A traditional Mediterranean dessert with flaky pastry, walnut crunch, and sweet honey, lemon, and clove syrup.
This combination of flavors and textures is like no other dessert. The phyllo dough and butter makes it flaky, but because all of the syrup it isn’t dry. And then in the middle of all the phyllo flakiness, the walnuts give it a crunchy texture. Then to top it off, the honey syrup melds it all together with a sweet sugary flavor, and lemon and clove undertones.
I’m actually a little embarrassed that I am just posting this recipe now. I have been making this stuff since I was a kid with my grandmother. It is one of the few desserts without chocolate that really just drops my jaw every time.
So how do you make this stuff? First make sure you chop the walnuts the correct amount. You want to use a food processor to grind the nuts. They should be fine enough that you don’t bite into a whole chunk of walnut but not so fine that it is walnut flour.
What is phyllo dough? It is a pastry dough that is thinner than tissue paper. You can buy it in the frozen section in a box that has 2 rolls. Because it is so thin, it drys out quickly so keep it covered with a damp paper towel while you work.
You are going to be layering the phyllo dough sheets with melted butter. Don’t be a wimp with the butter! If you are indeed a wimp, your baklava will not be flaky and I will be embarrassed that you used my recipe!
Because the phyllo dough is so thin, you will have rips, and wrinkles. Don’t fret…no one will go through all 40 phyllo layers of their slice and check that they are perfect… and if they do, you need new friends.
The phyllo dough I buy is 9 x 15 in but I use a 9 x 13 in pan. To solve the mathematical problem that this is, I make a fold in the pastry dough and make sure that the fold is well buttered. I also try to rotate where the fold is in the pan so the same area of the pan doesn’t end up thicker than the rest of the pan.
Me in my natural habitat with butter in hand:
So after 12 sheets of slathering, spread the walnuts over the phyllo dough.
Then back to the butter slathering for the remaining phyllo sheets.
Cut the baklava before baking because when you pull it out you’re going to dump honey syrup on top and you what it to sink down into the baklava. Traditionally, baklava is cut into diamonds but you end up with a couple of odd side pieces and the perfectionist in me can’t handle it, so I cut mine into triangles.
Then you bake it and make the honey syrup on the stove. Immediately after you take the baklava out of the oven, pour the hot syrup over the pan and watch it dance. No seriously… it does a little jig in the pan! The syrup is already hot and the heat of the pan brings the syrup back to a boil, so the top layer of pastry boogies because the hot syrup boiling under it.
I think that the flavor really sinks in after a day in the fridge, so it would be a good recipe to make ahead of time.
Not a walnut fan? Replace the walnuts with pistachios!
Happy rest of your holidays!
- 2 cups unsalted walnuts or pistachios
- 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 roll or ½ pound phyllo dough, thawed *
- ¾ cup salted butter, melted
- 1¼ cup honey
- 1½ Tablespoon lemon juice
- 7 whole cloves
- ½ cup water
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Pulse the walnuts and sugar in a foot processor about 20-30 times or until it is coarsely ground. Set aside.
- Unroll the phyllo dough and lay a damp paper towel over it through out to keep it from drying out. So the only time it should be uncovered is while you are pulling a sheet out.
- Brush a 9x13 inch ceramic or glass baking dish with some of the melted butter to grease it.
- Take one sheet of the phyllo dough and place it in the baking dish. Don't worry about wrinkles or tears. Brush the sheet with the melted butter using a pastry brush. Make sure the entire sheet gets some butter or else you will have dry patches.**
- Repeat the previous step until you have 12 sheets buttered in your pan.
- Spread the walnut mixture over the buttered sheets.
- Layer the rest of the phyllo sheets, buttering each sheet like in step #5.
- Cut the baklava into squares. (I did 3 width wise and 4 length wise.) Then cut each square diagonally so you should end up with 24 triangles.
- Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. While the baklava is baking, make the syrup in the next step.
- Combine the honey, lemon juice, whole cloves, and water in a small saucepan. Cook on medium-low heat (stirring occasionally) until it boils and then reduce the heat to low to simmer (still stirring occasionally) while the baklava finishes baking.
- Immediately after the baklava comes out of the oven, fish the cloves out of the syrup mixture with a spoon and pour the syrup over the baked baklava. It will bubble a lot in the hot pan.
- Let cool.
**The brand of phyllo dough I buy comes in 9x15 inch sheets so I have a fold in the sheet to get it to fit. If the brand of phyllo dough you buy has the same issue, just be sure to butter the folded portion really well and rotate where in the pan the folded portion ends up.
Adapted from Sweets Eats