Growing up as a child I found myself in a friends kitchen on more than one Sunday.
Eventually Yaya (greek for grandmother) put me to work in the kitchen with the rest of the family and kids. Years later I realized she had taught me how to work with the beast that phyllo dough can be, and to make Baklava without ever seeing her actual recipe.
This is a Pretty common desert to most of the Mediterranean, and Middle East. The Common components are the flaky dough layers, sugar and spiced nuts.
This is not Yaya's recipe I don't think she shared that with anyone that was not directly related to her and getting married, this is my approximation.
What I am demonstrating is dangerous to do with a new non borosilicate pyrex pan. Pyrex brand is no longer Boro its now tempered glass and there is a very real possibility the hot syrup into hot glass causes a thermal catastrophe.
I am really showing this portion as a preservation of the "old way" You may want to follow this recipe and the syrup directions from another one to match your metal or new glass pan.
You can make it.... its a nightmare best left to machines and professional chefs
Frozen phyllo is fine. The fact we are making a fancy desert that's supposed to be pretty means we get to really test our phyllo handling skills.
The most important tool to this is a good pastry brush. A small brush just makes this HARD. you want a 1" or wider pastry brush.
Before shopping know the size of your pan, Phyllo comes in different sizes and you may need to trim the sheets to size. Knowing your pan size can save effort, I happen to have a 9x13 and phyllo that fits it. The other common size I see is 13x18 so you have to cut the sheets in half.
When shopping for the dough its important the box shows no signs of damage. Physical dents may indicate you have broken sheets inside the box, any sign of water damage means the dough may have been allowed to thaw uncontrolled and the edges have likely turned into a gluey mass then refrozen. This happens more than you expect, phyllo is a low turnover product in many stores.
The proper thawing of the phyllo is pretty critical to success in its use. in my fridge its about 18 hours to thaw, and 24 hours before its too soft. on my counter its 4-6 hours thawing and 9-10 hours before its too warm. Which all depends on the ambient temp.
So you need to plan ahead on baklava or spanikopita baking days.
Not only is phyllo sensitive to temperature its moisture/humidity sensitive. If left exposed on the counter it will dry out in few minutes and turn into brittle paper. If its too damp or warm it will glue itself to the layer below it.
When working with phyllo I use a dampened towel, and dry paper towels to to manage my humidity.
I expose the top surface, add a single layer of paper towel and then drape a damp towel over it. With my average humidity I end up with the damp towel on only about 1/2 the time.
1 pack frozen phyllo dough (you will probably only be using 1 of the 2 sleeves for this)
3-4 cups (720-960ml) or 1lb (900g) raw nuts (I use almond, sometimes a mix of almond and walnut) Common nuts are almond, walnut, pistachio, cashew
1/2 cup (118ml) clarified melted butter
3/4 tsp ground Cinnamon (you should not quite be able to identify this in the raw mix)
1/4 tsp ground Clove (you should just be able to tell there's clove)
1 cup (236ml) white sugar
For the syrup
1 cups (236ml) white sugar
4oz(118ml) honey (you can exchange this for 1/2 cup sugar)
Pick some of the following I typically use the * marked
10-15 cardamom pods* (Less optional than the rest, you should try this)
1 Tbsp lemon juice*
1/8-1/4 Orange water* or rose water
1/2 Tbsp Citrus zest, I would love to try this with Buddha's hand zest
A note about nuts
The spices are pretty aggressive most nut flavors are going to get lost, you can easily turn this into a 50$ tray of dessert and not really be able to tell the difference between the 50$ macadamia or the 20$ almond.
Almonds are not only the cheapest (besides peanut) around here I feel they are the most traditional, being native to the locale and all.
while you will use less than 1/2 a cup if your doing it right, below a certain volume its hard to work with
over medium heat
Melt 3/4-1 cup unsalted butter in a pan
bring to a simmer/low boil
allow to simmer until it slows drastically
at this point there will be yellow to brown grit at the bottom of the pan
Pour through cheese cloth or into a liquid measuring cup (decant leaving as much solid in the pan as possible)
You can do this per use, or prepare ahead of time. Clarified butter is longer lasting product than butter as the things that go rancid, water and milk solids have been (mostly) removed.
It will keep for 6 months in the fridge.
Combine 1 pound raw nuts in a food processor and pulse till medium fine dice
add 1 cup sugar and ground spices pulse till mixed
At this point it should be more spice bite than sweet. adjust so the spices are very present but not overpowering.
The sugar we added is mostly binder the real sweet comes from the syrup
(fancy version divide into parts for layering in)
- Damp wrung out and snapped a few time to dry it even more kitchen towel
- Phyllo still in plastic
- New dry paper towel
- Clarified butter
- Oil every inner surface of this pan witht he clarified butter
- Lay down first sheet and gently press to the bottom
- Lay 4 more sheets
- Sticking it to the edges can help this layer stay put
- Butter the top of every layer till layer 10
- Cover layer 10 with nut mixture
- Cover nuts with the next 10 layers buttering the top of each layer
- Trim the edges flat and even
- Cut ALL the way through the raw assembled Baklava. this can require a bit of work and sawing action.
Prepare a work area with space for the butter, pan, and phyllo dough next to each other.
Working fast with phyllo means not needing to work as hard with it.
A good Pastry brush will really help.
Get a clean kitchen towel wet, wring it out as much as you can and snap it dry a couple times. The driest damp you can make it.
Open the phyllo, unroll it and leave the plastic sheet its on, on the bottom. This will keep that side from drying out or getting contaminated. Place a single layer of paper towels still strung together over the phyllo and the lay the dampened towel on top.
For every phyllo layer, If it is stiff and cracks its either too dry or still frozen, let sit under the towel for a while before starting the next layer, If the phyllo starts sticking to the next sheet or gets stretchy it is getting too dry leave just the paper towels on without the damp towel, for a layer or 2.
Your box of phyllo will say x number sheets or leaves. mine said 40, and had 2 packages in it. So each pack is 20 sheets. You can layer the nut mix in, in all kinds of variations. I am going to claim slight laziness here and simply put all my nuts in the middle. Or Layer 10 for me, but its not that important, as long as it all makes it into the pan.
Oil the Pan with the clarified butter, (make sure butter is at least body temp and flows freely at all times during use.)
Lay in the first layer, and press down gently.
Lay in 4 more layers. (I don't butter the bottom several or you end up with this butter soaked cardboard material)
Butter the top of this layer and lay in a sheet
Repeat "Butter the top of this layer and lay in a sheet"
When you get to the middle or layer 10 in my case, butter the top of the sheet if you haven't already
Add the nut mixture and gently smooth flat
Lay in a sheet and butter as before until all the rest of the phyllo is gone.
There are many layer variations, from literally a little bit of filling on every layer to the lazy version here with 1 layer in the middle. Generally 2 or 3 filling layers even spread through the middle like layered cake is the most common I have seen locally. And will taste better than the demonstrated version but takes a little more finesse with the phyllo.
Bake and Syrup
This is the timing I need to get it about right, as long as both parts are done within about 5 minutes of each other the product will come out fine.
Put Baklava in the oven (bake is 30-35 minutes total at 325f)
Set a timer for 15 minutes
Put water on to boil
Crush some Cardamom seeds (just getting them open)
Put the Cardamom in a cup and add 1/2 cup (118 ml) boiling water
Clean Up until timer goes off
When timer goes off set for 15 min again
In a heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium high heat add;
1/2 cup(118ml) cardamom water (with seeds and husks still)
1 cup (236ml) sugar
1/2 cup (118ml) Honey
(optionals) 1 Tbsp (8ml) lemon Juice, 1/2 tsp (1.2ml) orange water, or rose water
Bring to a boil, after 5 minutes strain the solids out and put back onto heat
using a candy thermometer you are aiming for 225f (107c) (~just below thread stage)
When the timer goes off the second time, check the Pastry for color, it should be a rich medium golden brown you don't want it too dark.
Try not to die
Once pastry is done remove from heat and set on hot pads
Let cool 60 seconds give the glass a chance change stresses.
*** Important ***
Syrup must still be boiling or very close.
Pour syrup slowly at first try to spread evenly across the top.
The syrup will start boiling from the bottom and sides of the pan (this actually helps distribute the sugars throughout he pastry and nut mix)
Watch out for spatter this will cause a sugar burns.
At the beginning of this Comment/How-to I talk about the importance of using old pyrex and not the new glass dishes.
After making this dish I was looking for a way to tell the difference and easily explain. Under a polariscope the dish I used had marks that I know are caused by cold air being blown on the nearly molten glass to pre-stress it. That makes it tempered glass and not Borosilicate. So you can use tempered glass, just be careful and don't tell anyone I told you it was OK to do. Usual caveats about your own safety, this is a diy site after all.
Wait 30-60 minutes then re-cut Baklava along all those lines.
Baklava should then cool for 4-12 hours to let it setup.
Baklava will keep(stay good) for longer than you can keep it(keep your family friends from eating it all). A week on the counter is not an unreasonable shelf life.
There is basically no water at all in it to spoil, the honey is also a natural anti bacterial (well maybe not so much after boiling).
Acknowledgments, Credits, and Bibliography