When I was looking at recipes for baklava, trying to get a feel for things, things became a bit overwhelming. Every recipe was had variations, everyone has a different set of secret tips, each more confusing than the last. So I went on a mission. In the middle of my land-island of a town is a little Greek cafe/import house. Mission: befriend Avel, the owner, and steal his secrets. I went last week after class and sat doing homework for a little while...eating baklava. He's the kind of extra-friendly but not too creepy restaurant owner that comes over and starts a conversation. This was too easy. I casually asked him "so what's your baklava secret?" The guy actually sits down and starts talking to me! He said all those rose water recipes are bologna (thank goodness! Too much work for me!), and to use lemon and orange in the syrup. Besides that, the basics are universal. Layers of phyllo dough, butter, and a nut mixture. Can't go wrong.
I kind of made up my recipe as I went. It turned out really, really well. The only think I'd change is only using one slice of orange in the syrup. Also, make the syrup first so that it has a long time to cool off and for the strong orange and lemon flavors to mellow out.
1 pkg phyllo dough
3-4 cups finely chopped nuts (I used walnuts, almonds, and pistachios)
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup melted butter
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp cardamom
1 1/4 cups honey
1 1/4 cups water
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 slices of orange
3 slices of lemon
1. Make syrup first. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Let boil for 10 minutes, stirring when needed to keep it from foaming over. Remove from heat, take out orange and lemon slices, and let come to room temp. When it's at room temp, place in the fridge until needed.
2. Combine chopped nuts, sugar, and spices in a bowl.
3. Unwrap thawed phyllo dough and lay out flat. Cover with damp paper towels (make sure to cover the edges fully as they dry out first). Grease a 9x13 pan. Every brand of dough is sized differently, so trim to fit the pan if needed.
4. Lay 2 sheets of dough in pan, then brush thoroughly with melted butter. Lay 2 more sheets and brush with more butter. Repeat until you have 10 sheets layered. Brush the top with butter and sprinkle an even layer of the nut mixture. I used a large handful per layer.
5. Lay 2 sheets of phyllo on nut mixture. Butter and layer 2 more sheets, then butter and layer nuts. Repeat until the layers reach the top of dish. On the top, butter and layer by 2 sheets until you've used 14 sheets.
6. Cover dish with damp paper towels and stick it in the fridge for 30 minutes. Cut into triangles. Wipe off your knife between cuts and make sure to cut all the way through the bottom layers of phyllo. Brush the top with melted butter. Bake for 45 minutes at 350F. After 30 minutes, re-cut the triangles and return to oven.
7. Let baklava cool completely (about 2 hours). After it's cooled, pour syrup in dish and let sit for 1 hour so the syrup gets soaked into the nuts. Do not refrigerate again.
These keep for up to a week. If they last that long. They're pretty time consuming to make, but all the layering and brushing put me in an awesome zen pastry trance.