A sweet, nutty, authentic Greek baklava filled with walnuts and just the right blend of cinnamon and cloves. This is the best we’ve ever had!
There are many great things about having a friend and neighbor who is from Greece, not the least of which is that she brings us fabulous food all the time. Oh, and she’s a really sweet and dear person and she often helps take care of Callie the Beagle.
But today we must talk about the food, specifically the baklava.
Baklava was never one of my favorite foods until Efi brought us some of her homemade version. Then I realized that the baklava I had tasted before was nothing more than a placeholder, a pathetic imitation of the real deal.
Efi’s baklava is sweet, sticky, crunchy and has just the right blend of cinnamon and cloves and nuts to make it a delectable treat worth devouring before you even consider sharing it with anyone else—which is what usually happens in our house.
A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to a girls’ night Mediterranean-themed dinner. I saw Efi outside a few days before the party and strategically said, “Efi, I’ve been invited to a Mediterranean style dinner…what do you think I should take?” A
nd Efi, being the sweet and dear soul that she is said, “Would you like me to make some baklava?” Of course, it never occurred to me that she would say that and so I politely said, “Oh, no, that’s way too much trouble for you,” all the while vigorously nodding my head up and down and silently screaming, “Yes, yes, yes!!!”
And so, Efi came over and we had a baklava lesson. It’s time consuming but not nearly as difficult as I had imagined. And I was startled to learn that there is no brown sugar and no honey. Interesting, don’t you think? I always thought baklava had both of those ingredients.
How Do You Make Baklava
We started by melting 2 sticks of butter in a saucepan on the stove. I was going to melt it in the microwave, but Efi said no. Apparently it wouldn’t get hot and foamy enough in the microwave.
While the butter’s melting, preheat the oven to 325-350°. My pan is a little darker than Efi’s so we baked at 325°, but you could bake at 350° if your pan is lighter.
Next, place walnuts a couple of cups at a time in the food processor and chop slightly. You don’t want them to be too fine, so leave some a little chunkier than others but still small.
Once the nuts are chopped, place them in a large bowl and add 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup plain bread crumbs, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves. Stir well.
You need a 9×13 inch pan for this recipe, not a glass baking dish. If you don’t have a pan then pick up one of the disposable aluminum ones at the store. Butter or spray the pan well so the baklava won’t stick.
We used one thawed package of phyllo at room temperature (the box usually comes with 2 packages, so leave one in the freezer).
Pro tip: When working with phyllo, you have to be careful that each subsequent piece doesn’t dry out.
Some people cover it with a damp paper towel while working, but Efi doesn’t. She shrugs off the notion that it will dry and says just keep working and get it done.
Place 1 phyllo sheet in the buttered 9×13 pan and brush with melted butter.
It looks like paper, doesn’t it? You continue this process with six sheets of phyllo, placing each sheet on top of the other and brushing well with butter. I got a little butter happy and ended up melting another stick, so don’t go crazy with the butter just make sure the sheet is covered.
After you’ve laid six sheets, scoop out a generous handful of the walnut mixture and sprinkle on top of the last buttered sheet of phyllo.
Now you place 2 sheets of phyllo on top of the walnuts, one at a time, brushing each with melted butter. Then add more walnuts on top of the second buttered sheet. Repeat with two sheets and walnuts until all the walnuts have been used.
You must pay attention to how much phyllo you have left and make sure that you end with six sheets on top (with no walnuts in between) just like on the bottom. Butter each of the six sheets indivually as you lay them. I don’t know how Efi does this by herself, because as I was buttering and spreading walnuts, she was getting ready to hand me the next sheet of phyllo.
And she counted to make sure we ended with six. I recommend having a helper the first couple of times you attempt baklava on your own.
Now, we must cut. Efi uses a bread knife and starts with straight lines…
And then makes pretty diaganol cuts, carefully holding the phyllo so it doesn’t tear.
Then just sprinkle a little water over the top and place in oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the top is deep golden brown.
While the baklava is baking, you can prepare the sugar syrup. In a saucepan, combine 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar, 2 cups water, 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice and 1 or 2 cinnamon sticks. Bring to a rolling boil and boil for exactly 8 minutes from the time it started boiling.
Then remove from heat.
As soon as you remove the baklava from the oven, pour the warm sugar syrup over the top. This is what gives baklava that pretty shiny look.
Now just let it cool for a while and then go over the cuts again with the bread knife.
Place on a serving platter and enjoy. The baklava will keep for several days in the refrigerator and just bring to room temperature before serving. My girlfriends loved this baklava as much as I do, and I know that you will too. Maybe I can get Efi to give me a lesson on spanikopita next.
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- 1 pkg phyllo dough thawed and room temperature
- 2 sticks unsalted butter melted
- 5 cups chopped walnuts
- 1/2 cup plain dried bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 2 cups water
- 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- Preheat oven to 325. Butter or spray a 9×13 inch baking pan. Don’t use a glass dish.
- Melt 2 sticks of butter in a saucepan on the stove.
- Pulse walnuts in food processor, 2 cups at a time, until a mix of small pieces and some fine pieces. Don’t chop to the point that they are ground. In a large bowl, combine chopped walnuts, sugar, bread crumbs, cinnamon and cloves.
- Place 1 phyllo sheet in the buttered 9×13 pan and brush with melted butter. Continue this process with six sheets of phyllo, placing each sheet on top of the other and brushing well with butter.
- Scoop out a generous handful of the walnut mixture and sprinkle on top of the last buttered sheet of phyllo.
- Place 2 sheets of phyllo on top of the walnuts, one at a time, brushing each with melted butter. Add more walnuts on top of the second buttered sheet.
- Repeat until all the walnuts have been used and end with six phyllo sheets for the top.
- Butter each of the six sheets indivually just like you did at the beginning. Using a bread knife, cut straight lines and then diaganol lines. Hold the phyllo and cut slowly to avoid tearing.
- Sprinkle a little water over the top and place in oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the top is deep golden brown.
Sugar Syrup – Prepare While Baklava is Baking
- In a saucepan, combine 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar, 2 cups water, 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice and 1 or 2 cinnamon sticks. Bring to a rolling boil and boil for exactly 8 minutes from the time it started boiling. Then remove from heat.
- As soon as you remove the baklava from the oven, pour the warm sugar syrup over the top. Now just let it cool for a while and then go over the cuts again with the bread knife. Remove from pan and place on a serving platter.