Monday, September 24, 2007
Baklava
By Jamie Stolper @ 3:52 PM :: 24054 Views :: 2354 Comments :: :: All, Desserts, Holidays, Dairy

Baklava

 

Jamie Stolper

 

I began making this dessert many years ago, when I was looking for a substitute for the traditional Rosh Hashanah honey cake. It is very sweet, but the texture of the flaky dough and crunchy nuts makes for a nice change of pace for the New Year's dessert table. Not everyone eats nuts, so you'll have to make one or more other desserts as well (who doesn't on Rosh Hashanah?), but this recipe became an instant favorite the first time I made it. I now also make it as a treat for the teachers in my sons' school - one batch makes about forty pieces and goes a long way, and it is a welcome change from the usual cookies and brownies.

 

Making baklava is somewhat tedious and time-consuming, but I have adapted Joan Nathan's recipe in The Jewish Holiday Kitchen (New York: Schocken Books, 1979) to speed up the process. The recipe can be made in stages as well. Whenever I have time before the holidays, I assemble the baklava in the pan and then freeze it unbaked. A day or two before I want to serve it, I defrost the baklava, bring it to room temperature, and bake. The baked baklava will keep for several weeks, although I find it tastes freshest served within a few days. I serve the individual pieces in small paper cupcake holders on a silver tray.

 

Ingredients

 

1 pound phyllo dough
1 1/2 cups walnuts
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups plus 1/8 cup sugar
3/4 pound unsalted margarine (3 sticks)
3/4 cups water
1/2 tablespoon honey
1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon rose or orange-blossom water (you can find this in a gourmet or health food store)

 

Bring phyllo dough to room temperature. If baking in same session, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 x 2 inch pan. Chop the nuts coarsely and mix with the cinnamon and 1/8 cup sugar. Set aside. Melt and clarify the margarine (allow the solids to settle on the bottom with the clear liquid on top).

 

Cut the phyllo dough in half to fit pan; rewrap 1/2 and set aside. Taking one phyllo sheet at a time, place loosely in pan, and brush with the clarified margarine (do not use the solids). Continue placing the phyllo and brushing with the margarine until half the sheets (one stack) are used. This goes much faster if you have a helper lifting the next phyllo sheet for you as you spread the margarine - my husband David is very good at this!

 

Spread the nut filling evenly over the phyllo. Cover with the remaining stack of phyllo sheets, one at a time, brushed with margarine, until all the sheets are used. Cut into diamond-shaped pieces -- first vertical lines every 2 inches and then diagonal lines to make 35 to 45 pieces. (At this point the baklava may be frozen. Bring to room temperature before baking.)

 

Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce oven to 350 degrees and bake for another 15 minutes. Reduce oven once more to 300 degrees and bake for 15 minutes more, or until golden brown. Let stand for 10 minutes.

 

Boil together the remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar, water, honey, lemon juice, and rose or orange-blossom water. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Pour the hot syrup all over the surface of the baklava, using a tablespoon to spread it. Leave uncovered until the syrup is absorbed and the baklava is cooled.

 

If you keep the baklava covered and in a cool place, it will last for several weeks. It can also be frozen after it is baked. Serve at room temperature.

 

This may be made with butter, instead of margarine, but I find the taste much too rich and, of course, the baklava becomes dairy. Joan Nathan says you can also use either pistachio nuts or a combination of walnuts and almonds. I like to stick with the simple all-walnut version.