- 1/2 pound/220g good quality unsalted butter preferably sheep’s-milk butter, more if needed
- 8 cups coarsely chopped walnuts or blanched almonds or a mixture of both
- 1 cup finely ground zwieback, or Greek wheat, barley or carob rusks
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 cup sugar
- Grated zest of 1 orange
- 1 pound commercial phyllo
- Whole cloves optional
- For the Syrup
- 2 cups sugar
- 1/3 cup Greek pine honey
- 4 cups water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 whole cloves
- 1 strip orange zest
- 1 strip lemon zest
- 2 Tbsp. strained fresh lemon juice
1. Clarify butter: Place butter in a small saucepan and heat slowly over low heat. Remove pan from heat and cool for 2 to 3 minutes. With a spoon, skim the milky foam from the top of the butter (you can stir it into the nut mixture so as not to waste anything). Set aside until ready to use.
2. Preheat oven to 400˚F/200˚C. Lightly butter a 9 X 12 X 2-inch deep baking pan.
3. In a large bowl, combine nuts, ground zwiebeck or rusks, sugar, cinnamon powder, ground cloves and nutmeg and orange zest. Add the butter foam and a tablespoon or two of the melted butter and mix to combine everything.
4. Cut the phyllo in half so that the sheets are about the same size as the baking dish. Butter the baking dish. Layer 4 - 6 phyllo sheets on bottom of prepared baking pan, one at a time, brushing each one generously with butter. Sprinkle a few tablespoons of the nut mixture over the surface. Place two more phyllo sheets on top, buttering each and sprinkling the top layer with a few more tablespoons of the nut mixture. Layer two more sheets, buttering each and sprinkling another few tablespoons of nuts on top. Continue for a few more layers of phyllo, two sheets at a time as before, buttering each and topping with nuts, until the nuts are used up. Top the baklava with 4 to 5 more phyllo sheets, brushing each with butter.
5. Score the baklava into diamonds or squares and pierce each piece with a clove, which adds flavor and helps keep the phyllo sheets in place. Sprinkle the top with a few drops of water and bake for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the baklava is golden and the phyllo crisp.
6. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the phyllo begins to crisp – and brown slightly. Reduce heat to 325˚F/165˚C and bake for about 1 ½ hours, or until baklava is golden brown. and the interior layers thoroughly baked. If desired, five minutes before removing baking pan from oven, brush baklava with any remaining butter -- this makes it even crispier and adds great flavor.
7. Combine all the ingredients for the syrup in a medium saucepan and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, until slightly thickened. Remove from heat andlet the syrup cool to room temperature while the baklava bakes. You can push that along by placing it int he fridge for a bit, too.
8. Remove baking pan from oven and pour hot syrup over the baklava. Place the baklava back in the oven – which has been turned off but is still hot – and let stand until all the syrup is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Serve baklava warm or at room temperature and store at room temperature, sealed in a tin.
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Sheep's milk butter is common and popular in Greece and gives the baklava a distinct flavor. You can also use ghee or cultured butter for good flavor, too. Sometimes, I brush the baked baklava with butter, as indicated above, and place it back int he oven for the last five minutes of baking. Ditto with the syrup -- you can place the syrup-dampened baklava back in a turned off but hot oven, to make it even crispier -- a little trick a friend of mine on Ikaria taught me many years ago. You can also use a combination of walnuts and almonds, or walnuts and pistachios, or any combination of the three for the filling.