Persian baklava is not as sweet as Greek baklava, as Persian baklava uses only a small amount of honey for flavoring purposes, while Greek baklava uses honey as its only source of sweetener—this tends to create an extremely sweet baklava. Also, Persian baklava uses almond, cardamom and rose flavorings, while Greek baklava uses walnuts and cinnamon. Be aware that baklava is time consuming to prepare, but is well worth it. If covered, baklava retains its moisture for up to 5 days at room temperature. The baklava should be allowed to settle for at least 6 hours before serving.
1-2 cans almond filling (not almond paste)
2-3 sticks butter
1 pkg. file pastry sheets
2 c. sugar
1 large bag blanched (skinless) almonds
2 T. honey
4 t. crushed cardamom seeds
10 drops rose cologne or 3 drops rose oil
1 cup water
Step 1: In a large mixing bowl, stir the cardamom into the almond filling (almond filling can be bought by the fruit pie fillings or by the nut section of your grocery store).
Step 2: Blenderize or process the blanched almonds until very fine, but not powdered. Stir into the almond filling.
Step 3: Melt 1 stick butter (melt more as you need it).
Step 4: Open the package of filo pastry, unfold it, and cut the sheets a little larger than 9×13 inches. Follow box directions for keeping the sheets moist.
Step 5: With a pastry brush, coat the bottom of a 9×13 pan with melted butter. Gently lay one filo sheet onto the butter. Brush the filo sheet with butter. Continue layering and buttering until you complete 8 sheets. Sheets should go up the sides of the pan a little.
Step 6: Divide the almond mixture into 2 balls. Take 1 ball and break it into little chunks in the pan. With buttered fingers, mash the chunks until they meet in one even layer, covering the filo layers.
Step 7: Layer and butter another 8 filo sheets. Spread the second ball of the almond mixture.
Step 8: Layer and butter another 8 filo sheets. Butter the top filo sheet quite generously. Press any filo sheet “fringes” down toward the bottom of the pan to seal the baklava edge.
Step 9: With a sharp knife, cut the baklava into 1-inch diamonds (make diagonal slices from one side of the pan to the other, one inch apart. Repeat, going the other direction).
Step 10: Bake at 375 degrees about 30 minutes, or until golden brown and puffy.
Step 11: While the baklava is baking, make the syrup. Add the sugar and water to a saucepan. Do not get any sugar crystals on the side of the pan, as their presence will cause recrystallization of the sugar in the syrup as it cools.
Step 12: Hard boil the sugar and water, stirring frequently, until it becomes a medium-thin syrup (syrup poured from the spoon will not be separate drops, but a steady thin stream like maple syrup).
Step 13: Remove from heat. Add 1 t. cardamom, honey, and rose flavoring.
Step 14: As soon as the baklava is removed from the oven, pour the syrup evenly over it. The syrup will boil as it touches the hot baklava, and will be absorbed into the layers of filling.
Step 15: Let the baklava sit for at least 6 hours, and go over the diagonal slices again; the filo will already be in separate diamonds, but the filling will have melted together during baking. Give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done!
Recipe © Nura Amerson 1991
In a hole-in-the-wall Greek restaurant in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Sergey and I encountered shelves laden with plates of baklava. There must have been dozens and dozens of pieces covering every available surface. We were there for lunch following Sergey’s naturalization ceremony, and the abundance of baklava in the tiny restaurant remains imprinted in my mind, like a child’s dream of candy paradise.
Of course, that baklava was Greek, not Persian. As my mom says in her note above, Persian baklava has a distinctive fragrance imbued by the rose and cardamom. (As a practical note, rosewater can work in place of oil/cologne.) But whatever version of baklava you’re making, it’s a lot of labor!
Sergey generously agreed to help me get through this daunting recipe. The filo dough and syrup are rather unforgiving. The dough demands to be kept moist, covered by a wet towel. And as the recipe says, the syrup needs to have a precise viscosity. So fussy!
As the photo above shows, the layers of our baklava collapsed into each other when cut. (Again, it’s a fussy pastry…probably I didn’t cajole it enough to achieve ideal interstitial flakiness.) But I swear they’re there, all twenty-four filo sheets, plus the almond layers!
A whole sheet of baklava is…a lot of baklava. We made it during the pandemic, pre-vaccination, so we weren’t having much contact with friends on whom we could offload sweets. It took a few weeks, but we managed to eat nearly the whole thing ourselves (evidence that baklava can last at room temperature for more than five days).
My takeaways: baklava is a dessert that benefits from collaboration—both in the preparation and the consumption!