I've wanted to make Baklava for a very long time. I love nuts and though I am not a fan of terribly sweet desserts (and the Baklava is achingly sweet, make no mistake), the idea of layers and layers of rich cinnamon coated nuts set in between buttered sheets of filo pastry baked and soaked with a sweet cardamom flavoured syrup just hooked me.
Rich? Hell, yeah and not just in flavour. It is believed that until the mid 19th century, the Turkish dessert Baklava was a dessert of the rich (because of the amount of nuts used) and that Turkish sultans favoured the Baklava because the pistachios and spices (cinnamon and cardamom) were powerful aphrodisiacs. Hmmm.
There are slight variations with regards to how Baklava is made just as there are many theories about the origins of the dish. Here are some of the variations you may find when you go in search of a recipe for Baklava:
Choice of nuts: Some cooks use just pistachios while others use a combination of nuts — pistachio, pecans, almonds and walnuts are commonly used too. I like a combination of pistachios, pecans and walnuts.
Spices: Some recipes use ground cinnamon, some use ground cinnamon and clove and some ground cinnamon and cardamom. Some don't used spices at all. I favour cinnamon and cardamom as I am not a huge fan of cloves.
The syrup: you can use a simple sugar syrup, a honey-infused syrup that's spiked with rose water, a orange flavoured syrup ... they're all quite good but also all very sweet.
The pastry: Nope, this is one thing that is consistent in every recipe — you use phyllo pastry that's coated generously with melted butter.
1 pack frozen phyllo pastry (you will probably need about 20-25 sheets)
4 cups chopped nuts (I used lightly roasted pistachios, pecans and walnuts)
1 tsp cinnamon
160g butter, melted
1/4 cup water
2 tsp rose water
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
Thaw your phyllo pastry as per the directions on the box. Usually, it takes about 2 hours to thaw in room temperature or overnight in the fridge. Once thawed, keep them covered between two sheets of damp kitchen cloths as you work on the Baklava.
Get your baking pan ready: a 8 or 9 inch square pan is ideal.
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Coat the chopped nuts with cinnamon. Set aside.
Brush the base of your baking pan generously with some melted butter.
Make sure your phyllo pastry is the same size as your pan. If it's too big, trim it to fit.
Remove two sheets of the phyllo pastry from the pile and place on your counter. Brush the top layer with melted butter and then transfer into the baking pan, buttered side down. Repeat twice so you have six sheets of pastry as your base.
Spread a layer of nuts on the phyllo sheet until the pastry is covered with nuts.
Remove another two sheets of pastry from the pile and once again brush the top sheet with butter. Place the buttered side onto the nuts. Repeat with another two sheets. Add more nuts to form another layer and then layer another two sheets of pastry as before. If there are enough nuts, do another layer. The top layer of pastry should, like the base, comprise of six sheets of phyllo layered the same way as the base.
Brush the top layer generously with butter and make sure the sides are sealed well to the edge of the pan.
Use a sharp knife and cut the baklava into diagonal diamond shapes or squares.
Bake for 30-40 mins or until golden.
While the baklava is baking, make the syrup.
Pour the melted butter you have remaining into a saucepan and add the honey, water, cardamom, rose water and sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally and reduce the heat to let the syrup simmer for a few minutes.
When the Baklava is ready, remove from the oven and drizzle half the syrup all over the pastry. Let the syrup soak into the pastry and after 10 mins or so, pour the remaining syrup all over the Baklava. Let it cool completely before serving.
Best eaten with a hot cup of spiced tea or coffee.