I have a love-hate relationship with fillo dough. One one hand, I absolutely hate working with it. It’s challenging, at best. It dries out so easily, it rips apart, I spend half the time I’m working with it swearing and “gluing” strips of it together with butter. On the other hand, I freaking LOVE homemade baklava. It is one of my very favorite things. So, with that said, I will not lie to you and say that making baklava is easy- I will say that it is kind of hard, but worth the effort.
And so, every year around Christmas, I roll up my sleeves, put on my big girl panties, sigh REALLY big, and pull the fillo dough out of my freezer to begin.
If you’ve never tried baklava, you have never lived. It is a rich, sweet, flaky pastry made of layers of fillo dough, filled with chipped nuts, and sweetened with a homemade honey syrup. Every single layer of fillo dough is brushed with butter. In other words, it is heaven on a plate. According to Wikipedia, (who is never wrong, right?) it first originated in Istanbul, although here in America, you will mostly find it it Greek restaurants.
Do yourself a favor, and if you have small children, wait until they go to bed to get started on this one. Also, note that you need to pull the fillo dough out of the freezer (leave it in the box, on the counter) two hours before you start working with it, or, alternatively, thaw it out in the fridge overnight. If you try to work with it without thawing it properly, it will rip and tear and become unusable.
A couple of tips: Put a damp paper towel on top of the fillo dough while you’re working with it so that it doesn’t dry out. Let the fillo dough thaw about 15 minutes before starting. Don’t panic if the dough rips, just lay it out in strips if you have to. I have found it works really well to cut the whole sheet in half. When you are brushing sheets with butter, brush lightly, don’t soak with butter. Soggy baklava is a result of the butter brushing, not the sauce. Cool completely before serving and don’t store in the fridge, or covered. Leave it uncovered on the counter, or it will become soggy.
Don’t take this anywhere unless you want to be forced to make it every single year for the rest of your life. 🙂 Enjoy!
1 (16 ounce) package fillo dough
1 pound walnuts, chopped very very fine in the food processor
1 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup water
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup honey
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottoms and sides of a 9×13 inch pan.
Chop nuts very finely in the food processor, and toss with cinnamon. Set aside.
Unroll phyllo dough. Cut whole stack in half to fit pan. Cover phyllo with a dampened cloth to keep from drying out as you work. Place two sheets of dough in pan, butter thoroughly. Repeat until you have 8 sheets layered. Like I said above, don’t panic if the fillo dough rips into strips. Just line them up next to each other and fuse them together with butter.
Sprinkle 2 – 3 tablespoons of nut mixture on top. This will not look like enough, and will not come even close to evenly spreading across the whole pan. Don’t worry. Just spread the 2-3 tablespoons out as evenly as possible.
Top with two sheets of dough, then butter, and then nuts again, layering as you go. The top layer should be about 6 – 8 sheets deep.
Using a sharp knife cut into diamond or square shapes all the way to the bottom of the pan. *If you skip this step, you will not be able to successfully cut up your baklava without ruining it. * You may cut into 4 long rows the make diagonal cuts. Bake for about 50 minutes until baklava is golden and crisp.
Make sauce while baklava is baking. Boil sugar and water until sugar is melted. Add vanilla and honey. Simmer for about 20 minutes.
Remove baklava from oven and immediately spoon sauce over it. It will bubble up all over and go crazy, and then it will soak in really nicely.
Let cool. Serve in cupcake papers. This freezes well. Leave it uncovered as it gets soggy if it is wrapped up.