Here's my confession: I love baklava.
And here's my second: I've always wanted to attempt baking the loveliness.
And finally, a third confession: finally weaseled up the guts and courage to bake it yesterday.
We had some company over last night in festive sweaters and all for a little hot chocolate bar and desserts. The hot chocolate wasn't fancy- one regular pot of hot cocoa, and another pot of white hot chocolate with some toppings. Earlier last week I'd made up my mind to bake some baklava for the tiny get together and wow!!! Not only did I NOT totally ruin it, but somewhere in the process of creating my first imperfect version of baklava, I learned A LOT about some baklava trouble shooting!
Years ago, years back, my dad used to have a co-worker from Greece, who, every holiday season without fail, brought my family a very large, very generous, festive plate full of Greek desserts and the baklava was my very dear favorite. I hated nuts as a youngen, hated them as a teenager,and for some mysterious reason, hidden in all its buttery, honey glory, consumed Baklava like it was a package of Skittles.
And so all these many years I've secretly wanted to attempt baklava in my own kitchen for the Christmas season and we finally did it! Check off that!
There are so many recipes out there for baklava- hundreds of versions.....this particular one was found in a cookbook from the Relief Society of my in-law's ward and the woman who submitted the recipe had some other very noteworthy looking recipes in the book, so I trusted her judgment!:)
Like most things, my first attempt at this culinary project was filled with trial and error, but I'll try to walk you through it carefully so you can avoid some of the little blunders I made. Please read through the recipe FIRST before attempting. Really.
One box phyllo dough (thawed according to package instructions)
1 lb walnuts, coarsely ground
1 lb almonds, coarsely ground
2 Tbsp cinnamon
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp all spice
1 lb butter, melted
Honey Sauce (recipe follows)
Have your filling prepared before you start fiddling with the phyllo dough! Some phyllo doughs require at least 3 hours of thawing time on the counter, so remove it from the freezer, and let it sit on your counter for however long the box says-- in the last hour of thawing, make your filling. Have your butter melted, oven preheated, and then start using the phyllo dough- it dries out very quickly...We'll get to all that!
First things first:
Take your almonds and walnuts, and if they are NOT COARSELY GROUND, meaning, they aren't ALMOST powder-like consistency, I HIGHLY recommend putting them in a food processor and whizzing them up until they are pretty fine. I hand chopped mine- which TOOK FOREVER and gave me a perma hand cramp, and they were too choppy/chunky- so just make sure they are really, "coarsely ground". Got it??
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
In a large bowl, combine your ground nuts with the sugar and spices. Stir well and set aside.
Melt all the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once it's melted, remove and place on a hotpad on your counter where your filling is. Have a pastry brush ready to use.
Take a large glass plan (I used a 9 x 13, but if you have something even larger that would be ideal!... like a 12x 18?) and brush the surface of it with melted butter.
Now, take your thawed out phyllo dough. Place one sheet of phyllo dough in the glass pan so it's flat. Brush it with melted butter- all over! Repeat this process 6 times so you have 6-7 sheets of dough on the bottom of the pan.
(TIP: Place a damp towel over your dough as you work so it doesn't dry out.)
Now, take your nut mixture and sprinkle a thin layer all over the phyllo dough. Cover that layer of filling with one sheet of phyllo dough and brush it with melted butter. Sprinkle some more nut mixture on top of that (not TOO much- just a thin layer) and then cover it again with phyllo dough, brushing it with melted butter. Repeat this process until your nut mixture is used up or you have reached the limit! (I had nut mixture left over- if you are using a 9 x 13 pan, BE SURE NOT to use all your nut mixture- your baklava will be too thick. The nut mixture is a recipe for a much larger pan).
You'll want to place 6-7 sheets of phyllo dough on top of the last layer of nut mixture. Be sure to brush each sheet of dough with lots of melted butter. Once your top is on, cut the baklava with a very sharp knife (serrated works well) into diamond shapes-- you are kind of, quasi-scoring it, so that it's easier to cut through once it's all done. In other words, you can either cut it all the way down to the bottom of the pan, or you can simply score it. I chose the former and found it was much easier to then remove from the pan once it was finished. Clear as mud?
Bake for 1 hour or just until dough begins to turn golden brown.
In the last 1/2 hour of the baklava's baking time, whip out your honey sauce.
1 1/2 cups honey
3 cups sugar
3 cups water
1-2 tsp fresh lemon juice
Combine all the ingredients in a LARGE saucepan over medium heat, stirring well. Bring to a boil, and allow to simmer for at least 20-25 minutes. Using your pastry brush or a small ladle, pour the sauce all over your baklava IMMEDIATELY once it's been removed from the oven. Reserve about 3/4 cup of the sauce and return it to the stove top. Boil it for another 5 minutes or so, and allow to sit for a few minutes until it's cooled and thickened. Brush this remaining honey sauce all over the surface of your baklava.
Let the baklava cool for an hour or less, and cut into diagonal pieces.