Pictures by David Everett, unless otherwise noted.
Photos by Rebekah Graham
Here it is, my friends… the pièce de résistance! Baklava!
Photo by Rebekah Graham
You’ve probably seen baklava before, but just in case this is new to you… baklava is a Mediterranean pastry made from layers of filo dough, nuts, sugar, spice, and a simple syrup or honey. The recipe for baklava varies from region to region, but in any shape or form it is regarded as one of the most (if not the most) popular dessert from this part of the world. Pistachios, rosewater, saffron, and cardamom add a unique flavor to Afghan baklava. This is, of course, the kind we will be making today! I am so excited to share this recipe with you!
Baklava is, quite seriously, one of my favorite desserts. While I may not be from Greece, Turkey, Afghanistan, or any of those other places that is traditionally known for this sweet, delightful treat, it does have a special place in my childhood memories. I first had baklava in a small Greek restaurant that opened in my hometown when I was pretty young. Although the restaurant closed before too long, my love affair with baklava had only just begun! From that point on, at Christmas time there were two presents I could expect each year. The first was a can of silly string, which each of my brothers and I got all got in our stockings. The second was a large tray of assorted Mediterranean pastries and baklava… a beautiful arrangement of traditional walnut baklava, baklava fingers, birds nest pastries, and more. Ohhh, those were the days! Although that tradition no longer exists, I still love to have a good piece of gooey, nutty baklava every now and then. And what better way to have it than to make it yourself?
A note on the following photos: I made a double recipe for the reception of Eastern Mennonite University‘s Weaving Life screening on Thursday, so the pictures are just a bit different from the recipe (i.e. the picture shows two pinches of saffron where the recipe calls for one). With that said, let’s get started!
The process begins with a simple syrup. Combine sugar, water, saffron, and lemon juice in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
After about 10 minutes, the syrup should have thickened to lightly coat the back of the spoon. At this point, add in the rosewater and boil for another 2-3 minutes. Then, remove the pan from the heat and let the syrup cool while you prepare the baklava.
Mix together the almonds, 1/2 cup pistachios, sugar, and cardamom.
Unroll your thawed filo dough, cover with plastic wrap, then top with a damp towel. This will help keep the filo from drying out while you are assembling the pastry! Very important!
Coat the bottom and sides of a 12″x17″ jelly roll pan with melted butter. Lay down a sheet of filo dough and brush it with butter. Use a good amount of butter to thoroughly coat the filo, but don’t drown it. Repeat until you have a total of 5 buttered filo layers. Don’t worry if the bottom sheets don’t look too pretty… nobody will see them!
Spread 1/3 of your nut mixture over the first layer of filo dough.
Now, just keep layering and buttering the filo!
Add more layers of nuts along the way. In the end, you should have four layers of filo (five sheets each) and three layers of nuts.
Trim the edges and coat the final layer of filo generously with butter… lots and lots of butter. Don’t be shy!
This next part may seem out of order, but you’re going to cut the baklava before you bake it… this requires a sharp knife and a lot of patience. Start out by cutting long strips, about 2″ wide.
Then, cut diagonally across the strips to create diamonds! Aim for 5 long rows and about 8 diagonal cuts. Try to make your lines as straight and even as possible. Or, you could simply cut squares if you want. It’s up to you! For more tips on cutting baklava, see the “Cutting Tips” section on Gretchen’s Baklava Recipe FAQ.
Stick that beauty in the oven for about 30 minutes. You want it to get nice and golden on top! If your baklava begins to brown too soon, cover the top with tin foil. This is a side-by-side comparison of before and after baking. How gorgeous is that? This is such a fun dish to make!
After removing the baklava from the oven, carefully pour the cooled syrup overtop. Be sure to coat every bit of the pastry! Slow and steady is the best approach here.
Photo by Rebekah Graham
And now, we wait. I know it’s hard, but you’ve got to let the baklava sit for at least 24 hours before serving it. This allows the syrup to soak into the pastry, giving it that nice, dense texture at the bottom. After the baklava has set fully, garnish with the remaining 1/4 cup pistachios and serve! You can either sprinkle the pistachios all overtop of the pan or put a pinch on each individual diamond. Either way works just fine!
This dessert is an absolute gem! Best enjoyed with a sweet tooth and a good friend. Nooshe jaan!
Afghan Baklava (Serves approximately 30)
1 lb phyllo/filo dough, thawed
1.5 cups ground almonds
½ cup ground pistachios
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 lb unsalted sweet cream butter, melted (OPTIONAL: clarify the butter)
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
2 tbsp lemon juice
pinch of saffron
2 tbsp rosewater
¼ cup ground pistachio
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. Combine 2 c sugar, water, lemon juice, and saffron in a small saucepan and slowly bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar.
3. Boil gently for about 10 minutes, or until thickened and syrupy. Should lightly coat the back of a spoon.
4. Add in rosewater and simmer for another 2-3 minutes.
5. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
6. Mix together almonds, ½ c pistachios, ¼ c sugar, and cardamom.
7. Use pastry brush to coat bottom and sides of a jelly roll pan with melted butter.
8. Lay down one sheet of filo, brush with butter. Coat the filo thoroughly, but try not to completely soak it. Repeat until you have five sheets of buttered filo.
9. Cover filo with 1/3 nut mixture.
10. Repeat process with another 5 sheets of buttered filo, followed by another 1/3 nut mixture, 5 sheets buttered filo, last 1/3 nut mixture, and top it off with 5 final sheets of buttered filo.
11. Coat the top layer generously with melted butter.
12. Use a sharp knife to carefully cut the layered pastry into desired size and shape (typically squares or diamonds).
13. Bake for 30-45 minutes, or until the top is a light golden brown. If the pastry begins to brown to quickly, cover it with tin foil and continue to bake.
14. Once baklava is done, remove from oven and drizzle syrup evenly over the entire surface. Make sure to coat the whole pastry.
15. Let sit for at least 24 hours. The pastry must cool and soak up the syrup.
16. Garnish with 1/4 c ground pistachio and serve!