On a pregnancy/mommy message board I participate in, a mom was asking what kind of Greek food she could make, and baklava was brought up.
Baklava will always hold a special place in my heart. It was my late Lebanese grandmother’s thing (among many Lebanese dishes) to make, and she made some amazing baklava. No one else’s has ever come close.
It wasn’t just the flavors and textures that made my grandma’s (aka Grandma Odie) baklava so special. It was also the time and effort she put into it. She usually made trays of baklava for family gatherings like birthday parties, but as she got older, she started making me my own trays of baklava just because she knew I loved it so much.
Why does that mean so much to me? Baklava is hard stuff to make! She was in her mid-80s still making this and I know she couldn’t have been comfortable being on her feet for so long. It’s very time consuming and you need to be delicate. But she made it for me, and I know it made her happy.
I’d never attempted baklava before. All those layers. But that message board sparked a craving for baklava. I haven’t any since Grandma Odie died in February 2013. My mom cleared out her fridge and found a fresh, untouched tray of it. Either she was going to give it to someone she knew, or she was going to treat herself! So we took it home and enjoyed the last batch we’d ever have of Grandma Odie’s baklava.
I wanted to do her proud and satisfy my craving by making it myself rather than hunting it down already prepared.
1 roll Phyllo dough (I used the Athens brand you can find at most grocery stores.)
4 cups walnuts
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbs sugar
1 stick butter, melted
1/2 stick butter
1 cup honey
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
350 degrees, 45 minutes
Thaw the phyllo dough according to the box’s instructions. Phyllo dough is a package of very thin sheets of dough. When baked, it is very light and flaky.
Grease a 9×13 pan with a stick of butter, and then melt that stick.
Lay your first sheet of dough over the pan. Cover the rest of the sheets while you work with a damp paper towel to keep your dough sheets from drying out.
Brush your dough with the melted butter. Repeat this step four times. The recipe I took inspiration from suggested buttering every other sheet. I say we’re making a dessert, dangit, so let’s go all out.
Plus, the extra butter keeps the baklava from being dry, and dry baklava is sad baklava. Grandma Odie was very generous with the butter
After buttering four layers of dough, sprinkle your walnuts (that have been mixed with the cinnamon and sugar) over the dough.
I drizzled a little butter over this, added another buttered sheet on top followed by three more buttered sheets.
Repeat this step so you have dough-walnuts-dough-walnuts-dough (2 layers of walnuts in total). You can make one big layer of walnuts, several small layers, or whatever you desire. I opted for one big layer followed by a smaller layer.
Make sure your last layer goes on nice and pretty since it’s the top layer and everyone sees it! It’s okay if your layers get slightly wrinkled or slightly torn, but a roll of phyllo dough comes with a lot of sheets, so feel free to start over if you tear one beyond repair. You will probably not run out!
I found the best way to handle each dough sheet was to scoop my hands underneath either side and gently lay it down flat like you’re putting it to bed. If I laid a sheet down any other way, it was more likely to tear.
Now cut your baklava into slices. Make sure you do this before baking! It will be a lot easier! You can slice in squares, diamonds, or whatever you like. I went for the diamonds, which was a little difficult, but I think anyway you slice it (ha), it’s going to be challenging to do it gently. I don’t know if there’s a better way, but I used a pizza cutter to slice mine. They came out a little bigger than expected.
Bake the baklava at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
While the baklava bakes, prepare your syrup. This is what makes the pastry sticky sweet when you eat it.
Combine 1/2 stick butter, 1 cup honey, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup water and 1.5 tbs vanilla extract in a saucepan. Heat to boil, then reduce heat until the mixture begins to thicken. Remove from heat to help it continue to thicken.
As soon as your baklava is out of the oven, immediately pour half of your syrup evenly over it.
My syrup wasn’t very thick because I didn’t start working on it soon enough, but in the end it didn’t really matter because once it’s on the baklava, it will thicken in the fridge.
The thing about baklava is it’s not like a chocolate cookie — it’s not good fresh out of the oven. (Well maybe it could be, but I’ve never eaten it that way. Seems wrong.) Baklava should be chilled in the fridge for at least a few hours before enjoying.
I kept mine in the fridge all night since I finished making it at around 11 pm.
Okay, so how did it turn out overall? It was good; much better than I expected! Fresh beats store-bought any day, but I do have some alterations for next time:
1. Chop the walnuts more and toast them before adding to the baklava. Baklava is kind of a melt-in-your-mouth dessert, but the walnuts were a little too bulky to make mine like that.
2. More dough between the walnut layers. It seems like you’re adding enough layers during the process, but as you can see in the picture, it could’ve benefited from more layers. You get a ton in the package, so why not?
3. Grease the bottom of the pan better. The baklava isn’t hopelessly stuck to the bottom, but it could come off a little easier.
But the pros are it’s sticky sweet, buttery, and has that taste that reminds me of Grandma Odie’s. I’d say it’s a good substitute for her’s. I know she did things differently to it and I’m kicking myself for not finding out her recipe before she died.
The cool thing about baklava is you can add a lot to it to make it your own. You can add different nuts, different layering alterations, different flavors. Grandma Odie sometimes added rose water to her baklava. While it wasn’t my favorite spin on them, it did make it unique.
I recommend this recipe if you have a potluck of any kind coming up and you want to bring something besides the usual brownies and cookies. It’s sure to be a crowd pleaser!
I also recommend it if you are stricken with a sudden pregnancy craving like I was 🙂 My craving is satisfied! I’m very happy I went ahead and made my own batch from scratch. I know I’ll make it again.