Monday, June 27, 2011

Daring Bakers: Baklava

Holy Baklava Batman!

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. Yes, you read that correctly folks... h-o-m-e-m-a-d-e phyllo dough.

Baklava is not in my usual rotation of desserts. I vaguely remember trying it once on a Jr. High field trip to Chicago's Greektown, and from what I remember, it was pretty good (of course, my favorite desserts at that time were Hostess Ding Dongs and Suzy-Q, so it goes to show you how discerning my palette was back then).

I also remembered the two packages of phyllo sitting in my freezer just waiting to be put to good use. But no, Erica had to go all 'daring' on us and insist on h-o-m-e-m-a-d-e phyllo (just teasing, I love this challenge). I guess they will have to wait for another day.

I was doing pretty well up until this point. The dough came together nicely without a hitch, and then I watched this little instructional video from YouTube on how to roll 'filo' old-world style....

Of course, I had to try it. It was like a challenge within a challenge for me to master this technique. I am pretty good with a rolling pin. How hard could it be, right?

So here is the deal.... I am fairly certain that this sweet, dowel-wielding Macedonian woman learned this technique as a wee child and honed her skills over time. I am pretty sure she sits in this room with her girlfriends and rolls phyllo all day long (or, at least that is what I am telling myself) 'cause I couldn't get this technique to work for me to save my life. It was a total disaster. The worst of it is that if I listen very carefully I can still hear her mocking me from a distance.... 'amature' she says!

Anyway, once I got over my defeat, I aborted the dowel and brought out my trusty (full sized) rolling pin, and it did the trick just fine. I was able to roll out 18 phyllo sheets, which was just enough.

... Almost there!

Perfect! Nice and thin, and ready to be layered.

This recipe calls for walnut, almonds and pistachios, but you could easily vary your nut selection based on personal preference. Hazelnuts or pecans may be a nice alternative. I also chose to use ground cinnamon instead of the called for cinnamon stick. I wasn't certain my food processor could grind the stick finely enough so no one would break a tooth!

You can speed the layering process if you trim the phyllo sheets to the size of your chosen pan before you start to layer it. The best way to do this is to place your pan on the stack of phyllo sheets and using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, trim around the perimeter of the pan. Do not worry if you didn't get the full 20 sheets of phyllo the recipe calls for, simply divide the sheets you do have evenly amongst the sets of phyllo layers.

Do not feel as though you need to limit yourself to a triangle when cutting your baklava. Although they are the traditional shape (or at least I think they are), rectangles, squares and diamonds would work well too. If you chose to use a round pan to make your baklava, pie wedge slices would make a nice presentation.

My kitchen exploded with the wonderful aroma of cinnamon and cloves as I was boiling the syrup for the baklava. Be sure to start boiling the ingredients for the syrup after you start baking your baklava. You want it to be reduced and cooled to warm by the time the baklava has finished baking.

Evenly pour the warm syrup over the entire baked baklava. It will absorb a large amount of the syrup at it sits, but if you add too much it will take a swim. I added enough syrup to come up to the top layer of nuts, but I probably could have done with a little less. It was a little wetter than I would have liked, but still scrumptious!

Rich, sweet and perfectly nutty... that is how I would sum up this delicious pastry. The phyllo dough was light, flaky and delightful to work with once I figured out the best technique for rolling it out. The only complaint I had was that it took half a day from start to finish to complete the entire recipe. That being said, I can now proudly brag that (at least this one time), I made h-o-m-e-m-a-d-e phyllo dough, and that is pretty cool. 

Thanks to Erica and my fellow Daring Bakers for a wonderful challenge. It was a blast!

Servings: 18 (2 1/2-inch) triangles

Phyllo Dough
2 2/3 cups (370 g)(13 oz) all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup less 2 tablespoon water, plus more if needed
4 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

Combine the flour and salt in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed for 15 seconds to combine the ingredients.

Place the water, oil and vinegar in a small bowl. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the water and oil mixture in a steady stream. Mix until you get a soft dough. You want it to come together without being overly wet or sticky. If it appears dry add additional water a teaspoon at a time.

Lightly flour your counter and remove the dough from the mixer. Continue to knead by hand for an additional 2 minutes. Pick-up the dough and through it down hard on the counter a few times during the kneading process.

Shape the dough into a ball and lightly cover with oil. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and let it rest for 1 to 2 hours.

Rolling the Phyllo
Use whatever means available to roll your phyllo dough sheets as thin as you can. If you can master the traditional wooden dowel technique demonstrated in the video, then by all means go with that. If not, try a pasta machine or a good old-fashioned rolling pin, which is what worked best for me.

Remove all jewelry and rings to prevent snagging. Dust your rolling surface with flour. Unwrap your dough and cut off a golf ball sized piece (keep the unused dough covered until needed). Roll and flour your dough as needed (you can not use too much flour with this dough) until it is thin enough to see through. Place phyllo sheet on a floured cookie sheet or flat surface and dust with flour. Continue to roll and flour your dough in this fashion until it is gone. The goal is to end up with 20 sheets. I ended up with 18 which worked sufficiently.

1 cinnamon stick (broken into 2 to 3 pieces) OR 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
15 to 20 whole allspice berries ( I just used a few pinches)
3/4 cup blanched almonds
3/4 cup raw or roasted walnuts
3/4 cup raw or roasted pistachios
2/3 cup sugar
phyllo dough (see recipe above)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

Combine the nuts, sugar and spices in a food processor and pulse on high until finely ground. If you do not have a food processor, chop with a sharp knife until your nuts are as fine as you can them. Set aside.

3/4 cups honey (I used clover)
3/4 cups water
3/4 cups sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 (2-inch) piece fresh citrus peel (lemon or orange)
A few cloves or a pinch or ground clove

Once the baklava goes into the oven, begin making the syrup. Combine all ingredients in a medium size pot. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar has dissolved. Boil for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and strain. Discard the cinnamon stick and lemon. Allow syrup to cool while the baklava bakes.

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.

Place your baking pan on the stack of phyllo sheets. Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, trim the sheets to the size of the pan.

Brush the bottom of the pan with melted butter, and place the first sheet of phyllo on the bottom. Brush the top of the sheet with butter. Repeat these steps approximately 5 times ending with butter. Sprinkle 1/3 of the nut mixture on top of the phyllo sheets and shake pan to disperse evenly.

Begin your second set of phyllo layers by placing a phyllo sheet on top of the nut layer and brushing it with butter. Continue layering phyllo then butter in this way for a total of five sheets. Sprinkle 1/3 of the nut mixture on top of the phyllo sheets and shake pan to disperse evenly. Complete your third set of phyllo and nuts as described above.

Layer your final sheets of phyllo on top as you did with previous layers, but be sure to use a sheet of phyllo with no holes for your exposed top layer. Using a rubber spatula tuck-in the edges of the dough all the way around the pan to give it a nice appearance.

With a sharp knife cut your baklava in your desired shape and number of pieces. If you can't cut all the ways through at this point don’t worry, you will cut again later. Brush the top layer with a generous amount of melted butter (make sure to cover the entire surface). 

Bake for approximately 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cut again this time all the way through. Continue baking for another 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and immediately pour the cooled (but still worm) syrup evenly over the top, taking care to cover all surfaces when pouring. The syrup level should be up to the top layer of nuts (it looks like too much, but most of the syrup will be absorbed by the baklava).

Allow baklava to cool to room temperature before serving, but it is best to let it sit overnight. Serve at room temperature and store on the counter in an airtight container.

** The syrup and filling recipes were adapted from Alton Brown.

Happy Baking!
Jaime @ The Great Cake Company


  1. Your layers look great! Great job on the baklava.

  2. Wow, this looks like quite a challenge! It looks just fantastic!!

  3. Loved the post. Your Baklava is beautiful!

  4. great job on the baklava! love the pic of the super thin sheet of phyllo! congrats!

  5. Wow your phyllo sheets are so thin! And your baklava looks perfect *drool*

  6. You baklava turned out great. I am impressed you were able to roll it by hand. I ended up using a pasta roller.

  7. This phyllo looks really perfect!! I have a baklava recipe in my site but to be honest I used a ready made phyllo. In my country, Cyprus, this is a traditional sweet and we usually have it as a dessert in special occasiongs. Thanks for sharing the recipe with us!

  8. Lovely pictures and your baklava is making me drool! Looks so juicy and delicious. Nicely done!

  9. So flaky, glossy and delicious!


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