I need to start this post by telling you that I didn't make this baklava. Richard did. Could we please give him a round of applause? It is the most beautiful, delicious baklava I have ever eaten in my life. It very well might be the most delicious baklava on the planet, or at least in Utah (we're not known for our baklava*).
This recipe is from a cookbook that I bought before I knew very much about cooking, and it kind of fell off of my radar over the years. So when we pulled it out to look through it, I kept thinking "Dumb! I am so dumb!" because every recipe looks tasty and straightforward and flavorful and interesting and pretty much encompasses everything that I want to be eating on a regular basis. Even the baklava is straightforward, in spite of its many steps and time consumption.
Richard made it for me (!!!) as part of our anniversary meal tradition, where one of us makes dinner and the other makes dessert. It is made with walnuts and pistachios and a heart-stopping amount of butter and love. Really, it is made with love, because love is the only thing that will compel you to take the skins off of walnuts and pistachios (the skins are supposed to be the difference between a good baklava and a great one), which Richard happily did for an hour and a half. We joke that there is never a winner in terms of who makes the best food or who puts the most effort into a dish, but for the record, Richard is the winner. Hands down.
(However, I am an even bigger winner, since I get to eat the baklava.)
I don't know where this falls in the realm of Greek v. Syrian v. Turkish baklava, nor do I know whether it is traditional to have multiple phyllo layers or just a thick bottom layer and top crust encasing the nuts. What I do know is that I am eating a piece while I type this and I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.
BAKLAVA IN ROSE WATER SYRUP
adapted from Aromas of Aleppo, by Poopa Dweck - makes 30 baklava
When you're working with phyllo (or filo) dough, you want to make sure that you've defrosted it completely (so that it doesn't tear) and that it doesn't dry out (again, so it doesn't tear). We unfold the phyllo dough onto a dishcloth, and then cover it with another dishcloth that is slightly damp. We uncover the dough to get a sheet of phyllo dough, and then recover it while we are working with that sheet (so the rest don't dry out). Any torn sheets can go on your bottom layer (or in middle layers, should you choose to have them), just make sure to save at least one or two pretty sheets for the very top of the baklava!
1 pound walnuts, shelled, blanched, peeled, and finely chopped
1/2 pound pistachios, shelled, blanched, peeled, and finely chopped
2 tablespoons confectioners' (powdered) sugar
1 1/4 pounds (5 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
1 pound of phyllo/filo/filla dough, defrosted if previously frozen
1 cup cold shira (fragrant Aleppian dessert syrup, recipe follows).
Combine the walnuts, pistachios, sugar, and 1/4 cup of the melted butter in a medium mixing bowl.
Lightly brush the bottom of a 9x13x1-inch baking pan with a little of the melted butter.
Working with half of the phyllo dough and slightly less than half of the melted butter, brush each dough sheet, one at a time, with butter. Stack them evenly on top of each other in the baking pan, folding the sides in if necessary to create a straight edge along the inside of the pan.
Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
Spread the nut mixture over the buttered phyllo dough. Butter the remaining sheets of phyllo dough, one at a time, and stack them over the nut layer. Brush the top sheet with a generous amount of butter and refrigerate, covered, for 20 minutes. Cut the pastry into diamond, square, or rectangular pieces.
Bake for 1 hour, or until the baklava is puffy and golden and smells ridiculously good.
After removing the baklava from the oven, pour the cold shira over it and let it cool completely. Store, covered, at room temperature, for up to three days, or refrigerated for up to a week.
FRAGRANT ALEPPIAN DESSERT SYRUP
makes 2 cups
3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon rose water or orange blossom water
Combine the sugar and one cup water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes to reduce the syrup. It should coat the back of a spoon.
Remove the syrup from the heat, add the lemon juice and rose water, and let coo. Use immediately, or pour into a glass jar and refrigerate. The syrup will keep, refrigerated, for up to 2 months.
*Baklava is a dessert with roots in Turkey, Greece, and Syria, all countries which are currently in varying states of economic, social, or political crisis. I would feel very strange enjoying a dessert from these countries without acknowledging their current situations. I have definitely been guilty of thinking "how unfortunate that that is happening over there" before continuing about my day and getting wrapped up in my own crap, but this story nicely illustrates both how connected we are with people all over the planet, and how very small acts we perform today can drastically alter the future of others (and possibly our own futures as well)**. The IRC and a number of small non-profits are working extremely hard to assist refugees with everything from temporary housing, to medical assistance, to saving those who are lost at sea. Small donations make a difference! I'm donating to Hand in Hand for Syria, which is providing direct relief aid to displaced Syrians who have fled their homes, but remain in their country.
**If you can't donate money, maybe give someone who is feeling down a hug today? Or share a meal with someone? Let's be kind and compassionate people. Life kicks us in the pants enough already.