You know how some foods, tastes, and smells bring back photographically-clear memories in just an instant? Baklava is a very reminiscent dessert for me. I remember watching my friend make Baklava in my kitchen a few years ago. She was using her Iranian grandmother’s recipe, which she remembered by heart. Imbued with rose water, cardamom, and pistachios, it was unlike any other Baklava I had ever tasted. With a little lemon and cinnamon in the sugar syrup, the house was filled with a warm and delightful smell. I tried to recreate this Baklava by cobbling together a few different recipes. I did not include the rose water this time, but I think that was a mistake. I added rose water to the ingredient list here, so you can use it if you like. I will be adding a little bit next time I make Baklava.
First “Ingredient”: Lots of willing hands!
Making Baklava takes a lot of patience and quick handiwork; it’s very helpful to have a couple of assistants:
3 cups white sugar
2 cups water
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1-5 Tblsp. rose water, to taste
1 1/2 pounds chopped nuts – any combination you like. I used about 1/2 pound pistachios, 1/2 pound walnuts, 1/2 pound almonds
2 Tblsp. white sugar
1 tsp. grond cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1 1/2 cups Earth Balance margarine, melted
1 (16 ounce) package frozen phyllo pastry, thawed
Preheat oven to 350º F. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine 3 cups sugar, water, cinnamon sticks, lemon juice, and vanilla. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes. The consistency should resemble a thick syrup. Slowly add the rose water at the very end, and stir in – taste and add more or less rose water depending what you like. You don’t want to boil the rose water. Set side.
In a small bowl, combine chopped nuts, 2 tablespoons sugar, ground cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom; set aside. Brush Earth Balance on the bottom of a 9×13 inch pan. Each sheet of phyllo dough is usually twice as big as the pan, so cut each in half, making 2 sheets. Place a sheet of phyllo on bottom of pan, and brush with melted Earth Balance. Repeat process for a total of 8 sheets, buttering each.
Sprinkle about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of nut mixture evenly over the phyllo, and cover with 4 more sheets, buttering each. Continue sprinkling nuts after every 4 sheets of phyllo, until all but 8 sheets (4 full sheets) are used.
Use remaining 8 sheets for the top layer, buttering each sheet of phyllo. Before buttering the last sheet, tuck in any loose edges. Press down layers with palms of your hands. Pour remaining butter over the top. With a large knife, cut 5 strips lengthwise about 1/2 inch deep, then cut diagonally to form diamond shapes.
Bake in preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven, and immediately pour the sugar syrup over the baklava. Allow to cool thoroughly. Cut diamonds to go all the way through, and serve.