Our family discovered Disney World the first year that we moved to Florida. I was young enough that I don’t even think I knew Disney was a place before moving to the Sunshine State, but that all changed very quickly. For the first few years after moving, we thoroughly embraced the Florida resident lifestyle, got annual passes, and spent all of our free long weekends at the parks.
The rides and the characters were cool, but my favorite part of Mickey Mouse’s home was late afternoon Epcot wandering. With a history teacher for a mother, we would inevitably end up at Epcot and often, my dad and sister would go back to the hotel for a few hours in the afternoon to rest and recharge before returning to the Disney night scene. During those, often rainy (because…Florida), afternoons, my mom and I would eat our way around the World Showcase. A bite of gelato in Italy, an eggroll in China, an apple danish in Norway, but the highlight of the afternoon- baklava in Morocco. There was something about that sticky, nut filled pastry that spoke to my heart and ever since then, good baklava transports me right back to those 90 degree afternoons spent wandering around the world with my mom.
I will not lie to you, baklava is a labor of love. But I will also tell you that is worth every ounce of that labor. Making baklava is not a difficult or challenging process, but it is a process none the less. Layering each piece of filo takes time (hint: it moves quicker if you find a friend to help you), but when you bite into your baklava and all of those little layers begin to flake apart, you will be glad you did it.
For the syrup:
1 cup sugar
1 cup honey
1 cup water
1 T lemon juice
For the filling:
About 1 lb nuts (I used 8 oz pistachios and 8 oz walnuts), coarsely chopped
4 T sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
3 T melted butter
1 lb unsalted butter (clarified)
1 16 oz package filo dough, thawed
Thaw filo dough and remove from the package. It is important to keep the pastry covered so that it doesn’t dry out. Right before you begin assembly, unroll filo sheets onto a large sheet pan and cover with a damp towel and a layer of plastic wrap. (Don’t let the filo set out unwrapped too long before you begin working with it!)
In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, water, honey, and stir together to begin dissolving sugar. Add lemon juice, orange peel, and lemon peel and bring syrup to a simmer over medium heat. Let syrup simmer for about 20 minutes, then remove from heat and let cool while you assemble the baklava.
While the syrup is simmering, clarify the butter. To clarify butter, place it in a small saucepan over medium heat. As the butter begins to melt, the milk solids will float to the top and you can use a spoon to scrape them off so you are just left with clear butter. It is not necessary to be a perfectionist about this and get all of the milk solids out. When researching, many recipes don’t even clarify the butter, just melt it, so just get as much as you can.
To prepare the filling, place nuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Pour nuts into a large bowl and add sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, and melted butter. Toss together and set aside.
To assemble the baklava: brush the bottom of a 9x13 pan with a light coat of clarified butter. Place one sheet of filo dough on the bottom of the pan and brush with butter. Repeat layering filo dough until you have 8 pieces stacked, brushing each with butter before adding the next. After 8 sheets of filo, spread 1/3 of the nut mixture evenly over dough. Top with another 8 sheets of filo, each brushed with butter. After the second set of filo, sprinkle another 1/3 of the nut mixture over the dough. Add another set of 8 sheets, each brushed with butter, and then spread the remaining nut mixture over the dough. Top the final nut layer with 8 more sheets of filo, each brushed with butter, making sure to brush the eighth and final filo sheet with butter.
Before baking, use a very sharp knife to cut the pastry into squares or diamonds. If your knife is sharp and your cuts are firm, the pastry should easily cut into pieces.
Bake the pastry in a 350 degree oven for 45-50 minutes, or until it is golden brown. Remove from oven.
Right when the pastry comes out of the oven, pour your cooled syrup over the entire pastry making sure that some of the syrup gets in all the corners and crevices. Let the baklava cool completely and then refrigerate it for at least 3 hours, but preferably overnight.
Notes: If you want to, you can trim the filo dough sheets to fit the size of the pan that you are using. The package of filo that I bought contained 9x14 pieces so I opted not to trim them down and I just folded the extra inch over onto itself to fit the pan.