Opa! Making Greek Baklava

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A layer of chopped almonds and drizzled honey top this fine, globe-trotting treat. Photo by Olivia Lewis.

By Olivia Lewis

Baklava is a rich, light and fluffy pastry crafted from paper thin layers of filo dough. Drizzled in sticky sweet syrup and laden with almonds, pistachios, nutmeg, and cloves, this is the perfect dish for those wishing to try something suitable for a dinner party, birthday or anniversary.

My yiayia, or grandmother as I more often call her, used to make her own filo dough from scratch. As brilliant as it is, I find pre-made filo dough, which can be found in the frozen aisle of your grocery store, just as tasty. But, don’t tell her I said that.

While I’m most familiar with Greek-style baklava, the pastry is also common in parts of the Mediterranean, Levant, Caucasus, Balkans, Central and Western Asia and Maghreb. Each region has its own spin on the classic nut-packed dish. Some roll their walnuts in filo, others pack them into tightly sculpted triangles and a few even craft a wreath of sorts. 

If you’re any part Greek or Turkish, you’ll know the ancient, heated argument that still prevails in households today: “Who made baklava first?

The answer remains somewhat unclear and for all intents and purposes, irrelevant. Because whichever version, this dessert, cloying with honey and garnished with ground cinnamon, is enough to make patriots of any national persuasion content.

So break out the saucepan, throw on some Laïko music and give us a hearty “Opa!” Three times, for good measure. We are now ready to begin.

Note: While this is the Greek version of baklava, we will not be be using 33 layers, a traditional number representing the Christ’s supposed 33 years of life. For the sake of time, the Christ of our baklava will be closer to 10 years old (aka 10 layers). Sorry yiayia!

Ingredients

Pastry

  • 1 16 oz. package of filo dough (Found in the frozen section of most grocery stores)
  • 1 lb. of ground or chopped nuts (Almonds and walnuts are the most traditional)
  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup of white sugar
  • ½ a cup of honey
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ⅛  teaspoon of nutmeg
  • ground cloves (to taste)

Syrup

  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 cup of white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup of honey
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
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Layer, layer, layer! Above is the start of my filo sheets. Photo by Olivia Lewis.

Directions

Pastry

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and butter a 9×13 inch pan.

2. Thaw out the filo dough and when ready, carefully roll out the dough, being sure not to tear its paper thin edges. Cut the dough to fit the pan and cover it with a damp towel to prevent it drying out. Filo is notorious for drying out quickly and therefore becomes too crinkly to work with.

3. Next, chop or grind nuts and toss in a bowl with sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Make sure nuts are evenly coated. Set aside.

4. Stick the butter in the oven until melted, then place two sheets of filo into the pan, slathering them thoroughly with the now liquified butter.

5. Using a spoon, spread a thin layer of nut mixture over the first two sheets, then top with two more sheets of dough, immediately buttering it so that the next layer of nut mixture will stick.

6. Repeat until there are at least ten layers (or until nut mixture disappears) of filo sheets that are each buttered and topped with nuts. The top layer should be around 8 layers thick and should be buttered as well.

7. Use a knife to cut all the way to the base of the pan, first cutting straight rows, then diagonal ones, to create diamond shapes.

8. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit or until golden brown and crispy. While it’s baking, start the syrup.

Syrup

1. Combine water, cinnamon, sugar, honey and lemon juice in a medium saucepan, bringing the mixture to a boil. Then, reduce the heat and allow it to simmer for 5-7 minutes. It should be slightly creamy.

2. Once cooled, pour the syrup over the freshly baked baklava and if desired, garnish with cloves and any extra ground nuts.

3. Wait until cooled to serve or freeze uncovered in refrigerator.

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The finished Greek baklava sits beautifully in its 9×13 inch pan. Photo by Olivia Lewis.

Edited by Kierra Sondereker

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