Baklava: Daring Baker Challenge June 2011

Erica of Erica’s Edibles was our host for the Daring Baker’s June challenge. Erica challenged us to be truly DARING by making homemade phyllo dough and then to use that homemade dough to make Baklava.

I kind of cheated this month. As you may have noticed, I sat last month out: the marquise dessert was just too rich for a personal dessert, and I had no excuse to make it to share with others. When I read this month's challenge was to make phyllo dough, I felt a little crushed. I had recently tried making it for the April Daring Baker Challenge, and determined that to even try to make it well I would need another pair of hands to help me stretch it. Not being overly organized in planning such a helping party, I decided not to try it at this time.

But I have never made baklava at home, so I figured I would do so using the organic phyllo dough that I recently spotted at my co-op. Cheating? Maybe. But so delicious was this version of baklava that I'm glad I didn't sit out another month just because I didn't want to try my hand at making the dough again.

Baklava is one of my most favorite sweets. When I worked second shift, I'd occasionally stop by a 24-hour Greek restaurant on my way home to sit at the counter and get a coffee and a thick syrupy square that I'd eat painstakingly slow while reading on the side and watching the Greek boys cooking through the pass thru window. The combination of flaky, crisp dough and dense sugar soaked nuts still makes me excited, even though it very nearly makes my teeth hurt to eat it. Why I've never made it before, I have no idea. Oh wait - I do know why. It's because I would have a hard time rationing myself of it's overwhelming allure to my palate.

I do not watch a whole lot of cooking t.v., in fact never unless I DVR it first. But for some reason, not too long ago I watched an old episode of Alton Brown's Good Eats in which he made baklava. I was so impressed with his approach. Had I decided to make this dessert before the 25th (for the 27th posting deadline), I would have also made my own rose water as he did.

I made the nut combination of almond, pistachio and walnut from his recipe for the April challenge and it was so great that I couldn't wait to try it layered between phyllo and saturated with thick honey syrup. But this time, I did not use the "crispy nuts" technique, and used raw nuts blended with Jamaican allspice and cassia cinnamon. I like this particular combination of nuts so well, I think it would be a good substitute in lots of nutty things.

The result was a perfect combination of sweet spice and flowers - heavy, heady and tasting of far away. I almost thought I'd liked to have added some black pepper to the filling, playing up the bitterness of the allspice a bit more. Maybe next time... I also used regular melted butter instead of clarified, being short of time. (I know that is not a good excuse. There is also no good excuse I didn't grind my own spices either, but I only had powdered allspice on hand. It was fresh from the Spice House as was the Cassia cinnamon, so I'll stand by my conversion. I tasted the nut mixture on a fingertip until I was satisfied of the flavor, you could do the same.

I realized after that I also forgot the sugar in the filling, and to be honest I didn't even miss it. The honey syrup makes the finished dessert plenty sweet. I used half of the amounts of Alton's original recipe, it fit well in a 8x8 square glass baking dish.

Baklava (slightly altered from Alton Brown)

  • 2 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. (plus) ground allspice
  • 3 oz. blanched almonds
  • 3 oz. raw walnuts
  • 3 oz. raw pistachios
  • 1/8 cup water
  • 1/2 t. rose water
  • 8 oz. phyllo dough, thawed
  • 4 oz. melted butter
For the syrup:
  • 1/2 + 1/8 c. honey
  • 1/2 + 1/8 c. water
  • 1/2 + 1/8 c. sugar
  • 1 small cinnamon stick
  • 1 (2-inch) piece fresh orange peel
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Place the almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and spices into the bowl of a food pro and pulse until finely chopped, but not pasty or powdery, approximately 15 quick pulses. Set aside.
Combine the water and rose water in a small spray bottle bottle and set aside.
Trim the sheets of phyllo to fit the bottom of the pan (mine was 8x8, glass). Brush the bottom and sides of the pan with butter; lay down a sheet of phyllo and brush with butter. Repeat this step 9 more times for a total of 10 sheets of phyllo. Top with 1/3 of the nut mixture and spread thinly. Spritz thoroughly with the rose water. Layer 6 more sheets of phyllo with butter in between each of them, followed by another third of the nuts and spritz with rose water. Repeat with another 6 sheets of phyllo, butter, remaining nuts, and rose water. Top with 8 sheets of phyllo brushing with butter in between each sheet. Brush the top generously with butter. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Remove pan from the oven and cut into 28 squares. Return pan to the oven and continue to bake for another 30 minutes. Remove pan from the oven to a cooling rack and cool for 2 hours before adding the syrup.
Make the syrup during the last 30 minutes of cooling. Combine the honey, water, sugar, cinnamon stick and orange peel in a small saucepan and set over high heat. Stir occasionally until the sugar has dissolved. Once boiling, boil for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and discard the peel and cinnamon stick.
After the baklava has cooled for 2 hours, re-cut the entire pan following the same lines as before. Pour the hot syrup evenly over the top of the baklava, allowing it to run into the cuts and around the edges of the pan. Allow the pan to sit, uncovered until completely cool. Alton says to cover and store at room temperature for at least 8 hours and up to overnight before serving and to store, covered at room temperature for up to 5 days, but I like my baklava cold, straight from the fridge, just like they serve it at Greek restaurants.

This was a great dessert, that's really all I can say. If you like baklava anyway, this version is likely to become a fast favorite. And as for homemade phyllo dough: I'm all for homemade everything, but some things are just meant to be purchased I think. Machine made phyllo is consistent and thinner than I could ever hope my own to be... I hope one day I can unravel the mystery of Homemade Phyllo Dough, but for now, I'm content with my accomplishments.

Thanks to Erica for choosing a great dessert this month!