When I told a few people my plans for Sunday, everyone seemed worried. “Isn’t that really hard to make?” they’d ask, referring to the baklava I said I would spend the morning making. I’d been tasked with making baklava—the Mediterranean dessert made of layered phyllo dough and nuts—for my dad’s wedding reception, to go along with the Armenian food that would be catered for the event. Though I’d warned that I’d only made baklava one time before with not-so-great results, I welcomed the challenge, and hoped I’d have better luck and be able to positively contribute to the celebratory meal.
I began by researching baklava recipes, and found that the dessert is prepared in many different ways, depending on the culture, and can have infinite fillings, though the most common include walnuts and pistachios. Because eating walnuts causes me to feel like I’ve eaten a serving of chalk, I knew right off the bat that I’d have to get a little more creative with the baklava I made. Remembering the delicious chocolate baklava I’d sampled from the Fresno Greek Fest the month before, I knew chocolate was at the top of my list. I’d also been curious about Sun-Maid’s Raisin Baklava recipe ever since I’d seen it. When I found a recipe for Chocolate Walnut-Raisin Baklava, I knew I’d found the recipe to make.
But after reading through the recipe, and another baklava recipe, and yet another one, I wasn’t sure what to do next. They all directed a different way to layer, fill, and fold the dough; I wasn’t sure what I should be doing at all. I was in the kitchen, with my recipe printed on two sheets of white paper, folding and placing the sheets on top of one another, when Jan walked in and, laughing at the perplexed look on my face, asked what I was doing. When I told him I was practicing making baklava with paper sheets before I got to the real phyllo dough, he said I needed a different approach and suggested YouTube.
As usual, he was right. After I watched both videos from Dede’s Mediterranean Kitchen, I felt empowered. I was making baklava and it was going to be easy and delicious.
And, after seeing it done the right way, it was. I made a few modifications to the original Chocolate Walnut-Raisin recipe, and it came out of the oven looking beautiful. I still had half the box of of phyllo dough sheets left, so I made a second batch, this time following Dede’s recipe for simple syrup, pecan filling, and ground pistachio topping. While I couldn’t have done it without Dede’s tips for technique, it was the raisin-chocolate-pecan baklava that got rave reviews. Here’s my recipe, adapted from the recipe for Chocolate Walnut-Raisin Baklava.
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup water
- 1/8 teaspoon allspice
- 1/8 teaspoon ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 2 cups pecans
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- 1 cup raisins
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 lightly beaten egg
- 16 sheets (13 x 9 inch) frozen phyllo dough
- ¼ cup sweet cream butter
- Day One: The night before assembling the baklava, remove the package of phyllo dough from the freezer and thaw in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or overnight. Also prepare the syrup the night before, keeping in mind that the next day, the pastry should be allowed to soak up the syrup several hours before serving.
- To prepare the syrup, combine all ingredients in a small, heavy saucepan. For the spices, use a lemon zester for fresh ginger, and a small coffee or spice grinder to grind whole cloves. Bring all the ingredients to a boil, and continue boiling for 1 minutes while stirring constantly so that the sugars do not crystalize.
- Remove the pan from the heat and cool the syrup completely. Cover and store at room temperature until ready to use.
- Day Two: Allow the phyllo dough to sit at room temperature (in the box and in the plastic wrap) two hours before preparing the baklava.
- Preheat oven to 350°F and butter a 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking dish. To prepare the filling, place pecans, chocolate chips, raisins, sugar, and cinnamon in a food processor. Pulse until combined. Transfer to a medium bowl and stir in egg. Set aside.
- On the stove top, melt butter in a small saucepan.
- Unwrap and place the stack of phyllo sheets on a smooth work surface. Place filling, melted butter, and a pastry brush near the work area, as the baklava needs to be assembled relatively quickly otherwise the phyllo sheets will dry out.
- Place baking dish on top of stacked phyllo sheets and trim stacked sheets so that they will fit perfectly into the pan, then set pan aside. Use a pastry brush to brush the top phyllo sheet with butter. Carefully place into pan.
- Brush the new top phyllo sheet with butter and place atop the first in the pan. Repeat this step 8 more times until there are 10 buttered layers of phyllo dough in the pan.
- Spread half the filling over the 10 layers. Top with buttered phyllo sheets one at a time just as with the base layer, except this time stack only 4 layers. Atop the fourth sheet, spread the remaining filling. Top with two more buttered phyllo sheets.
- Cut through all the layers into squares (or triangles, or diamonds, or any other shape you like) and bake for approximately 35 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, and then begin drizzling the simple syrup over the baklava. Wait several minutes between each drizzling, allowing the syrup to soak in, and drizzling over the edges of each square, using the remainder of the syrup.
- Use a dab of syrup to attach a pecan half on the top of each piece. Allow baklava to sit for several hours (or a day) at room temperature before serving.