This is my favorite special occasion dessert. It’s an unusual recipe for me; it requires special ingredients and lots of time and care. The upside is that it’s delicious and lasts a while, making it great for gifts.
Preheat oven to 350°F, make nut filling, layer phyllo pastry with butter and filling, freeze, cut, bake, make syrup, take out of oven, pour syrup, let cool.
Note that you freeze before you cut, cut before you bake, and you bake before you add syrup. It seems weird but it’s true.
Defrost phyllo dough in fridge for 2-3 hours. While the phyllo dough defrosts, prepare the nut filling. I put the nuts in a blender for a few seconds, then I take out the large pieces that are stuck at the top and break those with a knife.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease a 1-inch 8x11 baking pan with butter. Lay 1 sheet of phyllo dough and cover it thinly with butter. Use a pastry brush or a fork to spread the butter thin by dipping the utensil in the butter, then grazing the surface of the phyllo. After 9 sheets, spread half the nut mix across the pan. Very delicately, lay 2 more sheets and butter them very gently. These are the most difficult sheets; they will stick to the butter and move, but you can carefully realign the phyllo sheet. Spread the rest of the nut mix. Add the remaining sheets with butter.
Put in the freezer for 10 minutes, so that the butter solidifies and it’s easy to cut. Take it out and cut diagonally across the pan with a knife the long way, then straight lines the short way. If the phyllo dough sticks out past the edge of the sheet, cut the extended long edges off. Put in the oven on the middle rack for between 45 minutes and an hour.
As it bakes, prepare the syrup. Mix the sugar and water in a saucepan on medium heat, until the sugar desolves. Add the 2 cinnamon sticks, 5 cloves, and the circular sections of the lemon, rind and all. Keep stirring it so it doesn’t burn at the bottom; reduce heat if it starts looking too dry.
Check the baklava at 45 minutes; it’s done once it’s golden brown. Take it out of the oven and pour the syrup across the baklava; it should sizzle and bubble if the pan is hot enough. Let it cool down and harden, an hour at least. The dish lasts for weeks, so I definitely recommend preparing it the day before or earlier.
Once it’s cooled, cut it again following the grooves of the earlier cut. If the phyllo dough stuck out over the edge of the pan, cut that off with a knife as well.
To serve, start by removing the small side triangle edge pieces. These taste fine but don’t look as good. Use a fork or pie server to gently lift out the aesthetically-pleasing trapezoid-shaped pieces. Careful, they’re fragile! But they’ll stick back together if they break.
Thanks to my dad for the recipe, editing this online edition, and of course making me and my friends tray after tray of baklava over the years.
Him: “Are you crushing the nuts now?”
“No, I’m typing the recipe”
“I thought the noise was very soft”