Tis the season for holiday treats! How about a little homemade baklava as a gift? With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season in full swing, how about taking some time out to do what you’d rather be doing anyway – baking! Trust me – one bite of this sticky treat and they won’t care that you didn’t shop and you get to spend a little more quality time in the kitchen. This recipe takes less time (and money, and headache) than a trip to the local department store and will have your gift recipients cheering your name long into the New Year!
In the Bay Area we are super lucky in that we have access to most of these ingredients grown locally, making baklava even that much more special. A big “thank you” to the folks at Pedrick Produce in Vacaville for always having just what I need for my holiday “shopping” list!
9 cups raw, unsalted nuts (I use a combination of walnut, almond and pecan)
1 stick (1/2 cup) room temperature unsalted butter
1 cup water (filtered if your water quality is poor)
2 cups sugar
½ cup honey (I’m using raw, fresh local honey from B-Z Bee Honey of Capay Valley)
2 wide strips of lemon zest
2 wide strips of orange zest
1 whole cinnamon stick
18 sheets of frozen, thawed phyllo dough
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Then, while the oven preheats….
In a medium sized saucepan on medium heat, combine water, sugar, honey, lemon zest, orange zest and cinnamon stick. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Once mixture boils, remove it from the heat and let cool.
In a 9×13 pan, combine nuts in an even layer on the bottom. Let nuts toast in the oven for around 7 minutes, shaking the pan mid-way through cooking to ensure even toasting. Remove pan from oven and let the nuts cool. Once cool, finely chop the nuts or run them through the food processor using the “pulse” feature. Notice the texture of the nuts (if you process them too long, they will become paste). Put nuts in a large bowl and add 1/3 of the cooled syrup mixture. Stir to thoroughly coat nuts with syrup. Warning: if you love nuts, it’s best not to sample the nuts at this stage or there won’t be enough left to make your baklava.
In a small saucepan, melt butter on low. Do not stir the butter. Allow the milk solids to separate gently from the oil. Once all of the butter is melted, remove from heat. Using a large metal spoon, skim the milk solids off the top and discard. You now have clarified butter!
Now it’s time to put it all together!
Brush the bottom and sides of a 9x 13 pan with clarified butter. Place a sheet of phyllo in the bottom of the pan. The phyllo sheet will be larger than the pan, which is okay – simply cut off the excess and reserve for the next layer. Gently brush the phyllo sheet with butter, starting from the middle and working your way to the outside. Repeat procedure with seven more layers of phyllo.
Place half of the nut mixture on top of the phyllo sheets, spreading evenly. Next layer on another eight layers of phyllo, brushing with butter between each layer as before. Put the second half of the nut mixture on top of the phyllo, and again, layer on 8 more layers of phyllo, brushing with butter between each layer and also brushing clarified butter on top of the top sheet. Place pan in the refrigerator for a half hour to chill the butter.
With a sharp paring knife, first cut the baklava into strips, using your fingers to secure the top of the phyllo. Be sure to use and up and down motion to cut the baklava to prevent tearing or dragging of the dough. Once the baklava is cut into strips, cut the strips crossways to make squares then cut each square diagonally to make each square into two triangles.
Cover pan with aluminum foil and bake 20 minutes. Remove aluminum foil from pan and bake 15-20 minutes more. Remove pan from oven, uncover and let cool for around 10 minutes. Ladle some of the syrup over the top until evenly coated. Let syrup soak into the baklava for 10-12 minutes, then repeat with more of the syrup. Let cool before serving.
Makes 40 triangles.
Baklava stores well in an airtight container at room temperature for around a week. It will also keep longer in an airtight container in the fridge, but you will notice that, as each day passes, your baklava will get a little chewier. So, if you aren’t going to eat your baklava right away, it’s always a welcome gift to friends and neighbors.