Last week my team at work decided to organize a cook-out. The official occasion was St. Patrick’s Day but we agreed to make and bring dishes that represent culinary traditions from all over the world. Thus, we ended up with Irish Soda Bread, Korean Bulgogi beef, Chinese pork and mushrooms, Turkish burek with spinach and cheese, and lots of other dishes. I brought a baklava. Many of my friends have asked me since then to provide the recipe. Hence, my current post.
As everything else coming from the Balkan Peninsula, cooking recipes are complex. There is always an argument between the nations from that region whether a certain dish originates from their country or their neighbors’ country. Believe me or not, wars can be started and waged for years over such a seemingly innocuous dispute as where baklava comes from. Therefore, I would like to assuage my Greek or Turkish friends’ fears. In this post, I am not going to dwell on where baklava really originates from.
All I care is that it is a delicious dessert and that my mom’s recipe has successfully entertained countless scores of guests at our house for years. So I am simply going to share this recipe here. I understand there are multiple other recipes. In fact, baklava is one of those things that everyone claims their mom makes the best. But, if you’re willing to try, perhaps you can experiment with my mom’s recipe here and tell me what the results are.
14 ounces (~400 grams) of crushed walnuts. Whole Foods can provide you with a good choice of walnuts.
2 lb (~900 grams) of sugar. I prefer the Organic Sugar with Evaporated Cane Juice from Trader Joe’s.
1 quart (~900 milliliters) of water (to be used to make the syrup).
Layering the Baklava
Use a rectangular baking pan. Lay individual fillo dough layers on top of each other, until you have gone through 2/3 of the fillo dough box.
Add the crushed walnuts. (Note: The walnut pieces in the photo are a bit too big — if possible, please use walnuts crushed in very small pieces. I will replace the photo with a better one next time I make baklava at home.) Make sure the walnuts cover the fillo dough evenly across the entire baking pan.
Lay a few more layers of fillo dough until you finish the box. Cut the unfinished baklava in the pan into small diamond-shape pieces (see photo below).
Melt the butter in a frying pan for a few minutes. Make sure you do not over-fry the butter.
Once the butter has changed to a liquid form, pour it evenly over the unfinished, cut baklava. Then insert the baklava in an oven, which has been pre-heated to 355 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the top layer of the baklava acquires a golden coloring.
Preparing the Syrup
While baking the baklava in the oven, focus on preparing the syrup. Pour a quart (~900 milliliters) of water in a small frying pan and mix it with 2 lb (~900 grams) of sugar. You can reduce the sugar a little if you prefer a less sweet (less syrupy) taste for the baklava. Boil the concoction for 20-30 minutes. Make sure you stir the concoction continuously. The litmus test that the syrup is ready is to pour a drop of it on a plate. If the drop stays put, without spilling, then the syrup is ready.
Cut the lemon in two halves. Squeeze one half of the lemon in the concoction while it is still boiling (a few minutes before you take it off the stove). Grate the lemon rind and add it to the concoction. Keep stirring for a few more minutes.
Take the pan with the concoction off the stove and squeeze the second half of the lemon. Let the concoction cool for a few minutes.
Meanwhile, the baklava in the oven should be almost ready.
When the top layer starts looking golden, take the baklava out of the oven and let it cool for a few minutes. Once the baklava and the syrup have cooled off, pour the syrup evenly on top of the baklava. Make sure it covers the baklava as fully as possible — try not to leave any dry part of the top crust.
Cover the baking pan and place the cooked baklava in the fridge. (I personally prefer to eat the baklava chilled, therefore I always keep it in the fridge.) For best results, let the baklava settle for about 24 hours before consuming.
I found this baking pan with a plastic cover in Crate & Barrel. It comes very handy for storing baklava and other similar pastries.
Bon Appétit! Let me know how it goes.