Okay, let’s cut the chitchat and get to a recipe for a change.
It was my dad’s, um, 49th birthday over the weekend, so I had to get off my lazy butt and make him some baklava. His words, not mine. This is one of the very best things that I make, so you can pretty much stop reading me after this (finally, right?). It ranks right up there with this, and reminds me, lest I forget, of my character flaws where my sweet tooth is concerned.
Baklava isn’t particularly hard. It’s just a little time-consuming so I usually reserve it for special occasions. And though phyllo has a reputation for being high-maintenance, it’s really not that bad. Honest. Personally, I think making pie dough without a food processor is way scarier. In fact, when the Preschooler was a toddler, I had him help me by painting melted butter on each layer of phyllo with a wide brush. He, of course, only wanted to paint the same spot over and over again until it was saturated and the bristles tore gashes through every single layer underneath. But, it doesn’t matter. No one’s checking every layer. If a sheet breaks, just stick it back on there and keep going. See:
Phyllo can be found in the freezer section, usually near the frozen pie crusts and such. You’ll need to give it time to defrost (a few hours at room temperature or overnight in the fridge). Some brands of phyllo come in sheets just the right size for a 9”x13” pan. The stuff in the big, long yellow box, though, needs to be cut in half. A pizza-cutter works great. You’ll want to keep the dough covered in plastic wrap while you’re working, with a slightly damp towel on top of the plastic. Then, you can pretty much take as long as you like to work.
Use whatever nuts or spices your heart desires. Pistachios, almonds, acorns. I’ve tailored this so it comes out just the way I like it. To hell with all of you. Walnuts, cardamom, enough sugar syrup so it’s drenched in sweetness, yet still crispy. God, how does it stay crispy and moist at the same time?
Witchcraft. That’s how. Wanna join my coven?
I like to clarify the butter and make the sugar syrup ahead of time so everything is ready to assemble when opportunity strikes.
1 package phyllo dough, defrosted
3 sticks butter
2 cups sugar
1½ cups water
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. corn syrup
1 10-oz. bag finely diced walnuts (2½ cups)
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cardamom
Melt butter. Skim foam off the top and discard. Pour off the pure butter into a clean container, stopping short of the cloudy white stuff at the bottom. Discard the white solids, and set the yellow clarified butter aside.
Place sugar, water, lemon juice, and corn syrup in a small saucepan. Over medium-low heat, stir until sugar dissolves. Then increase heat, bring to boil, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cool, and chill in refrigerator.
Mix walnuts, sugar, and spices in a medium bowl and set aside.
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Arrange stack of phyllo sheets on plastic wrap and cover with more plastic wrap. Set a slightly damp dishtowel on top of that. Using a pastry brush (or unused paint brush, 1-inch or wider), brush 9”x13” glass baking dish with melted butter.
Place one sheet in the bottom of the dish and brush with butter. Repeat this process until you have 12 layers in the dish. Spread half the walnut mixture evenly over the dough. Add 8 more buttered phyllo sheets. Spread the remainder of the walnut mixture. Top with 12 more buttered layers.
With a sharp knife, carefully cut diamond shapes all the way through the layers by cutting diagonally across one way, and then diagonally across in the other direction. Pour any remaining butter over the top. Bake for 30 minutes. Then lower oven to 300ºF and continue baking for 45 minutes. Cool 10 minutes. Pour cold syrup evenly over warm pastry. Let cool completely before serving. Store at room temperature.