Dish of the Week: Baklava

Backlava Phoenecia
Photo by Ruthie Johnson
Layered with spiced nuts and soaked in simple syrup,baklava is a sweet lover's dream.
From classic comfort foods to regional standouts and desserts, we'll be sharing a new recipe with you each week. See the complete list of recipes at the end of this post.

This week, we're looking indulging our sweet tooth with a Middle Eastern specialty: baklava.

Baklava is a sweet pastry made with layers of butter-brushed phyllo dough, chopped nuts and spices, and a simple syrup scented with orange and/or honey. The pastry is baked until golden brown and crisp before being soaked with the syrup and cut into smaller pieces for serving.

The word baklava is used in many languages, though it may be an almgamation of the Mongolian root "bayla," meaning to tie, wrap up, or pile up, with the Turkisk or Persian suffixes -v or -vā. The origins of the dish are undocumented, but theories suggest the dessert was based on the ancient Central Asian Turkic tradition of layering breads, with the phyllo pastry being developed for the Ottoman Sultans in Istanbul. It is said to have been a dish for the rich until the mid-19th century.

This recipe, slightly adapted from James Beard Awaring-winning Michael Symon, uses a mix of ground pistachios and walnuts and an orange-honey simple syrup. Let it soak overnight and serve topped with more chopped nuts.

Baklava yields 40 pieces

Ingredients

1/2 lb shelled pistachios, coarsely ground, plus more for garnish
1/2 lb walnuts, coarsely ground, plus more for garnish
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup ground graham crackers or fine breadcrumbs
4 sticks unsalted butter, melted
16 sheets phyllo dough (thawed, if frozen), cut in half

For the syrup:
3 cups sugar
8 oz honey
2 tbsp fresh orange juice + zest

Directions

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine nuts, cinnamon, and ground crackers.

Brush a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with butter. Keeping the remaining dough covered with a damp towel, layer 10 pieces of phyllo dough into the pan, brushing each with butter before adding the next. Sprinkle 1/4 of the nut mixture over the dough. Layer 4 more pieces of dough, brushing each with butter before adding the next. Sprinkling another 1/4 of the nut mixture, then add another 4 layers of butter-brushed dough. Repeat with another 1/4 of the nut mixture and another 4 layers of butter-brushed dough. Finally, finish with the last 1/4 of the nut mixture.

Layer the remaining 10 pieces of phyllo dough on top, brushing each with butter and brushing the final top layer with a little extra butter.

To make the pastry easier to cut, cover loosely and put the pan in the freezer for 30. Using a thin, sharp knife, cut the baklava into strips on the diaganol at 1½ inch intervals to create a diamond pattern. Be sure to cut the pastry all the way to the bottom and do not push down on it as you cut. Bake until golden brown, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, make the syrup by bringing the sugar, honey and 1½ cups water to a boil over medium heat. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes until sugar has dissolved and mixture is uniform. Add orange juice and zest and boil for 2 more minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

Pour the mixture over the warm pastry and allow to soak, uncovered, at least 6 hours or overnight. Serve topped with chopped nuts.

See more Dishes of the Week:
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