Sunday, September 25, 2011

Orange-Walnut Baklava

Sweet, rich, flaky, buttery... this is how we often think of baklava. If it's a treasured family recipe, or made by a particularly good shop, it has a melt-in-your-mouth quality that makes us yearn for more. The richness of the nuts, the warmth of the spices, the sweetness of honey and the flaky, buttery phyllo dough - it's hardly a surprise that this dessert has remained alluringly popular across generations and cultures.
In the US we think of baklava as a Greek dessert; but the history of this treasure is a little more complex.
It is traditionally eaten in most countries that were formerly ruled by the Ottoman Empire, including Turkey, Iran, Albania, Armenia, the Balkans and Greece but the dessert itself actually dates back even further to the 8th century Assyrians of Mesopotamia when it was a more straightforward delicacy of a thin baked bread topped with nuts and honey. Although there is no doubt that the word phyllo comes from the Greek (meaning "leaf"), the confusion surrounding baklava's origins lies in the fact that all of these regions had desserts that are variations of the baklava we know today. Like any living language, the language of food changes as it travels across regions (available ingredients and local customs) and time (cooking techniques and innovations). Like many dishes that survive through generations baklava was a delight intended for the rich and was eaten by common peoples only on special, festive occasions. Baklava as we commonly know it today (including the spelling of the name) came from the kitchens of the Sultan at the center of his empire - Topkapi Palace in Istanbul (then Constantinople).

During a trip to Istanbul with my mother we were fortunate enough to be taken by our hostess, Mom's former student Burcu, to Gulluoglu - a well-known chain of pastry shops famous for their decadent baklavas. Of all the fantastic culinary experiences we were truly blessed to sample during this trip this evening of dessert and coffee was a highlight for me. Well, perhaps the experience is tied with the private boat tour we took along the Bosphorus eating sweetened yogurt - because Burcu is amazing and arranges things like that (in fact, she now owns and manages a Turkish relocation company). My one regret about that night is that I had but one tummy to sacrifice to the amazing pastries at Gulluoglu. They were, in fact, so delicious that when my mother and brother returned to Turkey with Tanvir and her husband Masood a couple of years later, Mom made a special trip to Gulluoglu to bring me home a few pieces of pistachio baklava.

I personally find most of the commercial baklava sold around Boston to be tooth-cringing sweet. Since tonight is Greek cooking night with Nahir, I decided to make my own less-sweet version of baklava to enjoy: 

You will need an 8x8x2 glass pan;  a cookie sheet; cutting board and knife; sauce pot; mixing bowl

Oh Cake's Orange-Walnut Baklava

1 orange, washed & dried
1 pound walnuts
1 cup pecans
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
pinch nutmeg
pinch salt
1.5 sticks unsalted butter; clarified
8 oz phyllo dough

For syrup

3/4 cup lemon simple syrup (recipe below)
1/2 cup honey
large piece of orange peel
pinch cinnamon
pinch cardamom - optional

Lemon simple syrup - make ahead and refrigerate

2-3 large pieces lemon peel
2 cups water
2 cups granulated sugar
Bring water and lemon peel to a simmer on stove. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Let simmer until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool. Strain and discard peel. Keep in an airtight container in refrigerator. Also good used in iced tea and cocktails.

To Make Baklava

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. 

Toast nuts on a cookie sheet, stirring occasionally. Take care not to burn them.  Set aside to cool. While nuts are cooling, carefully cut the peel from the orange. Make sure to remove as much pith (white part) from the peel as possible. Reserve one large slice of peel. Finely chop the remainder of the peel (about 3.5 tablespoons) and set aside. Reserve orange for juicing later in recipe. 
With pith & without; fine julienne strips and fine brunoise
When nuts are completely cooled, finely chop them and combine with the brown sugar, orange peel, salt & spices. You may also pulse nuts in food processor together with brown sugar, orange peel, salt and spices, being careful not to over-process into a paste. 
Whole nuts, coarse chop, fine chop
Once all of the dry ingredients are combined add the juice of the orange and toss together. Mixture should be slightly moistened, but not wet. 
Brush bottom of glass pan with butter. Cut your stack of phyllo to fit the pan and then cover with plastic and a damp paper towel so it doesn't dry out. Layer pan with a sheet of phyllo and brush with butter. Repeat for 10 total sheets. 
Spread 1/3 of the nut mixture onto phyllo. Repeat process, ending with a layer of phyllo on top. 
Slice into strips and then pieces - you can make either the traditional diamonds or squares. Bake until golden brown, approximately 40 minutes. While baklava is cooking, make your syrup. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer. Turn off heat and let sit until ready to use. 
Pour syrup over warm baklava and let sit for 4-6 hours before serving. Overnight is best. 


  1. I love that this recipe has a personal history for you. It looks delightful, and probably the perfect melding of sweetness.

  2. These look amazing, what a great recipe! Love your blog, so glad to be a new follower! xoxo

  3. I love baklava, and you make it look so easy to make. I like the step by step photos for the recipe. Thanks for sharing!

  4. @food dude - it's pretty time consuming, but definitely easy!

  5. Your recipe sounds wonderful! The final product looks divine!!

  6. Wow, this looks fabulous! I love the orange, it gives it a nice tang. This is the perfect recipe for the holidays, thanks for sharing :)

  7. Nice to see a recipe on this dessert. I've had it before in restaurants but never thought about making this at home. This is partly because I figured the phyllo would be difficult to make from scratch. What stores can they be purchased at?

  8. Sounds like such a great version of baklava! And I love the brief history given, as well =)

  9. I love baklava, and this orange-version sounds wonderful! :) Yours turned out beautiful, great golden color on your fillo :)

  10. Sharon - I just get it in the supermarket! It's usually available in the freezer case with the frozen pastry shells and such.

  11. You did a great job with this. I'm hoping for the patience and the nerve to try this one day.

  12. Oh wow! I had no idea it was national baklava day! You've done a fabulous job in pairing orange and walnuts :)

  13. Awesome! Simply delicious and love your version.

  14. Wow! This looks sinfully good! ( mouthwatering effect happening right now! )


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