every two sheets, if you're lazy!). Dump the rest of your filling if you're doing half and half, if not keep alternating 5 sheets of phyllo with nut mix. Top with 7 sheets of phyllo, like on the bottom
Take a dull butter knife or spatula and gently go around the edge of the baklava, tucking the edges down in. Choose a long, sharp knife (I used the "slicer" in my knife block) and cut your baklava into diamonds or triangles. I'm not any good at diamonds, and I usually cut things into squares, but triangles aren't much harder: cut your baklava into three columns and four rows, then cut each square in half diagonally for triangles (baklava isn't exactly good for you, so triangles are a nice way to halve a portion). You have to cut your baklava before you cook it, otherwise the phyllo will just shatter when you try after pulling it out of the oven.
Speaking of ovens, it's time to bake our baklava! Into the oven it goes. Elly recommends 50 minutes @ 350F, and Joumana 45 minutes, but I set my oven timer for 40 minutes and really, it was only like 30-35 minutes and it was golden brown. So set it low, and keep and eye on it! I happened to smell it and thought, "I should check on it in case it's starting to burn", but I caught it in a state of perfection.
Once it's cooked, pull it out and sit it on a trivet on the counter, and fetch that lovely syrup from the fridge! It won't be cold, but cool enough. Pour it over the hot baklava and watch as it hisses and bubbles and soaks into every nook and cranny! Why the cold syrup though, you might ask? Well, one element has to be cool and one hot for the pastry to absorb the syrup - you can bake the baklava first and then pour hot syrup on it once it's cooled, but I found it easier to cook the syrup first while I was prepping. It's up to you, really.
Now the longer this sits, the better it will be, but it's worth having at least one piece warm and fresh, once it's cooled. Oh! One more thing! If you put this in the fridge, or even leave it out on the counter, don't cover it up! Phyllo-based dishes need to be left uncovered for the phyllo to stay crispy. Trust me, nobody likes soggy phyllo...
Enjoy with a glass of milk, or a cup of Greek coffee if you're so inclined!
Καλη όρεξη! Bon appétit!