Cookie Monster: Baklava

My 'To Make' is divided into two distinct categories. One is for recipes I stumble upon on which really whet my appetite, which includes straight-foward, practical recipes like Ginger Scallion Noodles or Moroccan Red Lentil Soup. While useful, this category is not nearly as satisfying, or exciting, as the other more terrifying category — Things Everyone Must Make At Least Once. 

For the sake of convenience, let’s just call this the TEMMALO list. I've checked off fresh pasta and buttery brioche. I've tackled macarons and soufflé. And I've even made homemade marshmallows. But one item has been lingering on that list for far too long. A cookie monster’s Mecca: Baklava. Something about brushing endless layers of filo with melted butter, trying not to tear the papery sheets, just frightened me out of my wits. It is so complexly spiced and beautifully presented; I did not think it could be done at home. 

But I forged ahead for the good of humanity (hey, this was a true sacrifice!). The filo takes a bit of getting used to, but, like so many things, the repetitive motion becomes rhythmic and almost therapeutic. This recipe is from my friend's host mother on her gap year who, in my opinion, makes the best baklava around. Her mother-in-law, a true Greek, gave her the recipe when she was first married, and she has been making it ever since. While you may need to beware of Greeks bearing gifts, you can certainly trust a Greek bearing baklava.

Adapted from Cris Cain
Makes 75 diamonds

  For the sugar syrup:
125 ml honey
 1 kg caster sugar
375 ml water
1 cinnamon stick
Juice and rind of 1 lemon

  For the assembly:
1 kg raw unsalted pecans
250 grams raw unsalted walnuts
250 grams raw unsalted almonds
200 g caster sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 kg filo, defrosted
1 kg butter, melted
75 whole cloves

To make the sugar syrup: Heat the honey, sugar, water, cinnamon stick, and the juice and rind of the lemon (seeds discarded) in a medium saucepan until sugar dissolved. Bring to a boil and boil for two minutes. Set aside. For the filling: Pulse the pecans in a food processor, careful not to turn them into nut butter, until finely ground. Transfer to a large bowl. Repeat with walnuts and almonds. Add sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg and mix to combine.

To assemble: Preheat oven to 150°C. Grease an 11x16x2-inch roasting pan. Open filo packages and lay on a clean surface lined with parchment paper. Cover with another sheet of parchment; lay a damp tea towel over top. Lay one sheet of filo on the bottom of the pan and brush with melted butter, pressing out air bubbles. Repeat until you have a base of 25-30 sheets of filo. Sprinkle about ¼-cup nut mixture over filo. Cover with 2-3 sheets of filo. Repeat until all the nuts have been used. Top with 10-20 more sheets of filo, brushing melted butter over each sheet. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Using a sharp knife, cut into 1-inch wide lengthwise strips, then cut across diagonally to make diamond shapes. Press one whole clove into each diamond. Bake for 1 1/2 hours until golden and fragrant. Bring syrup back to a boil and pour over warm baklava- it should sizzle. Cool before cutting.