Baklava, or baklawa as it is known as in the Levant, is a staple Mediterranean dessert that can be found throughout eastern Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine. Growing up, we often had it on our table for holidays, birthdays, and special occasions. It was not, however, until my friend, Elina brought me a batch from Istanbul, that I became obsessed. The indulgent treats consisted of layers of paper-thin filo dough stuffed with a very generous amount of nut filling. Sweet buttery, and oh so addictive, it was impossible to have only one. As I deconstructed the ingredients used in Turkish baklava, I realized that what made it so delicious was that such as many of the tastiest foods, it was characterized by simplicity and quality of ingredients. As the recipe is so simple, good quality dough, butter, and nuts go a long way.
Throughout the Mediterranean, baklava most often consists of a walnut filling. However, it is oftentimes made with a pistachio filling in many parts of Turkey. Feel free to use either to your taste. I have even seen people use pecans, but have not experimented with them to make a recommendation just yet. Nevertheless, the idea sounds mouthwatering.
The recipe for baklava is quite simple so as long as you use ready made filo dough and work with gentle hands. To make a smaller batch, use one package of dough, cut it in half, and layer it into a smaller rectangular pan that will fit it. Also half the quantity of nuts and sugar syrup.
INGREDIENTS/ MAKES ABOUT 42 PIECES
For the Baklava
2 packages/1 kilo filo dough, thawed
2 sticks/ 226 gr. unsalted butter, cubed, plus more for greasing
4 cups/ 400 gr. walnuts, pistachios, or nut of choice
For the Syrup
3 cups/ 600 gr. sugar
1 1/2 cups/ 350 ml. water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1. Preheat oven to 180C/ 350 F and grease a large rectangular baking pan (14×10.5 in./ 36×27 cm) or a sheet pan that will fit the dough.* Once the oven has reached its temperature, roast all of the nuts for 5 minutes and let cool. Blitz the nuts in a food processor, in batches if necessary, until ground. Set aside.
2. Melt the butter and salt in a small saucepan over low heat just until there are no more solids. Skim any white foam that has risen to the surface with a spoon and set aside.
3. Gently place a sheet of filo dough onto your baking pan. Place another sheet of dough over it and lightly brush with butter.To keep the dough from drying, keep the stack of filo sheets covered with a kitchen towel. Continue these steps until you have used half of the dough (16-18 sheets), lightly brushing with butter after every 2 sheets. Gently spread the ground nuts over the surface of the dough while taking care not to press down. Place a sheet of filo dough over the nut mixture and continue the same steps previously used to layer. Once you are left with one sheet of dough, tuck in any extra bits of dough overlying the corners and place the final sheet on top. Use a knife to cut the baklava into diamond shapes or square shapes. Lightly brush the surface with butter and then pour over the remaining butter as evenly as possible while discarding the white part collected at the bottom of the saucepan.* It will burn in the oven and cause brown spots on the pastry.
4. Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden. In the meantime prepare your sugar syrup by combining the sugar, water, and lemon juice in a sauce pan and simmering over medium-high heat just until the sugar is fully dissolved, about 5 minutes. You will know it is ready when a steady stream of syrup runs from a spoon instead of droplets. Set aside to cool and the pour over the baklava as soon as it comes out of the oven.
5. Cool the baklava for at least 20 minutes before serving and garnish with ground pistachios or chopped walnuts. Keeps well in an airtight container for about a week.
*To get the best fit of dough for your pan, place the sheets of filo dough under your pan and use a knife to cut around them.
**By skimming off any white foam that has risen to the surface of the melted butter along with discarding the white part collected at the bottom, you are essentially creating a type of ghee that will be resistant to high heat.