Way back when I was in high school, my mom made a mysterious dessert with a funny name that was unlike anything that had ever graced our kitchen . Dessert nirvana I tell you. But wait, it was full of walnuts, how could that be? I don’t like walnuts; at least not the big chunks found in brownies, fudge or cookies. Odd how you can dislike something when it’s one size, but fall in love when it’s chopped finely, mixed with cinnamon and sugar, suspended between butter-soaked, paper thin layers of pastry, and infused with golden honey. Swoon.
Yes, that dessert totally foreign to my adolescent self was baklava. Mom was so ahead of her time—making baklava in Fargo, North Dakota at a time when a Norwegian or Swedish treat was as exotic as they came. She doesn’t remember where she got the recipe, but I’m glad she did. It’s the best baklava I’ve ever tasted—no other version I’ve had has even come close over the years. Maybe it’s sentiment, but I doubt it; Mom’s baklava is just the best!
If you haven’t worked with phyllo (or filo) dough before, don’t be intimidated. It takes a little patience and diligently keeping the sheets of dough covered with a damp tea towel while you work with one sheet at a time, but it’s not difficult. Have everything ready and prepped before you open the package of thawed phyllo and you’ll breeze through this.
A bonus as desserts go, baklava has the super food factor with walnuts and cinnamon involved. It keeps unrefrigerated for about 5 days and I imagine it would freeze well. If you’re truly walnut averse (no matter how finely they’re chopped), almonds, pistachios or a combination of the two would work too. Enjoy!
1 lb. (16 oz.) walnuts
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pound phyllo dough, thawed
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
12 oz. honey
Butter a 9×13″ baking dish and set aside.
Place walnuts, sugar and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until walnuts are finely chopped. Alternately, finely chop walnuts and mix with sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl.
Trim phyllo to fit baking dish (mine just needed about an inch trimmed from the short end).
In the prepared baking dish, place 1 sheet of phyllo; brush lightly with melted butter. Repeat to make five more layers of phyllo; sprinkle with one cup of walnut mixture.
Place one sheet of phyllo in baking dish over walnut mixture; brush with butter. Repeat to make six layers. Sprinkle one cup walnut mixture over phyllo. Repeat layering two more times.
Over final sprinkling of walnut mixture, place a sheet of phyllo and brush with butter. Repeat to make six layers.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
With a sharp knife, cut layers just halfway through, in strips about 1 1/2″ inch wide the long way. Then cut halfway through on the diagonal, to make diamond shapes.
Bake 1 hour and 25 minutes or until top is golden brown.
Shortly before removing pan from oven, in a medium saucepan, heat honey until hot, but not boiling. After removing baklava from the oven, spoon hot honey over it evenly. Cool in pan on wire rack at least 1 hour. Cover and leave at room temperature until serving.
To serve: With sharp knife, finish cutting through the layers. Transfer to a platter (can place each piece of baklava in a cupcake paper to make things a little neater). Makes about 24 servings.
Note: Keep phyllo dough under a damp, clean tea towel to prevent drying as you work with it.