Since the moment I saw phyllo dough in the freezer section at Trader Joe’s, I’ve had one thing on my mind: baklava. Crisp, flaky layers of super-thin phyllo dough, filled with sweetened chopped walnuts and drizzled with a honey syrup – yum! Want to look like a master chef as you impress your family, friends, and even yourself with your magical cooking abilities?! Make exotic baklava! The times I make baklava, I can’t resist calling everyone over to admire it. This time I even had my 8-year-old daughter stand on a stool over the warm pan, enthusiastically (maniacally) imploring her to “Smell how delicious!!! Smell how delicious!!!” (She agreed it did.)
I really like my recipe for baklava because it has just the right amount of sweetness. I find most baklava overly sweet and sticky. It’s usually super-saturated-sickly sweet, soaked through with syrup and almost a bit soggy from it. A full piece is just too sweet for me and I feel like the other elements get overpowered and lost. In the Middle East, granted it’s very sweet, but in Iran where I grew up, baklava is cut into tiny bite-size pieces that are meant to be enjoyed with unsweetened tea. Here in the US, baklava dessert portions seem to have gotten super-sized and stayed just as intensely sweet. I use about half the sugar (and half the butter) as most recipes but I find it’s yummy and I can enjoy an entire piece without feeling queasy afterwards.
Baklava is relatively easy to make (Here’s how). However, the recipes for baklava always seem a bit daunting and intimidating. Why? Recipes with lots of layering and multiple fillings (e.g., lasagna, moussaka) often have instructions that seem long and technical. Lasagna is pretty easy, right? But not the first time you make it. The first time you make it, the instructions on how to layer all the various components makes the recipe seem like a complex math problem. But after you make it once, suddenly it’s not that hard. Baklava is the same way. The description of the layering makes it seem complex when it’s really not.
Let’s break it down: 1) You have your phyllo dough, about 20 sheets. 2) There’s melted butter that you will brush on top of every two sheets of phyllo. 3) You have a chopped walnut filling that will go in a few layers in the middle. 4) There’s a honey syrup you’ll drizzle on after you bake it. That’s it!
The other tricky thing is that you cut baklava before you bake it. After the whole thing is assembled, you will take a sharp knife and cut about halfway to 2/3 of the way down into the layers, avoiding the bottom. Cutting into the baklava before baking will allow the top layers to fluff and rise and flake as it bakes, resulting in those feather-light crisp layers that are so characteristic. Once it’s baked, the syrup is drizzled in and the baklava rests for a couple hours. When serving, cut the rest of the way through, revealing the beautiful layers and filling. Here’s the complete recipe for my baklava.