This sweet and sticky dessert is addicting!
Many will argue whether it’s Greek, Turkish, or Persian. Since this dish dates back to the Ottoman Empire, many countries in Eastern Europe and the Middle East have their own variations. Nonetheless, it is a rich and deliciously nutty dessert made with layers of golden brown phyllo dough filled with chopped walnuts and/or pistachios and drizzled with honey.
I prepared this dessert traditionally, but added a few of my baking secret ingredients. Cinnamon is found in many baklava recipes, but cardamom adds another level of aromatic spice. Brown sugar (instead of white granulated sugar) caramelizes beautifully, due to the molasses content. The hint of fresh lemon juice offsets the sweetness of the honey and brown sugar.
As far as the nuts, I used pistachios along with walnuts. I've always hesitated to make baklava because nuts can be quite costly, and this recipe is chock-full of them! I bought a heaping bag of bulk pistachios from the grocery store, which surprisingly didn’t cost an arm and a leg. If you can, I recommend this instead of buying a branded bag. The challenge was shelling each...and...every...one. It took about an hour, to be honest. I found a comfy spot on the couch and caught up on the latest episode Real Housewives of Potomac. So I’m not really complaining. But the real challenge was not eating them by the handful once I had a bowl of tempting unshelled pistachios.
Wait, I take that back! The ultimate challenge was cutting the baklava into the intricate diamond shapes. For the sake of aesthetics, I did not give up. Since phyllo dough is very thin and fragile, you may end up with a few broken sheets like I did. But don’t fret, it’ll still taste ridiculously amazing. Just make sure you use a sharp knife! I also ran my paring knife through melted butter every once and awhile before cutting into the baklava. Also, keep the phyllo dough damp (but not wet!) with paper towels as you work with each individual sheet.
Baklava is a tedious dessert to make, but the reward is completely worth it.
pistachio + walnut baklava
serves 10-12, 1 hour prep + 50 minute bake time
1 lb (about 20 sheets) phyllo dough
1 cup pistachios, finely chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup honey
3/4 stick unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large bowl, combine the pistachios, walnuts, 1/2 cup brown sugar, cardamom, and cinnamon. Mix well.
In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over a medium flame. When the butter begins to bubble and foam, lower the flame. Allow the butter to brown slightly, but be careful not to burn it. Using a spoon, skim the surface and discard the foam. Set saucepan aside.
Using a 9” x 2” round cake pan as a guide, cut the phyllo dough into a circle. Brush the pan with butter, including the sides. Layer 4-5 sheets in the pan, brushing each sheet with butter before adding the next. Phyllo dough dries out very quickly so cover what you are not using with a damp paper towel as you work.
Sprinkle about 1/3 of the nut and sugar mixture onto the sheets. Top with 2-3 sheets, brushing butter between each one.
Repeat this process two more times. Top with the remaining sheets, again brushing butter between each one. Trim the excess phyllo dough from the sides of the pan. Generously brush the top layer with butter.
Using a sharp knife, carefully cut the baklava into quarters. Halve each quarter to make 8 equal sized wedges. Staying in one wedge at a time, make two straight cuts, parallel to the straight line of the wedge. Then make two cuts parallel to the diagonal line of the wedge. This will make a diamond pattern. Repeat these steps with each wedge. If you prefer, you cut the baklava into squares instead.
Bake the baklava for 40 to 50 minutes, until it is a deep shade of golden brown.
While the baklava is in the oven, make the syrup. Heat the water and remaining brown sugar in a small saucepan over medium flame and stir until it begins to boil. Add the honey. Reduce flame to a simmer and continue to stir until it thickens to a syrup, for about 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice, continuing to stir for 2-3 minutes.
When the baklava is ready, remove from oven and pour the syrup over the baklava. Cool completely before serving.