Wow, can you believe that Christmas is right around the corner?! I remember back when it was 100°, and I was wishing for cooler weather and merrier times. And now look, those merrier times are here!
One of my favorite things about this time of year, are all the goodies and sweets that are passed around at work, school, church, and among neighbors and friends. This year I was invited to a cookie exchange party, which was the first one I had ever attended. It was so much fun to make cookies, then trade them at this party, and bring home new cookies to try. One of the best things about that is that you get to try new things, because usually not everyone has the same taste as you. I came home with some great cookies that I would’ve never tried otherwise. (And I even got the recipe! Winning!)
For this cookie party I made red velvet crinkle cookies. I wanted to take a cookie that I never made before, but yet have it be festive. I originally wanted to make baklava, but I thought it had to be a true cookie. The day of the party I asked about bringing baklava, and they said that I could, but it was too late by then. Sad face. It got me thinking how about this time every year I like to make baklava. I made it every Christmas for the past 15 years. I got the recipe online from Too Hot Tamales. They use to have their own cooking show on the Food Network Channel. I loved watching them because I loved the recipes, and really, they were just fun to watch. One time they made baklava, and as much as I love Mediterranean and Greek food I thought, “Hey I can make this!” And so I did.
I’ve had this recipe since 1999. In the beginning, when I was first making it, there were some hits and misses. Although, for the most part, I’ve done a pretty good job and lots of people like it.I made some for my friend who is Arabic, and I made some for my friend who is Greek, and they both said they really liked it. Although they could just have been telling me that because there are my friends. 😉 Anyway, all that to say, lots of people like my baklava. People also seem surprised that I make it every year, and that I know how. So, in an effort to help you be the hit at your holiday party this year, I’d like to share with you a step by step tutorial on how to make baklava.
First let me start off by posting the ingredients.
3 1/2 cups of sugar
2 1/2 cups of water
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 1/2 cups finely chopped almonds
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
box of filo dough (Keep frozen until you plan to use it. However, you need to defrost it the day before by putting it into the fridge.)
4 sticks of unsalted butter, melted
*You’ll also need a cooking brush.
The recipe above is the altered one that I use. Over the years I was realizing that I was adding the amounts of nuts and such that I like, not what the original recipe called for. I then decided I would just make my own recipe. Having said this, I’m the type of person who doesn’t follow a recipe. If you asked me how to make something I’d just say, “Add how ever much you like.”
Also, after you make this traditional baklava, you can get fancy and add things on top, like chocolate. Oh yeah, I said chocolate. I did that one year, and it was pretty tasty!
One more side note-I’ve made this so many times, I know what works and what doesn’t. The following instructions are better detailed than they were in the original recipe. I promise, this may look difficult, and there may be lots of steps, but it’s easy. I know you can do it!
Okay, let’s get started.
Combine 3 cups of sugar, the water, honey, lemon juice, cinnamon stick and whole cloves into a saucepan. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes. After that, set it to the side. I leave it on the stove until it’s time to pour over the finished product.
Chop your nuts. I use the food processor to get my nuts “finely chopped.”
In a large bowl, mix the nuts, 1/2 sugar, ground cinnamon and ground cloves. Set aside.
Get your filo dough ready. Filo is temperamental, so you need to work quickly. Also, keep the dough on the plastic sheet it is wrapped in, and cover the dough with a damp cloth, to keep moist. If you don’t keep it moist, and if you don’t work quickly enough, the dough will dry out.
Get your baking dish and butter ready. I use a 9×13 pyrex baking dish. I also melt only 2 sticks of butter at a time.
Time to assemble!! The hardest part about this step is not losing count of how many sheets of filo dough you’ve put down.
Start with brushing the bottom of the dish with a little butter. Then lay down one sheet of filo dough, and brush it with butter. Lay down another sheet of filo, and brush it with butter. You will lay down 8 sheets on the bottom, brushing each sheet with butter. Do not skip this step.
After you lay down 8 sheets, you will scoop some of the nut mixture onto the bottom layer. Here is where I’m probably not going to be too helpful. I can’t tell you how much of the nut mixture to use. I just sprinkle enough on to cover the bottom layer.
After the first layer, you’re going to lay down 3 sheets of filo dough. Remember to brush each sheet with butter.
After the 3 sheets of filo, cover that layer with more of the nut mixture. Continue this layering until all of your nut mixture is gone. Once you use the last of the nut mixture, you will make a top layer of filo dough, using 8 sheets again. And remember…..brush each sheet with butter! 😉 Also remember to be somewhat neat with the last sheet of filo. The top layer is the layer everyone will see. So if your filo sheets are all wonky, like the sheets on your bed, it’s going to show! (I’ve made this mistake a few times myself.)
For this step you want to make sure you use a very, very sharp knife. It’s helpful to use the tip of the knife as well. You want to cut it into pieces, big enough for your friends and family to enjoy, but not too big to where you only get 5 pieces out of your whole batch. I start cutting from one side to the other. Then I turn the dish and go the other way. I think the idea is to make diamonds, but hey, if you want squares, make squares! 😉 (PS-remember to cut BEFORE you bake. One year I forgot. Trying to cut the baklava after it’s baked is no easy task. In fact it’s practically impossible.)
After you make your cuts, take the remaining butter, and heat it till it’s boiling. (I use the microwave.) After it’s boiling, pour it over the baklava.
Time to cook!
Bake the baklava in a 300 degree preheated oven. It needs to cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Or, until it looks like this……
Pour the syrup over the entire pan of baklava. Again, this is where I’m no help. (It wasn’t very clear in the original recipe either.) This year I think I may have poured too much syrup over the top. I do know this-you will NOT use all of the syrup. I used about 3 ladle scoopfuls of the syrup. You can always just try spooning the syrup a little at a time. It’s hard to tell how much is the right amount, because you can’t really see. Just make sure you get in all the corners and you’ll be good. 🙂 Then let it cool for an hour or so, and enjoy!
This is how it should look.
And there you have it!!! Delicious baklava for you to wow your friends and family! This would be great as a gift to your neighbors, co-workers or friends. I gave some to one of my co-workers today and it made me smile to hear him say, “Mmmmm,” as he took bite after bite.
PS-Remember the secret ingredient of love. So, the more of that you put into your food, the better it will taste. 😉
If you try this, please let me know how it turns out!
Have a Merry Christmas friends!!