Baklava is a rich, decadent dessert recipe made of layers of flaky filo dough, filled with chopped roasted walnuts, and sweetened with a sticky honey sauce.
I grew up eating baklava and it's truly one of my favorite sweet treats. Much like my Salt & Honey Pie, just a teeny taste goes a long way!
I've enjoyed baklava for as long as I can remember, but I never dared try to make it because I thought it would be too intimidating.
Let me tell you... not only was this recipe really easy to make, but it was strangely satisfying and turned out way better than I had ever hoped!
This recipe uses walnuts, but next time I think I'll make pistachio baklava. There are so many variations you can do to vary how this easy baklava recipe turns out!
Where did baklava originate from?
Growing up, I always enjoyed baklava from one of three different locations: Greek restaurants, Middle Eastern restaurants, or from a Trader Joe's or Costco variety pack. I never put much thought into baklava origin, but considering I have 25% Middle Eastern blood, I started to wonder where is baklava from.
From what I can find, the true origin of baklava is the Ottoman Empire. Because I suck at history and geography, I had to dig a little deeper.
The Ottoman Empire, historically known to its inhabitants and the Eastern world as Rome and known in Western Europe as the Turkish Empire or simply Turkey, was a state that controlled much of Southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa between the 14th and early 20th centuries.
Therefore, to me it seems that there really isn't much difference between greek baklava and turkish baklava.
What does baklava taste like?
If you've never enjoyed this sweet treat, you might be wondering what is baklava? Since I grew up eating baklava, it's hard for me to even wrap my head around the fact that a lot of people have never even tried it!
Because of the honey, baklava is insanely sweet. It's one of those dessert recipes where one piece will truly be enough to satisfy.
The outside is crisp, delicate layers of golden brown phyllo dough. Since they have been lathered in melted butter, the literally crumble and melt away in your mouth.
The filling is small pieces of roasted cinnamon nuts. The honey syrup holds everything together.
This recipe gives you a little bit of everything: sweet, salty, crunchy, chewy.
What is baklava made of?
Baklava ingredients are actually rather simple.
- The syrup is made of equal parts water and sugar along with honey and vanilla. I always use raw honey and pure vanilla extract.
- Phyllo dough is what makes up the thin crunchy layers. You can buy this in the freezer section of you grocery store or you can make your own... but I haven't done that yet.
- Walnuts, butter and cinnamon make up the filling. Using a high quality butter makes all the difference.
How do you make baklava?
Let's get to the burning question you've been wondering: how to make baklava. There are a lot of instructions so it might seem complicated, but it's really quite an easy recipe.
- First step is to make the syrup. To do this you'll gently heat the syrup ingredients on the stove and then allow the syrup to fully cool.
- Next step is to toast the raw walnuts. I like to leave them whole while I toast them in the oven and then I run them through the food processor to chop them into tiny pieces. At this point you'll combine with the cinnamon and set them aside.
- Now it's time to assemble the baklava. Phyllo dough dries out almost instantly so it's extremely important to keep the unused sheets with a damp (not wet) towel. You'll paint the bottom of your baking dish with butter. Then you'll lay down two sheets of dough, paint with a thin layer of butter, more dough, more butter, and so on. Do this until you have 8 sheets of dough on the bottom.
- Now you'll continue the same process, but this time you'll be adding a few tablespoons of the cinnamon walnut pieces in between. Do this until you have 8 remaining sheets of dough for the top.
- The top follows the same dough/butter layering as the bottom.
- Here's the trick with great baklava: once everything is assembled, cut your pieces but do not cut all the way through the bottom layer. This will allow you to cut beautiful pieces once it's cooked, but the solid bottom layer will keep the syrup in the middle and not all over the bottom of the pan.
- Bake until golden brown and then immediately pour the syrup over the top. This is the best part!
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup honey
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 16 ounces phyllo dough
- 1 pound walnuts (raw)
- 1/2 cup salted butter (I used Kerry Gold (more may be needed))
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon (I used pumpkin pie spice)
- To make the syrup, combine water, sugar, honey and vanilla in a medium sized saucepan. Bring to a boil, stir to dissolve sugar, and then reduce heat so that it can maintain a simmer. Maintain simmer and cook uncovered for about 25-30 minutes. Transfer to a glass measuring cup and allow to fully cool.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
- Spread walnuts onto baking sheet into single layer. Toast in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Remove from oven and allow to fully cool. Use a large knife to chop them into small pieces or pulse in food processor (my preferred method). Combine with cinnamon and set aside.
To assemble and bake baklava:
- Unroll phyllo dough. Cut all sheets in half so that they fit perfectly in a 9x13 baking dish. Dampen and ring out two clean kitchen towels or large sheets of paper towels and place them above and below the phyllo dough. Keep the dough covered at all times so that it doesn't dry out.
- Using a pastry brush, paint the bottom of the baking dish with butter. Add two sheets of dough, spread a thin layer of butter on top, then repeat with two more sheets of dough, butter, dough, butter, etc. until you have a base layer of 8 sheets.
- Now, you will lay down a thin layer of melted butter, 2-3 tablespoons of the crushed toasted cinnamon nuts, and top with two sheets of dough. Repeat this butter/nut/dough layering process until you are left with 8 remaining sheets of dough.
- The top layer will consist of two sheets of dough, butter, two sheets of dough, butter, and so on. If you run out of butter, you may need to melt more, but the goal is to have a very thin layer every time you add it and I like to paint the top with the last bit of butter.
- Cut the baklava prior to baking with a very sharp knife. Cut through the top layer but do not go all the way through to the bottom. You want the bottom layer to remain in tact. I prefer triangles so I cut rectangles first and then cut across on a diagonal.
- Bake in preheated 325 degree F oven for about 50 minutes until the top is crisp and golden.
- As soon as you remove it from the oven, pour the cooled syrup over the entire top, allowing it to sink down through all the layers. This is why you didn't cut all the way through. By leaving that bottom layer whole, it won't make your baklava soggy. Allow to cool.
- Best if served same day, but can be stored for several days at room temperature. I prefer to cover loosely to keep it clean, however air flow is needed to prevent the baklava from getting soggy.