From the first bite, I've always loved Baklava. It's a simple dessert with complex contrasts of flavor and texture - honeyed citrus and cinnamon, layers of papery-thin, buttery crust, and finely chopped nuts.
Years ago on a memorable date, my companion wanted to introduce me to the wonders of Mediterranean cooking. He was so earnest and so completely charming, that I hadn't the heart to tell him I'd eaten already at the restaurant he proposed or that I was familiar with the cuisine.
Never one to disappoint someone, especially someone of the male persuasion, who is trying to make me happy, I never let on and my Prince Charming proceeded to wow me with his Greek restaurant, ordering all his favorites and finishing with the classic dessert.
I loved the way he seemed delighted to delight me, and I loved the honey-syrup drenched Baklava.
Although the love affair lasted only a brief moment, my passion for Greek food and the deceptively simple Baklava has lasted a lifetime. Still, I'd never considered making Baklava. I always thought it would be too hard, having heard horror stories of phyllo's difficulty.
The good news is that the dessert, while time-consuming, is not difficult at all and the results are sensational. Make some for your next gathering and your reputation as a domestic goddess will be firmly established.
This recipe is easily halved as well.
from Gourmet June 2004
Adapted from Eleni Theos Stelter
Resist the urge to chop the nuts in a food processor — it makes them release more oil, resulting in a heavier baklava.
Active time: 1 1/2 hr Start to finish: 12 hr (includes chilling and standing)
Yield: Makes 32 pieces
2/3 cup water
1 lemon, halved
1 orange, halved
1 1/2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
2/3 cup honey
3 1/4 cups whole almonds with skins (1 lb), finely chopped
2 1/3 cups walnuts (1/2 lb), finely chopped
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 (1-lb) package phyllo dough (17 by 12 inches; about 28 sheets), thawed if frozen
Combine sugar and water in a 2 1/2- to 3-quart saucepan. Squeeze juice from lemon and orange into sugar mixture. Add fruit halves and cinnamon sticks. Bring mixture to a boil over moderate heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved, then simmer 10 minutes. Stir in honey and return to a boil. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Pour through a sieve into a large measuring cup or bowl, pressing hard on, then discarding, solids. Chill, uncovered, until cold, about 1 hour.Assemble and bake baklava:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.
Whisk together almonds, walnuts, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt until combined well.
Generously brush a 13- by 9- by 2-inch glass baking dish with melted butter. Halve phyllo sheets crosswise and stack sheets. Keep stack covered with 2 overlapping sheets of plastic wrap and then a dampened clean kitchen towel.
Lay 2 sheets of phyllo in bottom of baking dish and brush top sheet generously with butter. Continue to layer 2 sheets at a time, staggering sheets in each double layer slightly to cover bottom of dish, then brushing every second sheet generously with butter, until you have used 10 sheets of phyllo total.
After brushing top layer of phyllo with butter, spread a rounded 1 1/2 cups of nut mixture over it. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons butter.
Repeat layering 3 more times. Top with 10 more sheets of phyllo. (You will use 50 sheets of phyllo total.) Butter top and let baklava stand at room temperature to harden slightly (to facilitate cutting), 10 to 15 minutes.
Using a sharp knife, cut baklava into 16 equal rectangles, then cut each piece in half diagonally. (Be sure to cut all the way through.)
Bake baklava until golden, 50 minutes to 1 hour. If your oven runs hot like mine does, the baklava will be ready in 30 minutes.
Transfer dish to a rack to cool, then slowly pour cold syrup around edges of hot baklava, in between all cuts, and over top. Let stand at room temperature at least 8 hours. (Cover once baklava is at room temperature.) Do not chill.Cooks' notes:
• Syrup can be made up to 5 days ahead and chilled, covered. • Baklava keeps in an airtight container up to 1 week.