All buttered up and ready to bake!
Here’s another tasty treat from our Easter dinner. Our good friend Rudy Pina, who has Lebanese heritage, along with his wife, Dorita, good friends Francine and Jim Manspeaker, and Bonnie Ungerecht joined us for my most favorite holiday. At Easter I like to create a theme and this year it was Middle Eastern/Lebanese in honor of Rudy. The Lebanese version of this luscious dessert is Baklawa, flavored with orange blossom and rose water and topped with toasted pine nuts.
Whereas the Greek version–Baklava–is flavored with honey, cinnamon and cloves. Bonnie said it was the best Baklawa or Baklava she has ever eaten. That was a huge compliment and made me very happy. I have never made Baklawa or ‘lava’ before and I will warn you there are a fair amount of steps, but it is well worth it for a special occasion.
The good news is you can make several components in advance, days before you assemble and bake. I actually made the whole Baklawa on Saturday night as it keeps well, loosely covered with waxed paper on the counter for up to 2 weeks. Good luck with that!
I made the Clarified Butter on Saturday morning, popped it in the fridge and then let it sit out at room temperature about an hour before I was ready to assemble the Baklawa. This was so fun and I love the way the finished product looks. Pure golden goodness! Clarified Butter keeps in the fridge for weeks so you can make this way in advance and double or triple the recipe so you have lots on hand for other dishes.
It only took about 20 minutes to make, but by doing in advance, made the whole assembly easier. You do not want to spread warm Clarified Butter on your phyllo dough.
And here it is bubbling away. Watch it closely as you don’t want it to turn into brown butter. Clarified Butter and Ghee are very similar, but Ghee is cooked a bit longer until the butter turns a golden brown and gives off a nutty aroma, similar to brown butter. With Ghee, instead of skimming off the milk solids or proteins, the solids sink to the bottom of the pan and then you strain to remove them. With Clarified Butter you skim off the milk solids as the butter heats.
Once complete you are left with 99-100% pure butterfat. Yum!
I also recommend toasting both the chopped walnuts and pine nuts in advance.
Neither of these steps are time consuming (although chopping 3 cups of walnuts by hand did take some time), but if done in advance it makes everything easier. Also, please remember to start thawing the phyllo dough in the fridge the day before you plan to bake. A couple hours before baking remove the phyllo from the fridge. It is easier to work with if at room temperature. You can also make the syrup days before baking. Store in the fridge until ready to use.
My husband, Jerry helped me assemble the Baklawa, which helped considerably. We cook well together.
You’ve got a lot of butter to use and it is important that each layer of phyllo receive a generous coating of the Clarified Butter, but start by coating the bottom of a 13 x 9 x 2 inch metal pan. Keep the phyllo dough covered with a damp linen cloth while assembling so it doesn’t crack and dry out.
My job was to place the phyllo in the pan and his job was to butter each layer. Do not worry if you get a couple little rips in the phyllo. There is so much butter in this dessert that it “heals” the dough back together as it bakes.
Jerry was very meticulous about spreading the butter!
Half way through–20 sheets into the buttering of the phyllo, spread the toasted, sugared walnuts on top. Gently, but firmly pack them down with the back of a spoon.
The final steps before baking are to trim the excess phyllo. Next, first score the phyllo dough with your sharpest knife and then cut through completely. Top with the last of the Clarified Butter. You can cut either in diamond or square shapes. This is an important step to ensure that the pieces can be removed easily without breaking apart after baking. That last coating of butter also seeps through all layers making the dough flaky and delicious!
Once the Baklawa is baked, remove from the oven and immediately drizzle the syrup evenly over the top. Because the syrup is cool and the pastry piping hot, you can hear it sizzle! And, finally sprinkle on the toasted, chopped pine nuts.
I found this recipe online from Maureen Abood. I really enjoyed reading about her heritage, passion for Lebanese food and many wonderful recipes.
On to the recipe!
Rich, flaky, delicious with beautiful floral hints of orange blossom and rose.
For the Baklawa phyllo pastry
- 1 pound Box of frozen phyllo sheets, 9 x 14" 40 sheets total at room temperature
- 3/4 cup (6 oz.) Clarified Butter This is the amount after you have clarified.
For the Syrup
- 1 1/2 cups Granulated white sugar
- 3/4 cup Water
- 1 Tbsp. Freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tsp. Orange Blossom water
- 1/4 tsp Rose Water This was my addition. Maureen Abood does not use it in her syrup.
For the Sugared Walnuts
- 3 cups Walnuts, chopped and toasted
- 1/2 cup Granulated white sugar
- 1 tsp. Orange Blossom Water This also was my addition.
For the Toasted Pine Nuts
- 1/4 cup Pine nuts, slightly chopped
- 1/2 tsp. Orange Blossom Water
For the Clarified Butter
- 1/2 lb. Good quality butter, either salted or unsalted I used Kerry Gold salted butter.
Make the syrup in advance so completely chilled before using.
In a small saucepan, combine sugar, water and lemon juice and bring to a boil over medium high heat.
Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the orange blossom water and rose water.
Pour into a heatproof container and cool completely. It is essential to pour cool or room temperature syrup over the hot pastry immediately when it comes out of the oven.
Make the sugared Walnuts and Toasted Pine Nuts
Grind the nuts by hand or gently chop using a rolling pin and then cut with a pairing knife so most nuts are the same size. If you chop the nuts in a food processor, be careful not to create a bunch of nut dust, rather than nicely sized pieces. Just use a few quick pulses and then finish by hand.
In a dry pan, toast the chopped nuts over medium heat stirring occasionally so they don't burn. Add the sugar and orange blossom water. Stir until the nuts are thoroughly coated.
Use the same technique to toast the pine nuts. Place about 1/4 cup chopped pine nuts in a dry pan. I also added a tsp. of orange blossom water. Heat, stirring occasionally until lightly toasted.
Make the Clarified Butter in advance.
In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter, then turn down to a simmer.
Simmer the butter, keeping a close eye on it so it doesn't brown. The fats will sink to the bottom and foam will rise to the top. Do not stir.
Carefully skim the foam from the top as it rises. When no more foam rises, carefully pour the yellow butter into a separate dish or measuring cup, leaving the solids behind in the bottom of the pan. You can pour the butter through a cheesecloth to get every bit of solids out, but I did not think that was necessary. I also used the milk solids on toast the next morning. Very salty, but delicious.
Assemble the Baklawa
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Open the phyllo dough and unroll it on top of the plastic it came in. Keep the phyllo covered with a damp linen towel. Do not use terry cloth or you will end up with fuzzies in your Baklawa.
Using a metal 13x9x2 inch pan, butter the bottom with the Clarified Butter. Lay a sheet of phyllo to fit the pan. You will need to trim the edges as you go so it will fit better in the pan. I used my kitchen shears. It's ok to leave the phyllo just a whisker larger than the pan as it will shrink when baked.
Continue laying and buttering one sheet of phyllo at a time until you have 20 sheets.
Spread the walnuts over the phyllo in one even layer. Gently pack down the nuts.
Continue with the next 20 layers of phyllo, but on that first layer after the nuts have been added, be careful that that layer of phyllo is not torn.
Once assembled, brush the top with the rest of the Clarified Butter. Allow to settle in for about 5 minutes. Using the tip of your sharpest kitchen knife cut the baklawa into either diamond (more traditional Lebanese) or square shapes. Lightly score before cutting all the way through so you can see just where the cuts are being made.
Bake on the middle oven shelf until deep golden brown, 50-60 minutes, rotating Baklawa halfway through baking.
Remove the pan from the oven and immediately pour the chilled orange blossom syrup evenly over the top.
Let the Baklawa cool completely. I left it to cool on a rack overnight. The next morning, carefully remove pieces and plate. Keep the Baklawa lightly covered with waxed paper. It keeps for up to 2 weeks.
With this many steps, it's a good idea to read through the recipe completely before starting. You may do this by habit, but if not, with this Baklawa, I think it will help make the creation go more smoothly.
Who am I to change up this recipe since I've never made Baklawa or Baklava, but I did add a bit more orange blossom and rose water. And I thought the toasted pine nuts would be a nice addition. I think Maureen would approve!