Baklava

My birthday fell on a Saturday this year so I thought it would be appropriate to take Friday off. I think originally I had grandiose plans of going to Catalina or maybe even driving to Julian to see the wolves and indulge in apple pie with cinnamon ice cream. Instead, Friday rolled on by and I found myself twiddling my thumbs thinking about how cool I was.

To reinforce my new revelation, I pulled out my 9×13 baking pan and decided I needed to make a time-consuming recipe to occupy my day off. Unlike women, baklava gets better with age so I patiently waited 28 hours for the syrup to perform its magic. Of course as the days passed, the flavors melded together and I wasn’t complaining about eating baklava every day…for the past week.

I’ve never had authentic baklava from Turkey but eventually one day I’ll make it over there to die in baklava happiness. For now, the Cooks Illustrated version is the best version I’ve made thus far!

Note: Unfortunately Alton Brown’s microwave method of thawing phyllo dough did not work for me. The moisture collected within the plastic and the sheets turned out slightly damp and stuck together. I’d still recommend thawing overnight as the surest way of prepping phyllo dough.

This is the Cooks Illustrated version except I used a combination of walnuts and pistachios instead of blanched almonds

Sugar syrup:

  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 4 inch long strip zest from 1 lemon
  • 1 tbs juice from lemon
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 1/8 tsp salt

Nut filling

  • 8 oz walnuts (about 2 1/2 cups)
  • 1 cup peeled pistachios
  • 1 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 tbs sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt

Pastry and Butter

  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), clarified, melted, and cooled slightly (about 1 cup)
  • 1 pound frozen phyllo , thawed over night

Directions

For the sugar syrup: Combine syrup ingredients in small saucepan and bring to full boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to ensure that sugar dissolves. Transfer to 2-cup measuring cup and set aside to cool while making and baking baklava; when syrup is cool, discard spices and lemon zest. (Cooled syrup can be refrigerated in airtight container up to 4 days.)

For the nut filling: Pulse almonds in food processor until very finely chopped, about twenty 1-second pulses; transfer to medium bowl. Pulse walnuts in food processor until very finely chopped, about fifteen 1-second pulses; transfer to bowl with almonds and toss to combine. Measure out 1 tablespoon nuts and set aside for garnish. Add cinnamon, cloves, sugar, and salt; toss well to combine.

To assemble and bake: Brush 13- by 9-inch traditional (not nonstick) baking pan with butter. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Unwrap and unfold phyllo on large cutting board; carefully smooth with hands to flatten. Using baking pan as guide, cut sheets crosswise with chef’s knife, yielding two roughly evenly sized stacks of phyllo (one may be narrower than other). Cover with plastic wrap, then damp kitchen towel to prevent drying.

Place one phyllo sheet (from wider stack) in bottom of baking pan and brush until completely coated with butter. Repeat with 7 more phyllo sheets (from wider stack), brushing each with butter.

Evenly distribute about 1 cup nuts over phyllo. Cover nuts with phyllo sheet (from narrower stack) and dab with butter (phyllo will slip if butter is brushed on). Repeat with 5 more phyllo sheets (from narrower stack), staggering sheets slightly if necessary to cover nuts, and brushing each with butter.

Repeat layering with additional 1 cup nuts, 6 sheets phyllo, and remaining 1 cup nuts. Finish with 8 to 10 sheets phyllo (from wider stack), using nicest and most intact sheets for uppermost layers and brushing each except final sheet with butter. Use palms of hands to compress layers, working from center outward to press out any air pockets. Spoon 4 tablespoons butter on top layer and brush to cover all surfaces. Use bread knife or other serrated knife with pointed tip in gentle sawing motion to cut baklava into diamonds, rotating pan as necessary to complete cuts. (Cut on bias into eighths on both diagonals.)

Bake until golden and crisped, about 1 ½ hours, rotating baking pan halfway through baking. Immediately after removing baklava from oven, pour cooled syrup over cut lines until about 2 tablespoons remain (syrup will sizzle when it hits hot pan); drizzle remaining syrup over surface. Garnish center of each piece with pinch of reserved ground nuts. Cool to room temperature on wire rack, about 3 hours, then cover with foil and let stand at least 8 hours before serving. (Once cooled, baklava can be served, but flavor and texture improve if left to stand at least 8 hours. Baklava can be wrapped tightly in foil and kept at room temperature up to 10 days.

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