And why did the crazy woman make baklava in the middle of the week? Because she can, darlings!
OK, truthfully, because she defrosted phyllo over the Fourth of July weekend, dreaming all kinds of big phyllo-wrapped dreams, but never actually got around to realizing any of them. Instead, I made a simple spinach, potato and feta pie for dinner on Tuesday, using one of the two individually-wrapped 8-oz sleeves in the pack. Then, looking down at the third of a roll of dough left in the sleeve, I thought, what the hell, I’ll make baklava while I’m at it.
Although I have a few legitimate Greek cookbooks, I chose the Cook’s Illustrated Best International Recipe version as a starting point because I had yet to cook out of that book despite having obtained it it nearly two years ago as a result of the temporary insanity that led me to sign up for the CI cookbook club.
In addition to roughly quartering the quantities to fit the amount of dough I had, I made a couple of modifications in terms of ingredients and technique. First, regardless of its supposed superiority over plain melting, there was no way I was clarifying butter at 9:00 pm on a work day. I also chose the more adventurous combination of almonds and pistachios over their walnut-almond mix.
The combination of almonds and pistachios worked well, because pistachios alone can be a little overwhelming in baklava, and almonds by themselves don’t have enough character to stand up to the honey syrup. The CI approach of creating three thin layers of nut filling produces a nicely flaky and cohesive pastry without the usual tendency to slide and split in half when picked up. It was nicely saturated all the way through with this quantity of syrup, but next time I might double it just to ensure a completely hedonistic experience.
Baklava is never going to be an effortless endeavor, but this was ready to bake by the time the spinach pie came out of the oven, and it makes a perfectly reasonable quantity for a small household instead of enough to feed an army. It does need to sit several hours to absorb the syrup, so you won’t be eating it until morning unless you’re an even more incorrigible night owl than I am. The reward for your evening industriousness is sticky, buttery, crisp, perfect baklava with your breakfast coffee.
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons honey
2 strips lemon zest
1-inch piece of cinnamon stick
1 pinch salt
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 ounces sliced, unsalted almonds
1 ounce roasted, salted pistachios
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Generous pinch of ground cloves
1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1/4 lb phyllo sheets
Combine sugar, honey, zest, and spices for the syrup in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat until sugar has dissolved, stirring or swirling the pot as necessary. Transfer to a heat-safe cup, remove the lemon peel and cinnamon stick, stir in the lemon juice, and set aside to cool.
Adjust oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 300 F. Liberally butter the bottom and sides of a glass baking dish approximately 8 x 6 x 2.
Process nuts in a food processor until finely chopped, and transfer to a small bowl. Remove 1 tablespoon of nut mixture for the final garnish, then add cinnamon, cloves, and 1/2 tablespoon of sugar to remaining nuts.
Unroll the phyllo and cut to fit the size of the pan. Place one sheet in the bottom of the pan, and brush the entire surface with melted butter. Repeat with 9 more sheets, then sprinkle the top with one third of the nut filling. Cover the filling with 6 more individually-buttered sheets, and the next third of the filling. Repeat with another 6 sheets and the final third of nut mixture. Top with 8-10 more sheets of phyllo.
Using your flat palms, press out any air bubbles in the pastry, then brush on the remaining butter. Using a serrated knife, cut the baklava into diamonds, making sure to pierce all the way through the bottom layers.
Bake 1 1/2 hours or until completely golden, rotating the pan halfway through. Remove from oven and immediately pour all but 2 tablespoons of the syrup along each crevice, then drizzle the remaining syrup over the top. Sprinkle a generous pinch of the reserved ground nuts on the center of each piece.
Cool on a wire rack for 2-3 hours, then cover with foil and let stand 8 hours or overnight.