Monday, June 27, 2011

Daring Baker's Challenge: Baklava

Its riddle time!

What's crunchy, flaky, nutty, salty and sweet...all at once? (Hint: The post title is a dead giveaway.) Yeah, that's right...Baklava!

Honey Roasted Almond, Honey Roasted Cashew, and Pistachio Baklava (Flavor 1 of 2)

Erica of Erica’s Edibles was our host for the Daring Baker’s June challenge. Erica challenged us to be truly DARING by making homemade phyllo dough and then to use that homemade dough to make Baklava.

I was nothing short of ecstatic when I saw this month's challenge. At my friend Rebecca's request, I had planned to make baklava this month as a test run for an upcoming Greek Cooking Night. In preparation, I had saved Alton Brown's recipe and planned to watch his Good Eats Episode "Switched on Baklava" before getting started. The positive online reviews followed by his recipe being chosen as part of the challenge this month made me very encouraged and excited to begin.

I paused a moment when I saw MAKE YOUR OWN PHYLLO. The nearly transparent, notoriously finicky pastry makes a lot of people nervous. I'd used phyllo once before (Moroccan Cooking be posted at a future date) and using Alton Brown's tips, the recipe went well. I thought, why not make phyllo. This is a challenge after all. Since I had a busy month, I made this the first weekend in June and brought it in to work for taste testing. I couldn't resist changing it though.

Key changes:

        1/2 filling: honey roasted almonds, honey roasted cashews, pistachios
        1/2 filling dried cranberries, dark chocolate, honey roasted almonds, coconut
         syrup: 1/2 honey, 1/2 maple syrup (to make it a little less sweet)

Baklava  (adapted from original post from The June 2011 Daring Baker's Challenge)

Prep Time:
Phyllo Dough: Allow 5 hours total. 30 minutes to make and knead the dough, 2 hours to rest, and about 2.5 hours to roll the sheets.
Baklava Assembly and Baking: 2 hours
Soaking: Overnight

Note that you will want to plan to eat this the day after you make it but its good for several days as long as it gets to continue to sit in the syrup. Outside the syrup, it dries out and is disappointing. Eating it after just removing from the syrup is nothing short of amazing.

Step 1 : Make your own Phyllo (This is enough for a 9x9 pan of baklava)

(Note: This was a part of the challenge that I'm glad I did but if you don't have 7 hours, get some phyllo at the store and skip down to baklava assembly. )

2 2/3 cups (6400 ml) (260 gm) unbleached all purpose (plain) flour
1/4 teaspoon (1 1/3 ml) (1.5 gm) salt
1 cup (210 ml) water, plus more if needed
1/4 c. (60 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1 teaspoon (5 ml) cider vinegar, (could substitute white wine vinegar or red wine vinegar, but 

could affect the taste)

(Note: This was a part of the challenge that I'm glad I did but if you don't have 7 hours, get some phyllo at the store and skip down to baklava assembly. )


1. Combine flour and salt.

2. Mix

3. Combine water, oil and vinegar.

4. Add water and oil w/ mixer on low speed. Mix until you get a soft dough. If it appears dry, add more water. (I definitely added more water. Approximately 1/4 c. of water was added but I added by Tbsp and mixed to prevent it from being too wet. The type of flour you use will cause the amount of water needed to vary. I recommend only adding 1 Tbsp at a time.)

5. Knead 20 minutes by hand. (Your arms won't fall off. Play a movie or an audiobook and the time will fly.)

6. Knead 2 more minutes. (You CAN DO IT!) Pick up the dough and throw it down hard on the counter a few times while kneading.(It feels good.)

7. Shape dough into a ball and lightly cover with oil.

8. Wrap tightly in plastic and let it rest 2 hours.

8.5. Now could be a good time to prepare your baklava fillings. Chopping nuts takes a few minutes. Alternately, you could go mow the yard, nap with your cat, whatever. Its your time. The dough is going to rest after all that kneading.

9. Now that you and the dough have rested, cut off a golf ball sized wad of dough. Keep the rest of the dough covered with the plastic wrap.

10. Flour the counter. Flour your hands. Flour the rolling pin, cup or your rolling item of choice and keep the flour handy.

11. Roll the dough to extend it vertically. Sprinkle with flour, rotate 90 degrees, repeat. Repeat this cycle over and over until you have a sheet that's roughly 10 x 10 " and it will be nearly transparent. There's a fabulous video online that helped me get some confidence before trying this step.

12. Once the sheet is rolled out, flour it at the top and bottom and sit it on a well floured surface. I chose a floured silicone baking mat but it really doesn't matter as long as its floured. (Somehow I got so busy rolling and later layering that I never took a picture of the sheets. You can see they were nice and thin from the slices of baklava though.)

13. Continue on with the next sheet and remember you have 18 sheets to make! I chose to mark my dough into 18 equally sized blobs so I would have enough to make all the sheets without panicking near the end or feeling the need to recount the sheets. I'd highly recommend using a knife to mark out blobs. Continue rolling out one sheet at a time and flouring until you've rolled out all the sheets.

STEP 2: Syrup and Filling Preparation

Syrup Ingredients:

5/8 c. honey
5/8 c. maple syrup
1 c. water
1 1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp lemon juice
a pinch of clove powder (I'm not a big fan of heavy cloves)

How To:

1. Combine all ingredients in a pot over medium heat. Stir until sugar dissolves.

2. Boil for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Remove from heat and allow to cool as you prepare and cook the baklava.

Filling Ingredients:

(I decided to make 2 fillings. If you only want one, choose one of these and double it.)

Filling 1:
       1 tsp cinnamon
       pinch all spice
       3/8 c. honey roasted almonds, chopped finely
       3/8 c. honey roasted cashews, chopped finely
       3/8 c. pistachios, chopped finely
       2/3 c. sugar

Filling 2:
       1 tsp cinnamon
        3/8 c. honey roasted almonds, chopped finely
        1/4 c. coconut
        3/8 c. chocolate chips
        3/8 c. dried cranberries, chopped
        2/3 c. sugar

How To: 

For either filling, chop up the nuts and toss all together in a bowl until well mixed.



I know, what? Now you need all the items you've prepared plus one more thing... butter.

1 stick of melted butter should be enough. (1/2 c.) You may find you need a couple of extra Tbsp so be prepared with an extra stick should you need to melt a little extra.

How To:

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

2. Trim the phyllo sheets to fit your pan. I trimmed them one at a time. That way if there was a small tear, I could work around it.

3. Butter the bottom of the pan. Then place the first sheet of phyllo in the pan. Brush with butter again and add another layer of phyllo. Repeat until you have 5 layers of phyllo down.

4. Sprinkle 1/3 of your filling over the phyllo layers. (I sprinkled 1/3 of each filling over each half of the phyllo sheet.

5. Layer phyllo and butter again until you have 4 more layers of phyllo added.

6. Repeat applying 1/3 of the filling over the phyllo layers.

7. Layer phyllo and butter again until you have 4 more layers of phyllo added.

8. Repeat applying 1/3 of the filling over the phyllo layers.

9. Layer phyllo and butter again until you have 5 more layers of phyllo added.

10. You can tuck in the top layer to smooth out the top of the surface. Using a sharp knife, cut the baklava into the desired pattern. To make diamonds cut straight lines down the baklava. Then slice across the baklava at an angle.

11. Brush again with butter to coat all surfaces.

12. Bake 30 minutes. Remove and cut all the way through again. Bake another 30 minutes. You are looking for the top to be golden brown.

13. When baklava is cooked, remove from the oven and pour the cooled syrup over the top. At first it seemed like there was a bit of extra syrup but the baklava slurped it up and I poured the rest over.

14. By the next morning all the syrup should be absorbed.

15. Allow to cool completely and store at room temperature.

Honey Roasted Almond, Honey Roasted Cashew, and Pistachio
Chocolate, Dried Cranberry, and Honey Roasted Almond


As a graduate student, I love it when outcomes are quantifiable. Everyone in the lab wanted to try both flavors so it was easy to get votes. The nutty version (more traditional) was the favorite with 9 votes. The chocolate cranberry version was well liked and was the preference of 6 of the voters. I think the dividing factor came from the balance of salty and sweet that was evident in the traditional version, whereas the chocolate had more of a bitter and sweet. I preferred the original but kept thinking...what if I reduced the chocolate to decrease the bitter and increased the nuts and coconut to enhance the salty. I'll get back to you on this. My boss come from a Greek background and loved both! He preferred the traditional but insisted that both were delicious.

This was a success all around! My favorite parts of this challenge were gaining confidence that I could make phyllo, learning that making baklava wasn't THAT hard, and wow was it ever delicious! A number of my taste testers said it was the best they'd ever eaten. Since we live in an area with a dense Greek population and many Greek restaurants, this was a high compliment.

Thanks Erica for a great, confidence building challenge!

To see more daring challengers, visit the daring kitchen or search daring bakers in my google search box to the right of the text!

By the way, what's your pick? How would you like to see baklava flavored?


  1. wow it looks amazing great job and you made the pastry

  2. @ Rebecca: Thanks. The homemade pastry took a while but it was definitely easier to work with than the store version. I'll be making this again in a few weeks with some friends for the monthly Cooking Night. I can hardly wait to see how much they enjoy it!

  3. Wow, that video you linked was amazing. She made the dough look so easy to work with! Did you use that method, too? Your baklava looks divine!

  4. @ Melanie: Yes that's the method I used. I wasn't as fast as she was but I did it her way. The more I rolled, the faster I got. I'm guessing she had rolled phyllo for many years. Its amazing to see people with skills like that.