Baklava stresses me out.
As soon as I open the plastic packaging and roll out the cold sheets of phyllo dough, I feel like I’m in a race against time. I can picture the sand streaming down the hour glass, announcing the moment that the phyllo dough will become parched and unworkable, as if your potter’s wheel could only spin for so long. Time is of the essence, but working quickly is not necessarily the solution. Move too carelessly and too quickly, and the thin sheets will tear and break into equally unworkable pieces.
I’ve tried covering the sheets with cold towels, or keeping half the sheets in the refrigerator, but have not noticed any real difference. If I am going to work with phyllo dough, I am going to have to work quickly and carefully. And that stresses me out. I just don’t like feeling rushed; feeling like I’m in some metaphysical battle with the hands of time. The thought of timed exercises brings me back to high school and number two pencils, of filling in bubbles at break-neck speed. We probably all have the SAT or the ACT – or whatever three-letter acronym was used to gauge our intelligence – to thank for introducing us to the cruel pressures of time, and the threat of running out of it.
Like taking a standardized test, when making baklava, it’s best to be prepared. Before you break open the test booklet or that wrapped phyllo dough, make sure you’re well-prepped. Have the oven heated, the pan greased, the syrup ready, the butter melted, and the nuts chopped. You want your station ready, just as you want your pencils sharpened. I have not timed it precisely, but I would guess that you have about twenty minutes before phyllo dough becomes dry and brittle. Fortunately, after thirty minutes in the oven, and a few minutes for cooling, you have homemade baklava to ease your stress. Which isn’t so bad after all.
Come to think of it, the SAT might not have been so bad if there was baklava waiting at the end of it.
PREP TIME: 20 minutes
DOWN TIME: 1 hour for thawing
COOK TIME: 30 minutes
YIELD: Makes 12 triangles
WHAT TO GRAB:
2/3 cup honey
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Zest of one lemon
3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup roasted, salted pistachios, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup blanched, unsalted almonds, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
20 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
1/2 cup melted butter
1 tablespoon water
HOW YOU DO IT:
1. Thaw the phyllo dough for one hour at room temperature, or overnight in the refrigerator.
PREPARING THE SYRUP
2. Combine the honey, water, lemon juice, lemon zest, cloves, and cinnamon stick in a medium saucepan over low heat. Stir until the honey is completely dissolved – about 2 minutes. Increase the heat to medium, and cook, without stirring, until a candy thermometer registers 230 degrees – about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and keep warm. Remove any solids with a slotted spoon, and discard them.
PREPARING THE PHYLLO DOUGH
3. Before you open the phyllo dough package, have the melted butter and your filling ready to go. Also be sure to generously butter a 13 x 9 inch baking dish.
4. Working quickly, place one sheet of phyllo dough, lengthwise, in the bottom of the pan. Lightly brush the entire sheet with the melted butter. Lay another sheet of phyllo dough on top of the first sheet, and again, lightly butter that sheet. Repeat this procedure until you have seven sheets of buttered phyllo dough.
5. Sprinkle the phyllo sheets with half of the nut mixture (about 1 cup). Make sure the sugar, spices, and nuts are evenly distributed across the phyllo. Lightly drizzle the honey syrup over the nuts.
6. Top the nut mixture with another phyllo sheet. Butter this sheet. Once again, repeat this procedure until you have six phyllo sheets. Top this second layer with the remaining nut mixture. Lightly drizzle the honey syrup over the nuts.
7. Top this last layer of nuts with the remaining seven sheets of phyllo, each one lightly buttered. Gently press the baklava into the pan. Sprinkle the baklava surface with one tablespoon water.
8. Gently score the baklava by making two lengthwise cuts and three crosswise cuts in the top layer of the baklava. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until the phyllo is golden brown. Remove from oven, and cool in the pan, on a wire rack. Cut each square into two triangles if you desire. Enjoy cool! Store any leftovers at room temperature.