Mediterranean Baklawa and Greek Baklava Recipes (with video)

by | Dessert

My family’s Mediterranean Baklawa and Greek Baklava Recipes, are as richly steeped in history as they are honey.

Add to that, buttery phyllo pastry and exotically scented nut mixtures, and you’ve got the BEST dessert the ancient world gave to us today!

Baklawa - Also Known As Baklava
Baklawa – Also Known As Baklava

Is There A BEST Baklava?

The answer to that question is, No! 

Anyone who tells you they have the best baklava recipe, simply likes their own cooking LOL!

Wanna know why?

There is little difference from the Middle Eastern version to the Greek version, of this beautiful pastry. 

The difference is in the execution of the preparation, and the personal choice of nuts, essence, and spices.

Greek Baklava and Syrian Baklawa Recipes From Very Old Cookbooks
Greek Baklava and Syrian Baklawa Recipes From Very Old Cookbooks

The Most Popular Middle Eastern Dessert

For sure the most popular dessert in the Middle Eastern world is this one. 

And, unless you want to start a war over the correct name for Baklawa, Baklava or Baclava, I suggest you simply call it as you see it!

Consequently, the history behind Baklava is as unclear as the way to spell it, since nuts and honey, in one form or another, have been made into desserts since ancient times. 

If you are really interested in the Assyrian Empire, many years ago, or Ottoman ancestors that made their own dough for this honey dessert, then read on

Now that we’ve got the name and history sorted out, lets sweeten this conversation with more important information; nuts and honey! 

Best Mediterranean Pastries
Best Mediterranean Pastries

What Exactly Is Mediterranean Baklawa and Greek Baklava?

The sweetest words I’ve ever heard, that’s what they are!

Abundantly, they are layers and layers of buttery, crispy phyllo dough, hiding the secret spices and preferred nuts bundled inside. 

As if that wasn’t enough, the entire bundle is dripping with honey and the exotic essence, specific to the region it’s being prepared in.

Rolled Baklava with Orange Blossom Honey.
Rolled Baklava With Orange Blossom Honey

My BAKLAWA Experience

Having grown up with a first generation Syrian mom, I learned to make Baklawa as a kid. 

Once I overcame my apprehension in working with phyllo dough, I was hooked on both the making and the indulgence of this… dare I say, healthy dessert!

So healthy, in fact, that I even created an Apple Baklava!

Sometimes we made it with pistachios, while other times it was with walnuts. 

Most often my mom would add orange blossom water to the honey syrup, while other times she made a rose water syrup. 

Both were splendid! 

My BAKLAVA Experience

Despite perfecting my mother’s recipe, by the time I was a teen, something came along to confuse our family recipe, or rather… someone. 

Wouldn’t you know it, my first real boyfriend was a Greek boy!

As I began to spend time among his family, a huge family of fabulous cooks, I learned a few new techniques and flavors of the Greek influence to Baklava!

His mom would make massive trays of baklava for special occasions, serve it for days and freeze what remained for busier times of the year. 

I discovered that she would put lemon rinds and lemon juice into the simple syrup mixture of sugar, water and honey, which added a beautifully bright flavor to the sweet honey. 

Baklava Individually Presented For Easy Serving
Baklava Individually Presented For Easy Serving

The Nuts Of Baklawa and Baklava

I am often surprised at how cheap nuts are to buy, given that it is a massive endeavor to grow and harvest just about any type of nut. 

For the most part, this beautiful dessert is made with walnuts or pistachios. 

Both the Arabic desserts, Greek and Turkish pastries are made with these two nuts. 

On occasion I have come across modern day baklava made with almonds, or pine nuts and sometimes a mixture of several. 

Since I use almonds in so many of my other recipes, I do enjoy them in baklava, even though the flavor and oil content of the nut seems lighter than pistachios or walnuts. 

Walnuts, sugar and cinnamon for Baklava filling.
Walnuts, Sugar and Cinnamon For Baklava Filling

Is There A BAD Baklava?

The answer to that question is, Yes!

Though this was a very long time ago, I’ve got to tell you this short story!

That guy… the teenage boyfriend? 

Well, yea, you guessed it, by the time we reached twenty-one, we got married. 

Yep, it was a Big Fat Greek Arab Wedding! 

No, it didn’t last long, but that’s a story for another time. 

In short, we went to Greece for our honeymoon, got stuck on an island because some war broke out and we couldn’t get off the island for weeks, and then there is was… 

The worst baklava I’ve had in my life, It Was Made With Peanuts!

I won’t tell you which island it was, but I’m never going back! 

How To Make Baklava and Baklawa

Very simply, and often very sloppy, this beautiful dessert comes together.

Basically, phyllo dough is very forgiving to work with, so long as you can baste it together with butter. 

As a kid, the only way to crush the nuts for the pastry, was by putting them in a kitchen towel and hitting them with a hammer or rolling pin. 

Fortunately today, we have a food processor or a blender for this job, so it is much quicker. 

Beautiful Baklava Traditionally Served.
Beautiful Baklava Traditionally Served

Assembling Baklava

Once the nuts are crushed and spiced, the job of basting the layers of phyllo dough with melted butter begins. 

After a sufficient stack of buttered phyllo is obtained, it’s time for the nuts.

The nuts mixture goes into the pan, more layers of dough and then it gets baked low and slow. 

Whisking the simple syrup together over low heat, gets done while the pastry bakes.  

Rolled Baked and Sliced Baklava.
Rolled and Sliced Baklava

The BEST Baklava or Baklawa

Absolutely the best of either of these pastries is the one that evokes memories.

Memories about a grandparent, a family or a place you’ve visited.

The best baklava and baklawa is made with:

  • Pastry dough, known as phyllo or filo
  • Honey or sweet syrup
  • Nuts, just not peanuts please
  • Tradition

3-Tips I Will share About Making Baklava

I’m certain to receive lots of backlash on these tips, but hey, I have been around for 7 decades, so I can get away with this!

Oh, and if these tips don’t unnerve you, perhaps my creation of Baklava Muffins will! 

Baklava Muffins
Baklava Muffins

Baklava Tip #1

As you can see, in most every recipe for Baklava, the filling is just nuts.

All my life, it bothered me that when I took a bite, half the nuts would fall out. 

Of course you could drown the baked pastry in simply syrup to glue it all together, but… no. 

So I began putting an egg yolk into the nut mixture, sometimes 2 yolks if I am making a large amount. 

Works like a charm to hold the nuts together which means not drowning the pastry in simple syrup. 

Baklava Tip #2

Speaking of simple syrup, which is just boiled water and sugar, I really don’t want my healthy pastry swimming in boiled sugar. 

So… I prefer to use just honey, honey and the essence of orange blossom or rose water. 

The reason most recipes use simple syrup mixed with a little honey, is cost. That’s it. Just cost. 

If I make a simple syrup to mix with the honey, I use orange juice instead of water, and just a very little amount of sugar. Healthier!

Baklava Tip #3

A quickie! We all like a quick dessert now and then, so I created a modern baklava, a Pistachio Pastry, resembling baklava, that can be made in under 30-minutes. 

Simply roll the nut mixture into a log, with just a few layers of buttered phyllo dough. 

Add an egg yolk or a little goat cheese to the nut mixture, to hold it together, and bake.   

I’ve even used pure date syrup as the drizzle and skipped the simple syrup all together! 

Quickie Baklava
Quickie Baklava

Yes – I Made Baklawa For National Television!

How exciting was this, to be able to cook so many of my favorite foods on The Great American Recipe, on PBS!

With 8-episodes, of which I cooked in all of them, I knew I had to leave the starting gate with a family favorite, Baklawa!

Episode 1 Round 1 – Me On A Plate

Sure, it was a risk to make a dessert as my very first dish, up against nine other fabulous cooks. 

But, when the judges asked why I took this risk, I told them what my mother always used to say: 

“When you walk into a home where a dessert table has been spread, or look at the menu in a restaurant, the desserts will tell you all you need to know about the rest of the food being prepared!” 

The judges smiled and said, they were expecting great things from me. 

I delivered!

Rose Water Baklawa - The Great American Recipe - PBS
Rose Water Baklawa – The Great American Recipe – PBS

Ingredients Needed

  • Phyllo dough
  • Nuts
  • Powdered Cinnamon
  • Powdered Cloves
  • Salt
  • Butter
  • Honey
  • Sugar
  • Orange – juice and zest
  • Orange blossom water
Baklava ingredients and equipment.
Baklawa Ingredients

Equipment Needed

  • Food processor
  • Sauce pan – melting butter and making simple syrup
  • Measuring cup
  • Measuring spoons
  • Knife
  • Basting brush
  • Oven

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!

My Rose and Honey Baklawa on PBS
My Rose and Honey Baklawa on PBS
Mediterranean Baklawa and Greek Baklava Recipes

Mediterranean Baklawa and Greek Baklava Recipes

Buttery pastry filled with spice, essence and nuts, and drenched in honey.
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Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Mediterranean
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours

Equipment

  • Pastry brush
  • Baking dish or tray
  • Pointed serrated knife
  • Saucepan
  • Food processor or blender

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Phyllo pastry sheets thawed
  • 2 lbs Ground nuts of your choice
  • 1 Egg yolk
  • 1 tbsp Cinnamon powder
  • 1 tsp Clove powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 lb Melted butter more if needed
  • 3/4 cup Sugar for the syrup
  • 1/2 cup Orange juice for the syrup
  • 1 Cinnamon stick
  • 3 Whole cloves
  • 1 Orange peel long strip
  • 1 tsp Orange Blossom water or Rose water
  • 1 1/2 cups Honey

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 250 degrees
  • To make the nut filling, crush the nuts in a food processor or in batches in a blender. Add the spices, salt and egg yolks, mix well and set aside. 
  • To prepare the layers of phyllo dough, brush a little melted butter on the bottom and sides of a large baking pan. Place sheets of phyllo dough, one at a time, basting the melted butter on each sheet with a pastry brush, until 1/3 of the phyllo sheets have lined the bottom and sides of the pan. 
  • Place half of the nut mixture into the pan, on top of the phyllo sheets and pat them down evenly. Proceed with the layers of phyllo dough, as before, using 1/3 of the sheets, brushing well with butter. Add the remaining nut mixture, and continue with the last of the phyllo sheets until the buttery phyllo dough and encased the nut filling. 
  • Fold the overhang of dough, neatly around the edges, as you would a pie crust, trimming any excess dough away. Give the top layer of phyllo one last brush of butter. 
  • This next step, making diagonal cuts halfway through the dough, is important to do before baking, otherwise the dough will be to crisp to make clean cuts. 
    The diamond shapes you will cut into the dough can be finished cutting the remainder of the way through, when the baklava has cooled. 
  • Bake for 2 hours. The last 15-minutes, turn the oven to 350 and keep an eye on the baklava. A golden brown finish is was we are after. The perfect way to bake the baklava is in a low and slow oven.
  • While the baklava is baking, make the honey-based syrup, by placing all the syrup ingredients, except the honey, into a medium size pan. Bring to a low boil, quickly turn it down to low and allow to simmer for 7-minutes. Turn it off, whisk in the honey and allow the flavors to steep. 
  • Just before the baklava is finished baking, strain the cooled syrup.  
    Once the baklava comes out of the oven, begin to drizzle the syrup slowly over the hot baklava, around the edges, between the slices until the sweet pastry has much moisture all the way through. Once cooled, finish cutting all the way through with a sharp knife, taking care not to have the top layers of phyllo slide off. 
  • Traditional Turkish baklava, Traditional Greek baklava and throughout most of the Middle Eastern countries, the baklava/baklawa is removed from the pan, one piece at a time, and set into a decorative paper liner, much like a cupcake paper liner. In this way, the simple syrup remains within each slice and can last a long time in an airtight container. 

Video

Mediterranean Baklawa and Greek Baklava With Orange Blossom
Mediterranean Baklawa and Greek Baklava With Orange Blossom
 

My Muffin Madness

 

In my family, I’ve always been known as the ‘Muffin Queen’. Out of necessity, I created muffins for breakfast, lunch, on the go snacks, sometimes dinner and a sweet yet healthyish treat for dessert!

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Helen
Helen
11 months ago

This is the real deal, not the imitation simple syrup stuff some restaurants serve. So rich and melt in your mouth!

 
Doran Upton
Doran Upton
11 months ago

Love your baklava Robin . So rich and delicious. Your recipe is so easy to follow and love the pictures!

 

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