The intense smell of melted butter began to swirl in my tiny apartment. I peeked into the oven to assure that the little diamond-shaped baklava pieces were nicely bronzed and crisp. I knew it was time to take them out. Placing the pan on the stove, I quickly reached for the cold rose flower and orange blossom sugar syrup and poured it slowly between the cracks of the baklavas. As soon as the syrup hit the crisp phyllo dough, a satisfyingly loud sizzle took me aback. I marveled at the bubbly golden surface that looked insanely delicious and wondered how I’m going to get through the next couple of hours waiting for them to cool down. I sprinkled some leftover crushed pistachio nuts on the glazed pastries and immediately started taking pictures on my phone to send to my family in Beirut.
A few minutes later, my mom inundated me with questions “Is the phyllo dough crunchy? Are they too sweet? Do they taste like REAL baklavas?” I could tell from her voice that she was filled with skepticism about the idea of baking Lebanese baklava at home. But let me assure you that these delectable pastries tick all the criteria of really good baklava: browned buttery crackly top, a thick middle layer of lightly sweetened ground nuts, and chewy bottom with just the right amount of sugar syrup oozing out with each bite. I’m not comparing its taste to the best Lebanese sweet shops who have decades of experience in baking these delicacies, but these come pretty close. It’s a worthwhile weekend baking project that will surely impress people and put a beaming smile on your face.
Recipe adapted from Wandering Spice
350g (1.5 cups) granulated sugar
180ml (3/4 cup) filtered water
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp rose flower water
½ tsp orange blossom water
226g (2 sticks, 1 cup) unsalted butter, cubed
400g (3 cups) high-quality whole shelled unsalted raw pistachios
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp rose flower water
4 tbsp sugar syrup
2 tbsp. ground pistachios
1. Remove phyllo dough from the fridge and thaw overnight in the fridge.
2. Prepare the syrup: place sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Allow the syrup to boil for 3 minutes without stirring. Add the lemon juice and continue boiling for 10 minutes until it reaches a light, syrupy consistency that coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and stir in the rose flower and orange blossom water. Set aside to cool down completely and store in the fridge (this step can be made a couple of days in advance).
3. To clarify the butter: Line a sieve with paper towel and place over a bowl. Melt the cubed butter in a saucepan over medium heat until it begins to foam. Using a spoon, skim the foam from the top and discard. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the melted butter into the lined sieve. Leave at room temperature. Note: Hot butter will make the phyllo soggy.
4. Place the pistachios and cinnamon in a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Slowly pour 4 tbsp. of sugar syrup and the additional ¼ tsp of rose flower water into the mixture. Continue pulsing until the pistachios are finely ground. Reserve 2 tbsp. for decoration.
5. Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F) and place a baking sheet in the oven – the hot sheet will ensure that the phyllo layers at the bottom stay crispy. line the bottom of a 9″x13″ (23cm x 33cm) baking dish with parchment paper – I used a glass pyrex. Place a baking sheet in the oven.
6. Unroll the phyllo dough and cut the stack of dough (20 sheets) in half to fit the size of your baking dish (40 sheets total). Place a clean, damp cloth on top to keep them from drying out.
7. Butter the bottom and sides of the lined pan with clarified butter. Lay one sheet of phyllo in the pan and gently brush clarified butter onto it. Add a second sheet of phyllo and brush with butter. Continue stacking and brushing sheets until you have 20 sheets on the bottom of the pan. Note: Do not use a lot of clarified butter, only brush sparingly in the first 20 layers – Otherwise you’ll end up with a soggy bottom.
8. Pour the ground pistachio mixture on top of the phyllo stack, and spread out evenly throughout the pan.
9. Repeat the buttering and layering process with 20 more sheets on top of the nut mixture. Once done, refrigerate for 10 minutes to allow the butter to firm up and hold its shape.
10. Using a sharp knife, carefully slice the raw baklava into 1.5″ vertical strips, making sure to slice all the way to the bottom of the baking dish. Then, slice diagonally in a crossways pattern, to create diamond shapes (or, just cut crosswise to make rectangles).
11. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the tops of the baklava have puffed and are golden brown.
12. Pour the cold syrup between the cracks of the baklava diamonds – it will sizzle. Sprinkle the chopped pistachios on top. Set aside to cool and serve at room temperature. Store covered in a container at room temperature for up to 1 week. Note: for less sweet baklava pour about half the amount of syrup.