This is baklava, or paklawa as its known in most Kurdish households. This nutty, buttery, sticky, sweet, spiced pastry exists in some form in most of the Middle East, but to me this version is the ‘classic’ as its Mum’s recipe. Enjoy one (or five) with a cup of black tea, or with scoop of ice cream for dessert. You won’t be disappointed.
375g pre-made filo pastry (around 1½ packets of standard shop-bought pastry)
200g unsalted butter
450 – 500g (4 cups) nuts of your choice (I used a mix of walnut, pecan and pistachio)
100g (1 cup) icing sugar
1 tbsp ground cardamom
100g (1cup) sugar
160g (½ cup) honey
375ml (1½ cups) water
2 tbsp lemon or lime juice
1 tbsp rose water
2 baking trays (I used 35cm x 24.5cm)
Preparation time: 50 minutes
Cooking time: 25 – 30 minutes
Makes: around 50 pieces of baklava
Filo pastry has a tendency to dry out quickly, so it’s best to plan what you’re doing before you open the packet and start handling it. The things you need to consider are: making sure the filo is cut to fit your baking tray, and making sure you have enough layers of filo to work with.
I made two batches of baklava from the quantities of this recipe, both in a 35cm x 24.5cm baking tray.
I use 6 layers of filo at the bottom and 6 layers of filo at the top of the baklava, with one layer of 2 sheets in the middle, which separates two layers of the nut mixture. In total, I used 14 sheets of filo per tray of baklava. You want to apply a layer of melted butter every two sheets of filo, using a pastry brush, and taking care so as not to break to pastry.
1. Remove cardamom seeds from several pods (at least 20) and grind them down in a pestle and mortar until you have 1 tbsp of a fine powder (The room will fill with the scent of cardamom, its delightful). Set aside.
2. Prepare your nut mixture. First grind your nuts in a food processor, keeping a close eye as it’s easy to overmix and turn into a nut paste. You want there to still be some bigger nut pieces so there’s texture to your baklava. In a large bowl, add icing sugar, cardamom and salt to your ground nuts and mix until the spices and sugar coat the nuts evenly. Set aside.
3. Melt 200g butter over a low heat.
4. Heat your oven to 170 degrees Celsius (fan oven).
5. At this point we want to start assembling the baklava. Butter the first baking tray and place the first two sheets of filo down with care. Butter the pastry, trying to get a thin, even spread, then apply the next two layers of filo. Repeat until you’ve lay down 6 filo sheets in total, applying a final layer of melted butter. Spread a quarter of your nut mixture evenly over the pastry, then add two more sheets of filo, then melted butter. Add another quarter of your nut mixture and spread evenly again, before adding the top layer of filo sheets (3 pairs of sheets, applying a layer of melted butter to each pair). Once you’ve added your final layer of melted butter, put the baking try in the fridge for 30 minutes. This sets the butter and makes it easier to cut before putting in the oven. Repeat this process for the rest of your mixture in the second baking tray.
6. Remove the baklava from the fridge and cut into your desired shape for serving using a sharp knife (it’s virtually impossible to cut baklava neatly once it’s been baked). Cut all the way through the layers of pastry (see my photos for inspiration). Once cut, put both baking trays in the oven and bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown.
7. Meanwhile, make your syrup. Add the sugar, honey, water, rose water and lemon or lime juice to a saucepan and simmer over a medium heat for around 15 minutes, stirring constantly, until it resembles a syrup. The citrus juice works to stop the mixture from turning into a caramel, so as long as its acidic, it doesn’t matter which citrus fruit you use. Set aside once made.
8. Remove both baking trays from the oven once golden brown and leave to cool down for 10 minutes. Pour your syrup slowly and evenly over both trays. Set aside for at least half an hour before attempting to try one, but ideally leave for 24 hours for the baklava to soak up all the delicious syrup.