Homemade Baklava

After making Greek Cabbage Pie a little while ago, I had half a package of phyllo dough sitting in the fridge, daring me to make another flaky, intricate pastry. So I turned to my favorite phyllo application: baklava.

I’d never made the stuff before, but thanks to Allrecipes’ excellent baklava recipe, plus the first recipe review, with tips from a woman who says she’s been making it for 30 years, proved very helpful.

Baklava is rather labor-intensive, but not all that hard to make. And the best part is it’s really customizable: You can use whatever nuts you like (or have on hand), and flavor both the filling and the wonderful honey syrup the pastry soaks in after baking with whatever ingredients you want.

I adapted the recipe above with a few tweaks, reduced it to use a 9×9 baking dish (we’re only two people here, after all) and made it fully adaptable to your favorite nuts and flavors.

Homemade baklava

Makes 9 large squares

1/2 package (8 oz.) phyllo dough
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
8 oz. nuts of your choice
Spices of your choice
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
Flavorings of your choice

Preheat oven to 375°. Unroll phyllo dough, and slice sheets in half lengthwise. Set aside half of phyllo for another use. (Or another batch!)

Chop nuts into small uniform pieces in a food processor. (You want them pretty small, but don’t make dust or a nut butter.) Toss with spices. (Warm, “sweet” spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg are all good. If you’re adventurous, try a tiny bit of cayenne too.)

Brush butter on bottom and sides of a 9×9 baking dish. Place two sheets of phyllo in pan, butter sheets, and top with two more. Continue buttering phyllo and layering until you have eight sheets. Top with 2-3 tablespoons nut mixture, then continue layering phyllo and butter. Put four sheets in between each layer of nuts, and end with a layer of eight or 10 sheets. Slice through pastry almost all the way to the bottom (you don’t have to go all the way) to make nine squares, and bake 45-50 minutes or until brown and crisp throughout.

While baklava is baking, combing sugar and 1 cup water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar dissolves, and then add honey and flavorings. (Vanilla and almond extracts are good, as are rosewater, orange flower water, or citrus zest. If you use zest, strain it out at the end.) Bring to a boil, and simmer 20 minutes. Pour syrup into a bowl or other container and let cool completely.

When pastry is done, place on a cooling rack and let cool completely. Pour syrup over baklava, and let stand 30 minutes to 2 hours. Remove individual pieces from baking dish and place in cupcake cups or on a plate.

Tips: Don’t worry about laying out the sheets perfectly flat or buttering them evenly—the more wrinkly the sheets, the crunchier your baklava will be.

My first batch of baklava used almonds and a few sunflower seeds (I was a little short of 8 ounces of almonds, and they were the best thing I could find), flavored with cinnamon. I put vanilla and almond extracts in the syrup. It was great, and even better the second day.

Next time, I’m gonna try peanuts and cardamom. Anybody have other ideas?

And for the record, my favorite baklava in town (that I didn’t make myself, of course) is at Dodiyos. Mmm…baklava.

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