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Here comes my secret recipe! 40 years ago, our friend Bulent gave me the recipe and I tried it immediately. Over the years, it became a family favorite. I made it countless times for dinner guests, community events, bridal and baby showers, as well as for fundraisers. I eventually had to measure everything carefully and write a precise recipe. Here it is!
Baklava is a popular and traditional dessert in the Middle East and parts of the Mediterranean. It was not, however, known much outside the Middle East until immigrants introduced this royal pastry to Americans, Europeans and the rest of the world. Baklava comes in different shapes. The most common ones are shaped like diamonds or squares. Some are shaped like oysters or triangles, some even look like sushi rolls. This one is a twisted roll, cut into small pieces. In fact, the word Burma means “twisted” in Turkish.
Baklava is a flaky pastry made with phyllo dough, filled with chopped nuts and soaked in syrup, and yes, it is sweet! I have a funny memory related to baklava that I’d like to share. When I was pregnant with my first child, I invited a Turkish family to dinner. They brought baklava for dessert. I ate some, actually, I ate a lot. The next morning I had a doctor’s appointment. They took samples as usual. All of a sudden there was a commotion in the office. The doctor hurried back with the nurse with worry all over their faces. He asked me what I had for dinner. I told him everything I had, including baklava. He asked me “what is baklava?” When I told him what it was, they were relieved. My blood sugar was so high that they thought I had gestational diabetes. I was told NOT to eat “that stuff” until I had the baby.
Baklava capital of Turkey is Gaziantep (Antep). In fact, it is the baklava capital of the world. It is also world famous for its pistachio nuts. Therefore, most places in Antep offer baklava only with pistachio filling. However, traditional baklava filling is walnuts. My family favors baklava with walnuts, thus the recipe below calls for walnuts. If you prefer pistachio filling, you can buy unsalted pistachio meat at most Middle Eastern markets. Food processors small or professional size work very well for grinding pistachios as well as walnuts. In either case, when grinding, coarsely grind the nuts, do not pulverize them.
For the syrup:
- 3 cups sugar
- 2 cups water
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice or a slice of lemon
For the pastry:
- 1 box of phyllo dough: You’ll use 12-13 sheets for a 14 inches x 10 inches tray
- 1 ¼ sticks (10 Table spoons) of unsalted butter, melted
- 2 cups (about 1/2 lb) walnut pieces, coarsely ground
- 1/4 cup unsalted pistachios, finely ground (for garnishing)
- A dowel no thicker than ½ inch. I use an acrylic stick that used to be a wand for an old mini blind. It is 5/16 inch thick
- 14 inches x 10 inches oven safe pan.
Prepare the syrup first:
Place sugar and water in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat, add lemon juice or a slice of lemon, and let it simmer for 4 minutes. Set aside, let it cool. Syrup needs to be at room temperature or cooler before using it.
Preparing the baklava:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Take a sheet of phyllo dough, fold it in half horizontally.
- Put 2 heaping table spoons of grated walnuts across the bottom of the folded fillo sheet.
- Place the dowel over the walnut covered portion.
- Start wrapping the phyllo sheet loosely around the dowel by gently rolling it upwards. Do not roll it tight. If it is tight, it will be hard to do the next step.
- When the entire sheet is rolled around the dowel, while it is still on the counter, gently start pushing the ends of the rolled phyllo towards the center. Gathering the dough will give it a wrinkled look.
- Holding it on one end, slowly slide the roll into the tray
- Repeat the above until the tray is filled.
- Cut across the rolls so that each row has 4 pieces.
- Melt butter in a small pan or in the microwave oven. Using a brush, glaze the top of the baklava rolls with butter.
- Place baklava tray in the oven. Bake until the top is golden brown, about 35-40 minutes.
- Remove from the oven. Wait for 2 minutes. Pour cool syrup over hot baklava using a spoon. It will sizzle in the beginning. It might look like you have too much syrup, but, eventually syrup will be absorbed.
- When you are ready to serve, sprinkle ground pistachios over each piece.
- Traditionally baklava is served at room temperature, however, I keep it in the refrigerator since it tastes “lighter” when it is served cold.
- Do not sprinkle the top with pistachios beforehand. It will get soggy. Garnish just before serving.
- If you like, you can make syrup ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator. Sometimes. I make enough syrup for 3-4 batches. This way your syrup will be ready to use when you make another tray of baklava. Syrup can stay in the fridge for three months.
- You can freeze the baklava for several weeks. Remove from freezer the day before and keep it in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve.
- You can use pistachio filling instead of walnuts.