A new year has come and with it, snow, a relaxing break from school, and a list of New Year’s resolutions. One resolution found on my list is to become more familiar with baking a wider variety of goods over the course of this year. While writing out this goal, I thought back to all of the delightful treats I have tried from around the world. My favorite, baklava, stood out to me as the perfect place to begin. I never knew baklava was so simple to make! When biting into the crunchy, sweet, nutty treat, I always imagined that it would take hours as well as great skill to perfect the recipe. While the sheets of dough must be laid quickly so that they do not dry out, it was far simpler than I imagined it could be.
Begin by gathering the following ingredients:
For the baklava:
6 cups walnuts
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups unsalted butter, melted
1 pound phyllo (filo) dough, thawed
For the syrup:
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon orange blossom water (optional)
Preheat the oven to four hundred degrees Fahrenheit (two hundred and four degrees Celsius) before finely chopping the walnuts in a food processor until they are in small pieces but not ground into a powder since one of baklava’s most important characteristics is its crunchiness. When the nuts are chopped, mix them in a large sized bowl with the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and one tablespoon of the butter.
Then, butter a twelve by seventeen inch pan. Before beginning to work with the dough, it is important to note that phyllo dough is very thin and delicate. Additionally, it dries out quickly, so it is helpful to place the sheets of dough in between two damp kitchen towels while working with them to prevent them from drying out as quickly. Work carefully when separating the sheets of dough since they can rip easily. At times, working with phyllo dough can be tricky and frustrating, especially when working with it for the first time, but the end result is well worth the effort, and with practice, it becomes easier.
Once the dough has been trimmed to fit the pan, if necessary, and placed in between two towels, place one sheet of phyllo dough into the greased pan and brush it lightly with the melted butter. Place another sheet on top and brush it lightly with butter as well. Continue laying a sheet, buttering it, and adding another on top until half of the dough has been laid into the pan. Then spread the nut mixture evenly over the dough. Add the rest of the dough, buttering after each addition, but do not butter the last layer.
With a sharp knife, cut the baklava into diamond shapes. Pour the remaining butter evenly over the baklava. Place the pan in the oven and then reduce the temperature to two hundred and seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit (one hundred and thirty-five degrees Celsius). Bake the baklava for about one and a half hours or until golden brown.
While the baklava is in the oven, make the syrup by mixing the sugar and water together in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil and then add the lemon juice. Allow the syrup to boil for seven more minutes. When it is cool, add the orange blossom water if it is being used. When the baklava has finished baking, allow it to cool for ten minutes before pouring the cold syrup evenly over it. Let the baklava cool completely at room temperature before serving, and store it in an airtight container at room temperature.
One of the best things about making baklava is that it is so delicious that it is hard to grow discouraged even when it does not turn out exactly as planned. Although baklava is the perfect treat all year round, it is a particularly good choice during the winter months when curled up by the fire with a warm drink. Enjoy!
Photo Credit: Isabel Rogers