From Arugula to Ziti: Baklava

I'm very lucky to have a husband who likes (mostly) the same foods that I do. It's rare that I suggest we order/make/try something and he gives me the "look." I've also managed to find a partner that knows that some days, I need a treat at the end of the day. Whether that be a bottle of wine or baklava from the market around the corner, some days he just knows that I need something nice at the end of a bad day.

We both love baklava. It's the perfect treat—layers of buttered phyllo dough, nuts and sugar, all coated generously with honey. It's crispy, sweet, rich and totally addictive. Until recently, however, I was too intimidated to make it myself. Baklava is a traditional Greek dish made with a traditional Greek ingredient—phyllo dough. Phyllo dough is very thin unleavened raw dough that is used for pastries. In dishes that call for phyllo dough, many, many layers are used, so that when they bake they puff up and away from each other, creating layers of crunch.

The thing that has long intimidated me about phyllo dough is that you have to work very quickly, it breaks easily, and requires some finesse. However, a few weeks ago I used phyllo dough to make wrapped portabella mushrooms, so I had some left over and decided that I was going to make the plunge. I layered buttered phyllo dough and a cinnamon, brown sugar, and chopped walnut filling. After it baked I topped it all with a honey-based syrup. It was so easy, I was amazed!

Baklava

1 box phyllo (filo) dough
1 cup chopped walnuts (or pistachios)
¾ cup brown sugar
2 tbsps cinnamon
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup honey
1 cup butter, melted
2 tbsp lemon juice

When you buy your dough it will be in the freezer section. Defrost overnight in the fridge. When it's thawed roll it out between two sheets of wax paper and cover with a damp towel. This will keep the dough from becoming brittle. Halve or quarter your dough, depending on the size of your dish. You want to use a casserole dish because after it bakes you're going to cover with honey, and you want to let it sit.

Mix together your nuts, brown sugar, and half your cinnamon.

Grease your casserole dish and lay down your first piece of phyllo dough. Brush with butter. Repeat 4 times so you have 5 layers of dough, all buttered. Add a layer of the nut mixture. Add five more layers of buttered dough, and then more mix. Continue until all of your nut mix is gone. Your final layer of phyllo dough, the very top, should be 15 layers deep. Cut into squares or triangles.

Bake at 350 for 25 minutes, or until golden brown.

While your baklava is baking, dissolve the sugar, honey, water, and cinnamon. Remove from heat and let cool. When your baklava comes out, pour the cooled honey mixture over the hot baklava. Let sit 4 hours, so the honey can absorb into the layers.

A note on the honey syrup: Depending on what size dish you're using, you won't necessarily need all of it. Your baklava should be just covered on the sides by the syrup, no more.

Elena Rosemond-Hoerr is a writer and photographer and can be found on her own website, biscuitsandsuch.com.
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