Baklawa (baklava in Greek) is the quintessential Middle Eastern dessert. In this version of baklawa, spiced walnuts are nestled between layers of buttery phyllo dough and finished with a heavy hand of delicious honey. The outcome is a blissfully sweet dessert that without fail puts my relentless sweet tooth at bay…at least for the time being.
Although there are so many great Middle Eastern bakeries in the area (Chicago/Detroit), nothing quite replaces a dish that is made at home. This recipe is the compliments of our Aunt Zina, and gives all the Middle Eastern bakeries a run for their money!
The making of this dish was truly a family affair. As I have mentioned before, often when one person is cooking up something, other family members just show up. Some help, some drink tea, some are there for the snacks and chaos but all together it is a great time! This time, I was lucky enough to have Nana B’s brother, Umu Hazim and Amma Nezhat (my great aunt) also help out. Umu Hazim was an accountant back in his day, and his precise nature was a great addition to the baking, see below!
As I mentioned before, nothing beats a great dish made at home. It is said the components of a great dish are “fat, acid, heat, salt..” But I’d argue that a huge flavor factor is sentiment. How many times have you eaten a dish that you grew up eating that has the exact same ingredients, but it does not 100% taste the same? I think it has to do with sentiment. There is a huge comfort level and flavor bomb that occurs from cooking at home, especially if they are recipes that become familiar in your household. Why not make baklawa one of those?
- 2, 1 lb packages of phyllo dough*, sheets size 18"x14" (each box typically has 18 sheets)
- 2 cups unsalted butter (4 sticks), melted
- 1.5 lbs walnuts
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2.5 tsp ground fresh cardamom**
- 4 egg whites, yolks separated
- 12 ounces honey, more or less for desired sweetness
- In a food processor, place walnuts and pulse until nuts are ground to medium-fine texture. Avoid over pulsing as that can cause a paste rather than nut pieces.
- In a bowl, mix ground walnuts, sugar, ground cardamom and egg whites.
- Pre-heat oven to 400°F.
- Lightly coat a ~18 x13" baking sheet with melted butter.
- Add two layers of phyllo dough to tray.Brush butter all over second layer of phyllo dough. Grab another 2 sheets of phyllo dough and butter the entire second layer. Repeat this process for a total of 9 times, until all 18 sheets of phyllo dough are used.
- The first box of phyllo dough makes the bottom layer of the baklawa.
- Evenly spread walnut mixture over the entire last layer of the buttered phyllo dough on the baking sheet. Smooth out filling with the back of a spoon.
- To make top layer of baklawa, repeat step 3 until the second box of phyllo dough is fully used. Do not butter the last layer.
- Make horizontal and vertical cuts along the length and depth of the baklawa tray to acheive 1.5" x 1.5" squares. To make straight line cuts, we highly recommend use of a ruler!
- Drizzle melted butter on top of last layer. Avoid brushing butter as that will cause movement of top layer of squares.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes, until golden brown on tops. First place in middle rack. Mid way through baking rotate and place on higher baking rack.
- Once out of the oven, drizzle honey evenly over entire baklawa tray. Allow the honey to seep between pieces.
- Allow to cool and then remove from tray.
- Stores on the counter for 3-5 days, in the fridge for 1-2 weeks or in the freezer for 3-4 months. Enjoy!