Lebanese Baklava- Easy Method
Updated: Dec 11, 2019
Baklava is popular across the Middle East but also in other countries and cultures preparing different variations of the sweet. Although the exact origins of baklava remain uncertain--there are stories of Baklava originating in Assyria as early as the 8th century-- it was undoubtedly perfected during the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century after invading Constantinople (present day Istanbul). And for over five hundred years the kitchens of the Imperial Ottoman Palace in Constantinople became the ultimate culinary hub of the empire. The Greeks, Turks, and Middle Easterners all prepare some version of baklava.
The Greek Influence – Greek seamen and merchants traveling to Mesopotamia brought the recipe to Athens. The Greeks’ major contribution to the development of this pastry is the creation of a dough technique that made it possible to roll it as thin as a leaf, compared to the rough, bread-like texture of the Assyrian dough. In fact, the name “Phyllo” was coined by Greeks, which means “leaf."
The Armenian Influence – When baklava was discovered by the Armenian merchants on the Eastern border of the Ottoman Empire located on Spice and Silk Routes they integrated cinnamon and cloves into the texture of baklava.
The Arab Influence – Further East, the Arabs introduced rose-water and orange blossom water. The taste changed in subtle nuances as the recipe started crossing borders. Of all the countries in the Middle East, Lebanon is notably credited with contributing the most to baklava.
The Persian Influence – Persian patissiers since antiquity, invented the diamond-shaped Baklava which contained a nut stuffing perfumed with jasmine. In the sixth century the it was introduced to the Byzantine court of Justinian I at Constantinople.
The Turkish Influence – As the Ottomans invaded Constantinople to the west; they also expanded their eastern territories to cover most of ancient Assyrian lands and the entire Armenian Kingdom. Cooks and pastry chefs who worked in the Ottoman palaces contributed enormously to the interaction and to the refinement of the art of cooking and pastry-making of an Empire that covered a vast region.*
Yields: About 60 diamond shaped pieces
1 lb box phyllo, 9"x 14" sheets, room temp
3/4 cup butter, melted
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup honey
3/4 cup water
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp orange blossom water (or pinch orange zest)
3 cups walnuts, ground and toasted
1 tsp cinnamon
Note: Allow the phyllo to thaw a day ahead in the refrigerator. Set the phyllo out for about 2 hours ahead of time to allow it to come to room temperature. It is very important that the syrup be completely cooled. It can be made ahead and chilled or made just before making the baklava, but be sure it it completely cool to avoid a soggy baklava.
In saucepan, combine sugar, water and lemon juice; bring to boil over medium heat. Reduce to low; simmer 5 mins. Add orange blossom water. Cool completely.
Chop by hand or coarsely in a food processor. Some nut-dust is unavoidable, but avoid nuts that are too finely chopped. Combine nuts and cinnamon until well coated.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Unroll a phyllo sleeve on top of the plastic it is packaged in. Keep phyllo covered with a towel.Lay a 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan, over the phyllo. Cut about an inch off of the short side of the phyllo to fit in pan. Leave phyllo just a hair larger than the pan because it will shrink when it bakes.
Brush the bottom of the pan with butter. Lay one stack of 20 phyllo leaves in the pan. Spread the nuts over the phyllo in one even layer. Open the second sleeve of phyllo and trim. Lay this stack of 20 leaves over the nuts, taking care that the top layer is untorn. Use a layer from the center of the leaves for the top layer if necessary.
Brush top layer or two with butter. Use the tip of a very sharp chef’s knife, cut into diamonds by cutting six rows (5 cuts) lengthwise and ten rows (9 cuts) crosswise on the diagonal. For smaller pieces, cut 7 rows (6 cuts) lengthwise. Lightly score the top with your knife before cutting so you can see where the cuts will be.
Use one hand to cut and the other to hold the top layers of down; be sure to cut all the way through to the bottom of the pan, to allow the butter to seep through all layers. The top layer will lift; just lay the phyllo back down where it belongs and move on. The sharper your knife, the easier the cutting will be.
Pour the butter evenly over the top. Allow the butter to settle in, about 5 mins. Bake on the oven shelf second from the top until deep golden brown, 50-60 mins, rotating the pan halfway through baking.
Remove the pan from the oven and immediately pour the chilled syrup evenly over the top. Let cool for several hours.
Serve in foil mini-muffin cups or on a plate. Keep lightly covered with plastic wrap or wax paper up to 2 weeks.
Adapted from a recipe by Maureen Abood
*History of baklava excerpted from Libanais.