I was on a search for the greatest baklava ever. You see, when I was younger, a family friend would send a huge box of assorted baklava during the holidays. It was the best baklava I had ever tasted. But we moved, and the assorted baklava boxes stopped arriving, and I had been on a search ever since.
But then. I went to Greece. Where I found no baklava, because, as my Greek friend assured me, baklava is definitively from Turkey. So, of course, then I went to Turkey. I needed to find the best baklava, people! Baklava was basically thrown in my face, it was so abundant. And every place was just so delicious. There were so many flavors (like the Obama Baraklava below) that it was very difficult to choose the best one.
Two (amazing) trips and several years later, I have come to realize that if you want the best baklava, just look at your plate. Or look at your plate after you’ve made it. Because baklava is so so simple to put together, and it just tastes so splendidly delectable when it’s fresh. It’s still flaky and crunchy, and the warm nuts ooze into the syrup you have just poured over it. It’s seriously amazing. This was a definite game changer in my search for the best baklava. And I think that I’ve found it.
Baklava (slightly adapted from Simply Recipes)
I used Athens brand filo pastry sheets, which was so helpful because they have already cut the sheets into 9 x 13 rectangles, so you don’t have to do the cutting yourself. Also, I used a mix of walnuts and almonds in this baklava. I wanted to use pistachios as well, but couldn’t find unsalted ones. I’m sure that pecans would also be a nice twist.
1/2 pound filo dough, thawed as per the directions on the box
1 lb. chopped nuts
2 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. all spice
1 cup butter, melted
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey or agave
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp. rose water
1 tbsp. lemon juice
Lightly grease a 9×13 pan and set the oven to 350°F.
If the filo dough is not already cut, cut the dough in half so the sheets will fit in the pan. Cover the sheets with a damp towel to keep it from drying out.
Process the nuts until in small, even sized pieces. You can also chop the nuts by hand. Combine nuts with sugar, cinnamon, and all spice.
Carefully place a sheet of phyllo dough into the pan. Using a pastry brush, brush the phyllo sheet with melted butter – just a light layer will do, but make sure that you have covered the entire sheet. Repeat 5 more times until it is 6 sheets thick, brushing each sheet with butter along the way.
Spoon on a thin layer of the nut mixture. It will be about 3-4 tablespoons worth of nuts. Cover with two more sheets of phyllo, brushing each one with butter. Continue to repeat the nut mixture and two buttered sheets of phyllo until the nut mixture is all used up. When all of the nuts have been used, place 6 filo sheets on top, brushing each one with more butter.
Using a sharp knife and cutting diagonally down one side of the pan, and then the other to make diamond shapes, cut through the baklava, making sure that you don’t cut all the way through the bottom layer of filo. Bake at 350°F for 45 minutes or until lightly golden brown, and edges appear slightly crisp.
While the baklava is baking, make the syrup. Combine the cinnamon stick, sugar, lemon juice, honey, rose water and water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and let simmer for about 15 minutes, or until it’s slightly thickened. Remove the cinnamon stick and let cool.
Pour the cooled syrup over the hot baklava, making sure that the syrup reaches each corner. Let cool for at least four hours, and cut the baklava again, making sure that it cuts through the last layer of filo this time.
** The Obama Baraklava picture was taken by Hannah Mellman during our search for the best baklava in Turkey.