This Baklava is heavenly! It features flaky layers of pastry with toasted nuts, soaked in juicy syrup and infused with fragrant aromas of rose water, cardamom, and ghee. It's not overly sweet and has a unique flavor. I'll be sharing two ways to make it.
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What is Baklava?
Baklava, a flaky pastry filled with chopped nuts and soaked in syrup, is a featured dessert in the countries that were part of the former Ottoman empire, spanning the Middle East to Mediterranean, Balkans, and Caucasus.
This recipe is of Persian style and differs from the more common versions. The unique combination of rose water, freshly ground cardamom, and ghee creates a truly magical aroma, similar to our ever-popular Persian love cake.
After years of experimenting, I've developed a method for achieving perfectly crisp pastry layers held together with juicy syrup for an extended period.
Baklava may seem daunting, but it only takes me half an hour to make. Along with useful tips for handling phyllo dough with ease, I offer a quicker option that you can prepare in just 10 minutes.
Here are some notes about the ingredients.
- Phyllo dough shopping: Choose a popular brand phyllo dough that is meant for making baklava. Purchase from a store with a high turnover rate, such as Walmart or a well-maintained Middle Eastern store in the US.
- Phyllo dough options: It is available in two sizes: 17 x 12 inch (24-28 sheets) or 9 x 14 inch (40 sheets in two rolls). You can trim the 17 x 12 sheets to fit a 17 x 12 baking sheet. If using 9 x 14 sheets, use additional layers in a 9 x 13 pan.
- Nuts: I prefer a combination of walnuts (soft bite) and almonds or pistachios (firm bite), evenly and finely chopped using the pulse action on a food processor or hand chopping. But don’t make it a powder.
- Ghee or Clarified Butter: You can find this at most stores, or you can make it from butter (check the recipe in notes section). Ghee has a higher smoke point and imparts a fantastic flavor to the baklava. Regular butter has over 15% water and can cause uneven baking. And it can leave brown specks from the milk solids on the baklava.
- Sweetener: I use sugar with some honey to make the syrup. Healthier options are available, and tips for selecting them are below under “variations”.
- Flavors: The aromas of rose water, cardamom and ghee make this baklava unique. You can find rose water online or at Middle Eastern stores. And grinding cardamom seeds fresh provides the best flavor. The aroma is intense, so start with less if you are not sure.
- Lemon Juice: This helps prevent crystallization, keeping the syrup juicy for weeks. You can also use corn syrup for this purpose.
How to Make Baklava (Persian Style)
Brief overview below. *Full recipe at the end of blog post.
- Prep: Thaw phyllo dough according to package instructions. Make ghee from butter.
- Make Syrup: Combine sugar, water, and lemon juice in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stir until sugar dissolves, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add honey and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat, add rose water, and let it cool.
- Nut Mixture: Pulse walnuts in a food processor until finely chopped. Repeat with almonds. Then mix with sugar and cardamom.
- Assemble the Pastry: Keep ghee melted and warm. Layer the baklava in a 17 x 12-inch baking sheet with 10 sheets at the bottom, half of the nut mixture, 6 sheets in the middle, the remaining nut mixture, and 12 sheets on top. Brush each layer with ghee.
- Bake: Cut into diamond shapes and bake at 350°F for 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 325°F and bake for another 40 minutes.
- Serve: Cool to room temperature for 2 hours, then pour cooled syrup evenly over the pastry and let it soak overnight. Garnish with pistachios and cut again before serving.
Easy Baklava Without Buttering Each Phyllo Sheet
- Place 12 phyllo sheets in the baking sheet, spread nut mixture, top with remaining 16 sheets, and cut into diamond shapes. Drizzle melted ghee evenly and swirl the pan. Bake and add syrup as in the recipe above.
- This quick method produces good baklava, but the standard recipe I have in the recipe card gives more perfect results.
Make sure that the phyllo dough sheets are easy to separate before assembly by allowing them to thaw at room temperature. Keep the package closed until ready to use and have all other ingredients prepared beforehand.
Start by brushing the edges of the phyllo dough and work towards the center to prevent cracking. Patch up torn sheets and use for middle layers, saving the best sheets for the top. Gently press down each sheet before brushing with ghee to compress and even out any air spaces.
To make slicing easier, refrigerate the assembled baklava for a few hours or freeze briefly to firm up the layers. For better oven heat exposure, avoid using deep baking dishes. Keep an eye on the time and temperature to ensure the phyllo layers are baked through while preventing the nuts from burning.
After cooling completely, the baklava syrup should have a consistency between honey and maple syrup, sticky enough to hold the phyllo layers together. Let both the baklava and syrup reach room temperature before pouring, for an incredibly crisp and flaky result that lasts for weeks.
All that syrup will get absorbed perfectly – I have done it hundreds of times. The baklava is perfect after a day or two. This trick was shared with me by a Syrian whose family owned a pastry shop.
While you can pour cooled syrup over warm baklava or warm syrup over cooled baklava, the pastry may not remain as crisp after a few days. If both the pastry and syrup are hot, it may become soggy.
There is another unconventional trick to help the sheets cling and make cutting easier. You can drizzle a thin layer of honey over the nuts before laying the phyllo sheet and pressing down gently.
Below are some suggestions, but I have not tried some of them.
- Vegan: Check phyllo package for vegan suitability. Use neutral oil, like avocado or corn oil, instead of ghee. No recommendations on vegan butter substitutes, as I have not used them. Also, use vegan sugar and avoid honey.
- Gluten Free: You can make homemade phyllo dough with gluten free flour and binding agent. Tutorials are available online, but I haven't tried them.
- Nut Free: Consider using shredded coconut or seeds such as sesame, pumpkin, or sunflower, along with some dried fruits like raisins, for the filling.
- Dairy Free: Substitute ghee with a neutral-tasting oil, such as avocado oil or corn oil.
- Light Baklava:
- You can mix ghee with avocado oil or just use olive oil, as shown in this recipe.
- Since the aroma of ghee is stronger, you can use less of it and mix it with a neutral-tasting oil. Using half oil can lower saturated fat without sacrificing flavor.
- If you have lactose intolerance or dairy sensitivity, using ghee may be a better option since it contains less lactose or casein. Additionally, opt for grass-fed dairy to enjoy greater health benefits from conjugated linoleic acid.
- For a refined sugar-free baklava, try a honey and orange juice-based syrup like the one used in this Persian Love Cake. Be sure to simmer the syrup such that it reaches a consistency between that of honey and maple syrup when cooled.
- Each piece of this baklava contains 10g of carbs, 6g of which are from sugar. To make this dessert suitable for diabetics, use a low-carb or sugar-free syrup and skip the sugar in the filling. Try allulose, a new sweetener that is gaining acceptance.
Persian baklava incorporates the scents of rose water and cardamom and is typically made using a blend of finely ground nuts and homemade dough. On the other hand, Greek baklava features honey syrup and is infused with hints of cinnamon, other spices and lemon.
To ensure the perfect baklava, bake phyllo layers thoroughly by lowering the temperature and increasing baking time as needed, while monitoring nuts.
Over-baking at high temperature can cause the top and bottom layers to brown too much while leaving the layers in between undercooked, resulting in a soggy baklava. Test your first attempts in a glass dish for optimal results.
The syrup should be thick, between honey and maple syrup consistency, to prevent sogginess. If the baklava and syrup are both very hot it can also lead to sogginess.
Butter phyllo sheets well before baking, and use clarified butter or ghee for even baking. Regular butter has relatively higher water content.
Brush the phyllo sheets generously with ghee. The syrup should have a moderate thickness and be made with ingredients like lemon juice or corn syrup that help prevent crystallization. In addition, applying heat for a longer time, as in this recipe, can change the sugar chemistry and prevent crystallization. Use enough syrup to fully cover the baklava and make sure to maintain the right nut-to-syrup ratio.
Baklava can be frozen in freezer-safe containers for couple months and enjoyed later. When ready to eat, thaw the pastry overnight until it reaches room temperature. However, for the best texture, store baklava at room temperature.
Prepare the nut filling, ghee and syrup up to 4 days in advance. Keep phyllo dough in fridge for up to a week before use. Assemble the baklava and then refrigerate or freeze it before baking. Thaw the pastry to room temperature before baking.
Chill the assembled baklava for several hours or briefly freeze it to make it firmer before cutting it into the desired shapes using a sharp knife.
More Middle Eastern Desserts
- Maamoul (Date Filled Cookies)
- Chia Muhallebi (Milk Pudding With Pistachios)
- Ranginak (Date Walnut Dessert)
- Nan-e Nokhodchi (Chickpea Cookies)
★ DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE? PLEASE COMMENT AND GIVE IT A STAR RATING BELOW!
Baklava Recipe (Persian Style)
- 16 oz phyllo dough thawed, follow package instructions
- 12 oz ghee or clarified butter, unsalted, see notes
Thaw and Prepare the Phyllo Dough
- To thaw phyllo dough, follow the package instructions. I thaw it overnight in the fridge, then leave it on the counter for 2 hours to reach room temperature.
- My phyllo dough had 28 sheets that measured 17 x 12, which can fit a 17 x 12-inch baking sheet or be trimmed to fit. If using 9 x 14 sheets, just make more layers in a 9 x 13-inch pan, and avoid using deep baking dishes.
Make Sugar Honey Syrup
- Combine sugar, water, and lemon juice in a medium saucepan. Stir until the sugar dissolves and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add honey and continue to simmer for 5 to 7 minutes.
- Remove from heat, add rose water, and allow to cool to room temperature. The consistency of cooled syrup should be between that of honey and maple syrup.
Prepare the Nut Mixture
- Pulse walnuts a few times in a food processor until finely chopped. Repeat with almonds. Chop larger pieces by hand.
- In a mixing bowl, combine finely chopped nuts with sugar and ground cardamom.
- Keep the ghee melted at all times, and warm it up gently if it thickens.
- Unroll the phyllo dough and place the stack of sheets between two kitchen towels.
- We will layer baklava in the following order: 10 sheets at the bottom, ½ of the nut mixture, 6 sheets in the middle, ½ of the nut mixture, and 12 sheets on top.
Assemble the Baklava (Quicker Method In Notes)
- Preheat oven at 350°F.
- Brush the bottom and sides of the baking sheet with ghee. Place one phyllo sheet in the pan and brush with ghee evenly. Repeat this process with 9 more phyllo sheets, brushing each layer with ghee.
- Spread half of the nut filling evenly over the phyllo sheets.
- Add 6 more phyllo sheets, gently pressing down each sheet and then brushing with ghee.
- Spread the remaining nut mixture evenly on the phyllo dough.
- Place the remaining 12 phyllo sheets, gently pressing down each sheet and then brushing with ghee.
- Using a sharp knife, cut the pastry into 2" strips, and then cut across diagonally to create diamonds shapes. Drizzle any extra ghee on top.
Bake and Serve
- Bake the baklava in center of the oven at 350°F for 20 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 325°F and bake for another 40 minutes or until golden brown on top.
- Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours. Pour syrup evenly over the baklava (both at room temp), and let it soak overnight for a pastry that stays crisp and flaky for weeks.
- Tip: Alternatively, you can pour cooled syrup over warm baklava or warm syrup over cooled baklava, but the pastry may be softer.
- Garnish the baklava with finely chopped or ground pistachios and cut through the layers once again before serving.
- Easy Baklava Without Brushing Ghee on Each Phyllo Sheet:
- Butter a baking sheet and layer 12 phyllo sheets, then spread nut mixture and top with remaining 16 sheets.
- Cut into diamond shapes, drizzle melted ghee evenly over the pastry and swirl it a bit.
- Then bake and pour syrup as instructed above.
- While this method produces good baklava, the standard recipe above yields more perfect results.
- Ghee: To make ghee, melt 1 lb of unsalted butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir often and let the foam subside. The milk solids will settle at the bottom and turn toasty brown with a nutty aroma. Be careful not to burn them. Strain the golden liquid through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth into a small saucepan.
- The order of baklava layers: You can have more baklava layers if desired, such as 8+6+6+6+8 or 10+5+5+5+5+10, using 9 x 14 inch sheets (40 in two rolls).
- Make Ahead: Prepare the nut filling, ghee and syrup up to 4 days ahead. Keep phyllo dough in refrigerator up to a week in advance. Assemble the baklava and refrigerate or freeze before baking. Thaw the pastry to room temperature before baking.
- Storage: Keep at room temperature for up to two weeks, lightly covered with a tea towel or a lid placed ajar. It can be refrigerated, but it will harden a bit. The baklava can also be frozen for up to two months.
- For more information on ingredients, variations, FAQs and serving suggestions, scroll up the page to the blog post.
More Baked Desserts
This post was first published on May 16, 2019 and has been updated with improvements in pictures, tips, FAQs and additional enhancements.