Ambition is the essential ingredient for executing this recipe. Lucky for me, I’m F******ambitious. Are you? Never too ambitious, I don’t think that exists, yet I do have a nasty habit of blaming ambition when a finished product doesn’t reflect the original image or idea in my minds eye. In reality we should just castaway expectations, but remain rooted in the process of creation, enjoying those fleeting moments themselves. Easier said than done, but we’ll practice! So with this one, do whatever you gotta do to tear down the dam of doubt built up in your mind, which may constrain your ability to coax thin layers of delicate pastry out of a lump of dough. Unlock the floodgates, lead the rebellion, so that you may find creative liberation abreast a mighty wave of ambition coursing on through this project.
This baklava really tastes delicious, as delicious as fallen leaves in the forest smell to me this time of year. It bakes up super crispy and one bite is like jumping into the biggest pile of raked, crunchy leaves; they are equally harmonic, rippling experiences. I intentionally made the final 3 layers of phyllo dough extra thick so that you feel a real rustic crunch in your mouth.
The flavor even has me recalling the taste of apple pies, although there is no fruit in this recipe. I think the fruity essence comes from the special honey I use; rather than using sugar to make a syrup, as it is done traditionally, I choose to substitute Killer Bees Sourwood Honey for sweetness, and you should use some quality local honey too, if you are fortunate enough to have a jar around.
Clear a large work space for all of your rolling, slicing, and assembling. Then take a deep breath. At the top of your breath consider the image of your exalted expectations, if there is any, and then knock over the pedestal, let go of your breath, exhaling completely, as the image of your perfect baklava crashes onto the floor in a million crispy pieces. Take another deep breath, feel the soothing capability running through your hands up to your fingertips, exhale, and GO!
The phyllo dough recipe has been adapted from Serious Eats’ Austrian Apple Strudel recipe. Although people generally use store bought phyllo dough instead, I choose to make it because I had fantastic results recreating the magical strudel made in Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them with this recipe.
Please let me know if you are baking along! I would love know about your trials and triumphs in pastry land, so that we can learn together.
For the phyllo dough:
- 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 10-12 tablespoons lukewarm water
For the filling:
- 1 pound mixed nuts, I used walnuts and almonds
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground clove
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 1/4 cups unsalted butter
For the finishing syrup:
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1 cinnamon stick
Mix the flour and salt together, on low speed in the bowl of your stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Drizzle all of the olive oil and almost all of the water into the mixing bowl while it is on low speed. If your dough is not coming together and seems too dry, add a tablespoon of water at a time until you get a shaggy dough that wants to stick together. Once the dough becomes a shaggy mass, turn off the mixer and switch from using the paddle to the dough hook attachment. Knead your dough on medium speed for about 5 minutes or until it feels and looks soft, smooth and elastic. If your dough is too sticky and wet, add a bit more flour and continue kneading until your dough feels right. Shape the dough into a ball, coat it with a bit more olive oil and place covered in a bowl in your refrigerator to rest for at least one hour.
In a small sauce pot combine lemon juice, water, honey and a cinnamon stick. Cook over medium heat until *almost* boiling, then reduce the heat to medium/low and continue cooking for 5 minutes. Remove your syrup from the heat and let it cool completely.
Chop the nuts into very small bits and place in a medium bowl with cinnamon, clove and sugar; mix everything together and then divide it into 5 even-ish portions. Melt your butter in a separate bowl.
After resting the phyllo for an hour, weigh the entire dough ball and then divide it into 10 even portions. Lightly flour your counter top. You may also want to lightly flour your rolling pin or the top of the dough if it is too sticky.
Begin rolling out the first portion of dough into the biggest rectangle you can muster. Once you can't take it any farther with your pin, begin stretching the dough from the center with both hands as your fingertips gently pull outwards towards the edges on the underside of the dough. Continue the motion of stretching the dough with your fingertips, while maintaining a rectangular shape until your single piece of dough is 18" X 13". With a pizza slicer or a large, sharp knife divide your rectangle in half so that you end up with two 9" X 13" rectangles.
Generously butter your baking tray and place one phyllo rectangle down in it, lining up the edges of the dough to meet the edges and corners of the rectangle pan as closely as you are able. Use a basting brush to generously butter the exposed side of your first phyllo layer. Top it with the second 9" X 13" layer of phyllo, lining it up with the edges and corners again, as well as generously buttering the exposed upper-side of the dough. Repeat this process with the next 2 portions of dough: rolling out, stretching, dividing, laying down and lining up, and finally buttering.
Now you have used 3 out of 10 of your dough portions and created 6 thin layers of phyllo dough as your base to begin topping with your nut filling. Evenly distribute the first portion of nut filling (1/5 of the total amount) in a layer topping your phyllo base.
Repeat the directions in steps 5, 6, and 7 working with one portion of dough at a time. You should build on your base of 6 phyllo layers and nut filling with 2 phyllo layers topped with another 1/5 portion of nut filling. Repeat this pattern 3 additional times. By the end of this step you should end up with:
6 layer phyllo base, nut filling,
2 layers of phyllo, nut filling,
2 layers of phyllo, nut filling,
2 layers of phyllo, nut filling,
2 layers of phyllo, nut filling.
The remaining 3 portions of dough must now be extended as you did in step 5, however, you only need to stretch each portion into a single 9" X 13" rectangle; you do not need to divide your rectangle into 2 pieces and you do not have to stretch it as far in the first place. Work with one portion of dough at a time: rolling out, stretching to 9" X 13" rectangle, laying down and lining up and finally buttering.Repeat this process twice more, until you are out of phyllo dough. In totality you will have made 17 layers of phyllo dough and 5 layers of nut filling to complete your baklava.
Preheat the oven to 350. Be sure to generously butter the top layer of phyllo. Using a sharp chefs knife, make 4-6 vertical cuts from the top to bottom, orienting the tray so that the lines run parallel to the longest sides of the tray. Be sure to make clean cuts all the way through to the last, bottom layer of phyllo dough. Make another set of 4-6 diagonal lines, cutting all the way through, in order to create a tray of diamond shaped pieces.
Place on the middle rack in your oven and bake for about an hour, or until crisp and golden brown. After removing your baklava from the oven, immediately pour your cooled syrup over top of the entire tray as evenly as possible. You can top it with more chopped nuts at this point if you wish. Let your baklava sit to cool and congeal for at least 4 hours.
A special thanks to my love, Christian, for capturing photos of the phyllo dough layering process :*