January 4, 2010

Walnut Baklava

Check it out: the center's in focus!

Baklava. There’s a reason those little boxes of them cost so damn much: they’re fiddly. Time-consuming. And as addictive as marijuana brownies marbled with crack cream cheese and dusted with heroin.
In other words, totally. Worth. It.

I’ve tried several different baklava recipes pulled from the teeming, DH*-overusing hordes on Recipezaar, with limited success. However, even baklava of middling quality is still a sugary little bit of nutty crustiness doused in honey syrup.

In other words, totally. Awesome.

So a few words of advice from somebody who’s made several middling batches and finally worked out how to make an excellent batch:

1. Seriously, the syrup MUST be room temperature and the baklava MUST be fresh from the oven when you POUR the syrup ON to the baklava. We’re talking HEAT DIFFERENTIAL, people!

2. Clarified butter is nice, but you can just melt a couple sticks in the microwave and get cracking.

3. The phyllo will rip. Get over it. That being said…

4. The phyllo must be fully defrosted. Yes, it’s best to do this by leaving it in the fridge overnight, but it works well to take it out of the box and let it defrost at room temperature for an hour.

So.  Much.  Sugar.

Walnut Baklava
Recipe the product of smooshing together Ellie’s baklava and Peter’s baklava cigars.

1 lb. phyllo dough sheets
1 cup unsalted butter OR clarified butter

¾ cup water
1 ½ cups white sugar
¼ cup honey
½ Tbs rose water
2 Tbs lemon juice or fresh-squeezed orange juice

2 ½ cups walnuts
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
3 Tbs dark brown sugar

1. To prepare the syrup, stir the white sugar and water together and bring to a boil uncovered. Let boil vigorously for three minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the honey, rose water, and juice. Cover and let sit to cool to room temperature while the baklava bakes.

2. Preheat the oven to 325°F.

3. To prepare the filling, chop the walnuts finely using a butcher knife, or grind coarsely in a food processor.

4. Stir the cinnamon, nutmeg, and dark brown sugar into the walnuts. Set aside nearby.

5. On a clean surface, unroll the phyllo gently, but don’t worry if some of it rips.

6. Lightly butter a 9x13” pan with the melted butter.

7. Press one sheet of phyllo so that it fits perfectly into the bottom of the pan. Using your fingers or a pastry brush if you’re some sort of fancy-pants wuss who I’m jealous of for even having a pastry brush, gently brush the top of the dough with the melted butter. Don’t worry about getting every square inch of it coated in butter.

8. Layer half a pound of the phyllo dough in the same way, by laying the next sheet on top of the previous and carefully buttering it with your fingers. When half of the phyllo is used up, spread the walnut mixture evenly over it, then layer the other of the phyllo dough in the same manner.

9. Take that butcher knife from earlier and cut out the size and shape of baklava that you want, but only cut through the top half of the phyllo dough! If you cut through the bottom layer, ALL IS LOST. Actually, the bottom layer will just get sorta soggy when you pour the syrup on later.

10. Bake for 75 minutes. Seriously. SEVENTY-FIVE MINUTES. You can make it!

11. When the top is a nice golden-brown, remove the phyllo and immediately pour the cooled syrup evenly over every piece. It’ll sizzle. That’s okay – it’s the sound of Awesome.

12. Wait a couple of minutes for the syrup to be absorbed by the baklava, then cut with the knife all the way through the bottom layer.

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