Everyone knows BAKLAVA. Layers of flaky phyllo pastry blanketed with ground nuts plus plenty of spice (and everything nice), soaked in a sweet honey syrup. Many consider baklava as the gold standard of Greek desserts. I’m not sure if this constitutes a mortal sin against Greek culture but I will say it anyway: I’m not the biggest fan of baklava. I do like lamb though, so hopefully that admission keeps my credibility up.
At one point, I honestly considered not including a recipe for baklava on my blog. But then Zeus and his immortal pals conspired to change my mind. Two things happened in one week. I told my Yiayia Saltas, quite casually, that one of my clients wanted to learn how to make baklava. The next day she shows up with her own baklava recipe, handwritten just for me. That same day, I scanned through my late Yiayia Metos’ recipe book for a dinner recipe. Her recipe book is a treasure trove my mom and I hold onto. Many of her recipes, from desserts to main dishes were kept on handwritten 3 x 5 index cards. The first index card I pulled out was her recipe for baklava. That card stared up at me with grace.
The signs were too sweet to ignore so I put aside my own feelings about baklava for all of those who love it. The recipe below combines the genius of both my Yiayia Helen Metos and Yiayia Stella Saltas, two of the best bakers I’ve ever known. This recipe fills a generous 14” x 20” baking dish. The result is beautifully delicious. Enjoy!
- 6 cups walnuts*
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon allspice
- 1 pound of unsalted butter
- 1 pound of phyllo
- *Or use a mix of chopped nuts (walnuts, almonds, pistachios). My Yiayia Metos used a combination of almonds and walnuts.
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup water
- ¼ cup honey
- ¼ cup Karo syrup
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 lemon, halved
- Pulse walnuts in a food processor until finely chopped. Combine the chopped nuts, sugar, cinnamon, ground cloves, and allspice in a bowl and mix well.
- Butter a baking dish (14” x 20”) generously with melted butter. Place one phyllo sheet on the bottom of the pan, brush pastry with butter. Repeat until you have buttered 6-7 sheets of phyllo.
- YIAYIA’s TIP: When working with phyllo dough, be sure to cover the stack with a damp cloth to keep the pastry from drying out. Keep the phyllo under plastic wrap, so the damp towel doesn’t soak the sheets.
- Sprinkle 1 cup of nut mixture evenly on top. Add two pieces of phyllo and brush with butter in between. Sprinkle another cup of nut mixture, and then two pieces of phyllo. Repeat until all the nut mixture is used (you should get about 5 layers).
- Top with another layer of 6-7 sheets of phyllo, again brushing each one with melted butter.
- YIAYIA’s TIP: Be sure to butter the layers well to avoid a dry baklava, don’t skimp on the butter!
- Brush the top with melted butter. Cut the baklava before baking. Cut into 1 ½ wide strips, and then diagonally about 1 ½ apart to form diamond pieces.
- Bake at 325 degrees for approximately 90 minutes, until the top is golden and crisp.
- While the dessert is in the oven, make the syrup. Bring all the ingredients to a boil for 10 minutes, or until sugar is involved. Discard lemon before using. Take off the heat and set aside to cool.
- Once the baklava is done, remove from the oven. Pour the cooled syrup over the hot baklava.
- Set aside to cool, uncovered. As a finishing touch, you can also put a clove into each piece to hold it together, or sprinkle with nuts.