From Debbie Matenopolous' new cookbook, "It's All Greek To Me"
Here is my family’s secret recipe for the best Baklava ever. Rolling it this way, as opposed to baking it in a flat pan, ensures a light flakiness and just the right amount of the honey syrup running throughout. Around the holiday season, when I was growing up, my mom would make big batches of this so that my sister, my brother, and I could give platters of it to our teachers. Needless to say, every new school year, teachers were very excited to see one of the Matenopoulos kids on their class rosters!
For the Baklava: • 1 ¼ pound walnuts (about 5 cups), finely chopped
• 2 tablespoons granulated sugar • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon • 1 (1-pound) package phyllo dough sheets (13´18 inches), thawed (see tip for phyllo dough, above) (18 sheets) • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
For the Syrup: • 2 cups sugar
• 2 cups water
• 1 cup honey • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 lemon) • 1 (2-inch-wide) piece fresh lemon peel
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the walnuts, sugar, and cinnamon, and set aside.
Working quickly, and keeping the unused phyllo sheets covered, lay out 1 sheet of phyllo on a clean flat surface. Lightly brush the phyllo sheet with the melted butter. Cover with a second phyllo sheet, and butter. Sprinkle about ½ cup of the nut mixture over the top sheet. Repeat this process with 2 more sheets of phyllo and another ½ cup of the nut mixture, then again with last 2 phyllo sheets and a final ½ cup of the nut mixture. You will have used 6 sheets of phyllo and 1½ cups of the nut mixture (3 layers). Starting at the long end (the 18-inch side), gently roll the layered phyllo sheets up into a tight, fat roll. Brush the seam with butter to seal. Repeat the entire process twice more. One package will make 3 rolls.
Using a large, very sharp knife, cut the rolls into 1-inch pieces. Lay the pieces cut side down on 2 large ungreased rimmed baking sheets. Bake for 20 minutes, remove from oven, and, using a large spatula or tongs, quickly flip the baklava over. Return to the oven, and bake 20 minutes more, or until cooked through, golden and flaky.
While the baklava is baking, make the syrup. Combine all of the syrup ingredients except the lemon juice in a medium, nonreactive saucepan. Set it over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 12 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 12 minutes, stir in the lemon juice, and cook 3 more minutes. Remove from heat, and carefully remove and discard the lemon peel. Let the syrup cool slightly.
Remove the baklava from the oven, and slowly pour the warm syrup over pieces on the baking sheets. Let stand 1 hour to soak up the syrup.
Transfer to individual cupcake wrappers, if desired, and serve. The baklava will keep, covered loosely, at room temperature for up to 1 week.
Debbie’s Tip: To make a vegan baklava, substitute a vegan butter (like Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks) for the dairy butter, use maple sugar or organic (vegan) sugar, and omit the honey, if desired.