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BAKLAVA

Baklava, a pastry that consists of crisp layers of phyllo and nuts oozing with syrup, needs no introduction.   The origin of this rich and sweet dessert continues to spark animated debate across most countries of close proximity within the Mediterranean-Middle East region.  Each country has its own regionally marked variation on this wonderful dessert.    The Lebanese and Turkish people use pistachio nuts, while the Greeks like to combine walnuts and almonds spiced with cinnamon and love to sprinkle brandy in the honey-syrup.  Whatever nut you ultimately use, what will separate this baklava from store-bought is the clarified butter, the homemade syrup, and the fact that it is freshly baked in your oven.

This version, the Greek one, showcases crispy filo, toasted walnuts and almonds, cinnamon , orange blossom honey and a hint of brandy.  Don't be intimidated, once you learn to work with filo, it will only take you about an hour and will be a show stopper for your holiday table.   

Ingredients

pastry

  • 1-1/3 walnut pieces, toasted
  • 1-1/3 sliced blanched almonds, toasted
  • 1/3 cup dry unflavored bread crumbs
  • 2 tsp high quality ground cinnamon
  • 1 box ultra-thin phyllo dough (we like the Apollo brand), thawed as package directs
  • 1 cup clarified butter
  • 16 whole cloves

syrup

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1 3-inch cinnamon stick
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 Tbsp brandy

Instructions

Before starting to make the baklava, review 'How to Work With Phyllo Dough'.  

Preheat oven to350°.  Butter the bottom and sides of a 13-by-9-inch glass baking dish. 

Place about half the toasted nuts in a food processor.  Pulse several times to chip the nuts finely, being careful not to pulverize into a butter.  Turn the nuts into a large bowl.  Repeat with the remaining nuts.  Add the crumbs and ground cinnamon to the chopped nuts and toss until the mixture is well blended.

Remove the filo from the package to a work surface and smooth out the stacks of sheets.  With a large chef knife, cut the film in half to make two stacks of 12"  x 8 -1/2" sheets.  Place 1 piece of film in the bottom of the pan.  Brush with the melted butter.  (Since the filo is not quite long enough to reach both ends of the pan, as you  make the layers of filo, alternate the sheets so that every other one more or less reaches the opposite ends of the pan.)  Repeat this procedure to make 21 layers of filo, but leave the final sheet dry.  Sprinkly evenly with about 3/4 cup of the nut mixture.  Add 4 more sheets of filo, brushing each with butter before adding another, except for the top sheet, which should be left dry.  Sprinkle with an additional 3/4 cup of the nut mixture.  Repeat this procedure three more times, ending with a layer of nuts.  Add the remaining sheets of filo, brushing each with butter before adding another.  Brush the top generously with butter.

With a sharp knife, cut the layers into lengthwise thirds.  Then cut diamond shapes.  With a short spatula, go around all four sides of the pan, tucking the layers of dough down so that the edges are reasonably smooth.  Stick a clove into the center of each diamond shape if desired.  Bake for 45 min-1 hour, until golden brown.  Remove the baklava from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool completely.

While the baklava is cooling, make the syrup by combining the sugar, water, cinnamon stick and cloves in a 3-quart saucepan.  Bring to boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the sugar is dissolved.  Boil slowly for about 5 minutes.  Add the honey and continue to boil slowly for 5 minutes longer.  Remove from the heat and stir in the brandy.  Set aside to cool to lukewarm.  Pour the lukewarm syrup over the cooled baklava.  Cover lightly and set aside at room temperature for several hours or overnight.  Finish cutting the baklava into diamonds before serving.