This Classic Greek Baklava features layers of flaky dough
filled with ground nuts and honey.
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I had no idea how spoiled I was back when I lived in Atlanta. No matter what it was you were looking for, someone in Atlanta sold it. I could find crawfish and tasso for my favorite south Louisiana recipes. I literally could find every ingredient imaginable at one of the many specialty food markets around town. Speaking of specialty foods, we had access to one of the most amazing farmer’s markets ever down there. (This is the same market where my wife and I went on our first date.) This isn’t a normal farmer’s market with individual merchants setting up tables. Rather it’s a giant (and I mean giant) warehouse of nearly every food imaginable. I picked up powdered lime peel last time we visited Atlanta. I still don’t know what to do with it, but that’s beside the point. What I wouldn’t give to have a farmer’s market like that here in upstate New York!
So what does this amazing farmer’s market have to do with Classic Greek Baklava? Well, in addition to selling all sorts of ethnic food ingredients, this place also had a bakery with treats from around the world. Whenever my wife and I would make a farmer’s market run, a large piece of baklava would almost always appear in our cart. Baklava is definitely one of my favorite guilty treats…I mean, how can you not love a flaky pastry that is filled with nuts and honey? It’s seriously delicious…and seriously addicting!
Baklava certainly has the reputation of being a difficult dessert to make. In all honesty, it’s really not that bad. It does require a bit of prep work, but it’s totally worth it to create this impressive treat! Here’s a couple of tips that hopefully make this recipe easier.
- Don’t waste your time looking for shelled, unsalted pistachios. (1/2 pound of unshelled pistachios = ~4.5 ounces of shelled pistachios.) I went to at least 5 stores before I bought the unshelled version from the bulk section at my local market. The 15 minutes it’ll take to shell them is much less than hunting all over town for the shelled version. Just make sure you grab the unsalted ones! Update: Diamond Nuts now sells pre-shelled, unsalted pistachios!!
- Phyllo dough will dry out in just a couple of minutes if you leave it uncovered. I lay out the stack of phyllo dough on a large cutting board and then keep a damp paper towel on top of the stack. If you’ve never used phyllo (or filo) dough, it’s crazy thin. Don’t worry if it tears or rips a little bit when you make the layers. It’ll get covered up by another layer and you’ll never see it. Phyllo dough can be found in the frozen section at your local market…just keep in mind that it needs to thaw in the fridge for 24 hours before using it.
- The nuts should be fairly finely ground. I’ve left them too big before, and while it doesn’t ruin the baklava, it’s better to have finer ground nuts. Not saying you want powdered nuts here…they should still have some texture. Just not large chunks either. I use a small food processor and grind each type of nut separately since walnuts, pistachios, and almonds all have very different textures.
- Finally, make sure to have all of your ingredients in place before you start. Have your finely ground nuts in a bowl mixed with the spices. Have your buttered dish front and center. Have your phyllo dough (covered with the damp cloth) right next to that. And finally have your melted butter and brush ready to go. The prep is the hardest part here…once you have that done, it probably only takes about 15 minutes to make the layers.
- Baklava is best when made the day before you want to serve it. The honey mixture takes a few hours to soak into the baklava. In a pinch, you could let it sit for about 4 hours and probably be ok, but the day before is the best option.
Classic Greek Baklava
For the Baklava
- several Tbsp of whole cloves
- Butter a 9x13 baking dish and preheat oven to 350°F.
- Using a small food processor, pulse each of the types of nuts until finely chopped.
- In a medium bowl, combine the chopped nuts, sugar, cinnamon, and ground cloves; stir well and set aside.
- Unroll the phyllo dough and trim edges with scissors so that it matches the size of the baking dish (if necessary). (Note: While working, keep dough covered with a damp towel or cloth to prevent it from drying out.)
- Place 4 sheets of phyllo in dish; brush top sheet with melted butter. Sprinkle 1/3 cup of chopped nuts evenly on top. Add 3 more sheets of phyllo; brush the top sheet with melted butter. Top with 1/3 cup of chopped nuts. Repeat process until all phyllo and nuts have been used, reserving 8 sheets of phyllo for the top.
- Place 4 sheets of phyllo on top and brush top sheet with melted butter. Place the remaining 4 sheets of phyllo on top and brush top with remaining butter.
- Before baking, use a sharp knife to cut the baklava into 3" by 3" squares. Next, make a diagonal cut in each square to create two triangles from each square. Insert a whole clove into the center of each triangle.
- Bake at 350°F for 45-50 minutes, or until top is golden and crispy to the touch.
- While the baklava is baking, combine the sugar with 1 cup of water in a small saucepan. Stir well and bring to a boil. Add the honey, vanilla, and lemon juice; reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Once baklava has baked, remove from oven and pour honey mixture on top. Let baklava cool and then cover with plastic wrap for several hours or overnight.