Baklava, also known as Baklawa, is a sweet Middle Eastern pastry made with layers of paper thin phyllo dough filled with crushed nuts and spices, and sweetened with honey.
What Is Baklava or Baklawa?
The sweetest word I’ve ever heard? Baklava! I grew up in a Syrian/American home and Baklava (we call it Baklawa, while Greeks call it Baklava), was made often simply because it is so easy to make. Yes… Easy!
Layers and layers of buttered phyllo dough get stacked in a baking pan. Mounds of crushed nuts with spices get dumped in, followed by more layers of buttered phyllo, baked and bathed in honey! How decadent is that?
Dessert Pastries Are A Mediterranean Tradition
When I was growing up, no one knew of Baklava unless your family was Middle Eastern or Greek. Now, everywhere in the world has tasted this luscious, dare I say, almost healthy dessert.
There are many variations on this dessert; which nuts to use, simple syrup verses honey, but for sure they are all delicious.
Middle Eastern Pastries
Not every grocery store sells ready-made Middle Eastern pastries. Making them at home is easy if you are able to buy phyllo dough.
As a kid, once a month we would drive into DC to shop at the Middle Eastern market. Back then, it was the only place to buy phyllo dough.
The metal tins of thick honey imported from Lebanon, are what I remember most about those markets.
Sheep and goats milk cheeses, plump marinated olives and apricot sheets, a delicacy that would put current day fruit rollup’s to shame.
We filled our market bag to the brim. Happily knowing we were once again stocked with fabulous cooking ingredients for the month.
Phyllo Dough And Baklava
Phyllo Dough, believe it or not, was actually made in the homes of many Middle Eastern women. Imagine how tedious that must be. Thank goodness we are now able to buy phyllo dough in the freezer section of most grocery stores across America.
This paper thin dough is unleavened, which means it is made without yeast or any other rising agent. It is basically just flour, vinegar, oil and water.
Once it is rolled paper thin and used for a variety of recipes, both sweet and savory, it bakes to a beautifully crunchy finish. The more layers, the more the crunch.
Baklawa – Middle Eastern Nut Pastries
Nuts are an individual preference. The Baklawa we made when I was growing up was always made with pistachio nuts, which were often very expensive. We stacked the pastry thiner to save on the cost. Walnuts quickly became the nut of choice for my family since it was easier to find and less expensive.
The nuts get ground to an almost powder, with some spices added. Sugar is not added to the filling of nuts since the honey or simple syrup is poured on after the baklava bakes.
Cinnamon is often the preferred spice added though a creative mix of spices, such as cardamom, cloves, nutmeg or other favored spices, certainly compliments the ground nuts.
Honey vs Simple Syrup in Baklava Also Called Baklawa
Honey vs Simple Syrup. This has been a debate for as long as I can remember when making Baklava.
Throughout regions of Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Greece the most amazing bee farms can be found. Families often keep a large container of honey in their homes.
Here in America, not so much. In fact it was only in recent years that real honey could be found in markets across America. Before that, the honey that was (often still is), sold in grocery stores (I’m sorry to say), poured like pancake syrup and is not real honey.
What Is Simple Syrup?
Simple syrup is simply sugar and water boiled until it begins to thicken. Often a cinnamon stick, or an orange or lemon peel would be added to flavor the sugar water.
After years and years of making Baklava/Baklawa I have created my own blend of both simple syrup and honey. I use orange juice instead of water, adding a splash of Orange Blossom Water or Rose Water.
Traditional Dessert Pastry Presentation
Traditionally, I have always made a sheet pan of baklava, cut it into diamond shapes. Secondly, once baked and sweet honey syrup added, I place each piece of baklava in a pastry paper or cupcake paper.
This method makes serving baklava easier and it stores best this way so you simply pick up one slice and not have to cut it from the sticky pan.
Quick Pistachio and Honey Pastry is another favorite traditional pastry I have put my own twist on to make it fast.
Baking Tips For Phyllo Dough
While almost every recipe you will find bakes baklava at 350 degrees, something unique happens when you bake baklava low and slow.
Baking baklava at 250 degrees (F), for 2 hours allows the layers of pastry tucked deep inside the thick layer of crushed nuts, to bake crunchy and crisp without the outer layers of dough becoming over baked.
I have done it both ways; 250 for 2 hours and 350 for 45 minutes and wow is there a difference!
A Secret Tip For Middle Eastern Pastries
One of the biggest complaints about eating baklava is that the nut filling often falls out from the already messy pastry dough. My new secret that keeps that from happening, is to put an egg into the crushed nut mixture. It holds the filling together beautifully.
- Phyllo dough
- Powdered Cinnamon
- Powdered Cloves
- Orange – juice and zest
- Orange blossom water
- Food processor
- Sauce pan – melting butter and making simple syrup
- Measuring cup
- Measuring spoons
- Basting brush
Baklawa On The Great American Recipe – PBS
Having grown up making Baklawa (also known as Baklava), and then having the opportunity to make it on national television was the ultimate!
Season 1 Episode 1 of The Great American Recipe is where I made my family’s favorite Syrian dessert!
BAKLAVACourse: Dessert, PastriesCuisine: Mediterranean
Baklava is a sweet pastry made with layers of paper thin phyllo dough filled with crushed nuts and spices, and sweetened with honey.
1 pound box of phyllo dough, thawed
Nuts – 2 pounds, crushed walnuts or pistachio
Powdered Cinnamon – 1 tablespoon
Powdered Cloves – 1 teaspoon
Salt – 1/2 teaspoon
Butter – 3/4 pound unsalted, melted
Honey Syrup – below
Cupcake papers – as many, as slices you choose to have
Honey Syrup Ingredients – Makes 2 cups
Sugar – 1 cup
Orange juice – 1 cup freshly squeezed, (or water)
Cinnamon stick – 1
Whole cloves – 2 or 3
Orange peel – several peels
Orange Blossom Water – 1 teaspoon (optional but delightful)
Honey – 1 cup
- Preparation – Preheat oven to 250
- Crush the nuts in a food processor or in batches in a blender. Add spices and salt and mix well. Set aside while working on the pastry.
- In a large baking pan (rectangle cake pan is perfect), brush a little melted butter on the bottom and sides. Lay the first sheet of phyllo on the bottom, brush lightly with melted butter. Layer after layer of phyllo dough, coming up the sides, brushing melted butter on each layer. Don’t worry if every inch of pastry is not buttered, simply give a quick brush so you can to keep the dough from drying out. Also don’t worry if some sheets tear because the basted butter kind of glues it all together. Stop, after about 10 layers.
- Sprinkle half the nut mixture across the buttered pastry sheets. Begin to layers pastry with brushed melted butter again. Stop after about 5 layers. Sprinkle the remaining nut mixture. Continue to layer pastry sheets and brush melted butter until all the sheets have been used. Finish with a good basting of butter. (Most boxes of phyllo dough have anywhere from 25 to 40 sheets, so plan the layers accordingly).
- Cut. This step is really important. Trim the edges of phyllo dough hanging off the edges of the pan. Neatly roll the dough edges to form an edge similar to a pie crust. With a sharp knife, cut 3/4 way through the layers into the slices you will want. Carefully cutting the dough before baking, while the butter makes the dough pliable is important because cutting after the baklava bakes is nearly impossible!
- Place in the preheated oven and bake for 2 hours. The last 15 minutes, turn the oven to 350 and keep an eye on the baklava. A golden finish is what you are after.
- While the baklava is baking, make the honey syrup.
- Syrup Preparation
- In a saucepan, bring orange juice, cinnamon stick, whole cloves, orange peel and sugar to a boil. Quickly turn it down and let is simmer to thicken slightly, about 7 minutes. Be careful not to simmer too long or it will become too thick to pour.
- Remove sugar mixture from the stove, pour in honey and orange blossom water. Stir and let sit until ready to use.
- Once the baklava is finished baking, remove from the oven and slowly spoon the honey syrup mixture across every inch, every crack, every cut and edge of the baked baklava. Don’t be in a hurry with this step because the honey syrup is what sweetens and softens the pastry into a decadent sweet treat that will last for weeks in an airtight container.
- Once the baklava has cooled completely, with a sharp knife, continue to cut all the way through to the bottom of the pan in each slice. This step can be tedious but the slices will look beautiful if you remain patient.
- Carefully remove each slice and place it in a cupcake paper. While this step is not necessary, it certainly makes for easy serving and storing of this sticky yummy pastry.
- Baklava will last in a closed container in the fridge for several weeks. Simply allow the desired serving amount to become room temp before serving.