As you read in my previous post, I made two desserts for Erev Rosh HaShana and because my brother and niece both keep kosher and I made a meat main course, my desserts had to be vegan. I’m a pretty harsh critic when it comes to using substitutes for things like butter and cream and simply refuse to make something unless I feel it will not suffer for their lack. Both the Apple Frangiapane Tart and the Baklava were truly amazing. Now, of course, YOU can make them with butter if you wish but if you don’t eat dairy either for health, religious or ethical reasons, these desserts are sure to wow anyone who is lucky enough to eat them.
Unlike the tart dough, working with phyllo dough requires speed and a little skill. Once you get the hang of working with these thinner than paper sheets of puff pastry, there are so many wonderful things you can make with it – everything from appetizers to main courses to dessert.
Whenever I am going to make something for the first time or its something I haven’t made in awhile, I read and re-read the recipe. When you are working with something as tempermental as phyllo dough, you need to have EVERYTHING ready or your efforts are doomed before you start. I’m not trying to scare you away – this is not rocket science – but you do need to be mindful. Follow these directions exactly and you will never think of baklava in quite the same way again.
Best Baklava adapted from The New Jewish Holiday Cookbook by Gloria Kaufer Greene
Yields: About 40 pieces, depending on how you cut it
9 x 13 x 2 inch baking pan (I like to use glass – it doesn’t seem to stick and it bakes evenly)
2 tea towels (or thin dish towels) soaked in warm water and rung out
4 cups (about 1 pound) finely chopped walnuts, pistachios or blanched almonds (I used walnuts)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 rounded teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
Zest of one large lemon
1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons honey (I used Atika Greek honey, but a nice orange blossom or clover honey would work. Do NOT use anything as dark in flavor or color as buckwheat.)
Juice of one large lemon (about 3 Tablespoons)
1.5 sticks of Earth Balance Vegan Margarine, melted (you can use butter if you prefer)
1 pound of phyllo sheets at room temperature
- In a medium sauce pan combine the sugar, water, 1/2 cup of honey and lemon zest. Slowly warm themixture over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves. Then bring the syrup to a boil (watch it here!) and boil it gently, uncovered and undisturbed (no stirring) for 10 minutes. Remove the syrup from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and remaining 2 Tablespoons of honey. Set the syrup aside to cool to room temperature.
- It is easiest to finely chop the nuts in a food processor. They should be at room temperature and if you mix them with the sugar and spices, you will not form a paste with the nuts. Chop by pulsing so you can control how finely they are chopped. Set aside
- When you are ready to asemble the baklava, heat your oven to 350 degrees F.
- Carefully remove one packet of phyllo dough (mine comes in two packets per pound) and unroll in onto one damp towel. Immediately cover it with the second damp towel.
- Brush the bottom of your baking dish generously with melted margarine. Now quickly and carefully peel off one very thin layer of phyllo, cover the rest and place the thin sheet in the bottom of the dish. Don’t get hysterical if the sheet breaks. You can patch it with another sheet. Only the very top sheets should be whole and by the time you get there, you will have figured out how to handle the stuff. Trust me! Carefully brush the sheet with melted margarine. Repeat this until you have 5-7 sheets of phyllo. Do not be lazy – you must brush EACH sheet with the margarine for it to be flaky.
- Now take 2/3 cup of the nut mixture and spread it over the phyllo in the pan. You can use your hands (they are impeccably clean, right?) to make sure that it is evenly distributed.
- Stack 2-3 more sheets of phyllo on top of the nut mixture, brushing each sheet with margarine. Remember to keep the phyllo that you are not immediately working with covered with the damp towel. It dries out VERY quickly.
- Spread 2/3 cup of the nut mixture over this. Keep repeating steps 7 and 8 until all of the nut mixture has been used. Top th efinal layer of nuts with 5-7 sheets of phyllo dough, brushing each layer with margarine. Pour any remaining margarine over the entire top.
- With a very sharp knife, carefully make a large “X” across the pan of dough. Cut about half-way down into the layers. To make the traditional diamond shapes, then make parallel cuts about two inches apart. YOU will have a few triangles along the edges but that’s fine. People will still eat them.
- Sprinkle a few drops of water (or use a misting bottle) lightly across the top of the pastry. Bake in the oven for 1 hour.
- AS SOON AS the baklava comes out of the oven, pou the syrup all across the top. Everything will sizzle and you will think you have ruined it or have way too much syrup. You are wrong. Again using your sharp knife, now cut through carefully all the way to the bottom of the pan along the score lines that you made before it went into the oven.
- Leave the pan to cool and rest at least 4 hours but preferably overnight. Once it has cooled, lightly cove rit with aluminum foil until you are ready to use it. It will last for up to one week. Actually I really can’t imagine that anything will be left after a couple of days, but in theory, it will last up to a week.
NOTE: If you had any remaining phyllo dough and it hasn’t dried out, you can use it for something else or you can try rolling it up between waxed paper or plastic and freezing it.