Baklava is a dessert of festivities and celebrations in many middle eastern households. This Turkish dessert is made from layers of crispy and buttery phyllo pastry sandwiching chopped walnuts, perfumed with cardamom and drenched in simple syrup. While it may seem intimidating, this dessert is actually easy to make, especially with my tried and true tips that I have gathered over the years. Make homemade baklava to impress your guests and never resort to the overly sweet store bought version ever again!
“I tried this recipe and it came out simply perfect. What a nice balance of all the ingredients and those tips make the job quite handy. I would have never believed that making baklawa was this easy before going for this one. Honestly Best baklawa ever!!”—Saira Khan
What is Baklava?
Baklava is a popular Middle Eastern dessert made of phyllo pastry, layered with nuts. In Arabic, we actually call it "baklawa". It is commonly served at celebrations (like ramadan and Eid), alongside other popular middle eastern desserts like Kunafa, Znoud El Sit, Umm Ali, or Mahalabia.
Baklava was one of the most popular desserts in the Ottoman Empire. The pre-Ottoman origins of the dish are unclear, but in present day, it is enjoyed in Turkey, Greece, Iran, Arab countries, Levant countries and the Balkans.
Baklava is known for its sweet, crunchy layers and its nutty flavour. It is made in countless variations, but the classic one is the diamond shaped pieces with a thick layer of nuts in the middle.
Baklava Variations; Turkish vs. Greek Baklava
Most Arab countries use the Turkish-style baklava as opposed to greek. Here are the main differences I found between Turkish and Greek baklava:
- Turkish baklava uses a simple syrup, whereas greek baklava uses honey for the syrup. Honey has a distinct flavour that separates the two.
- Greek baklava can often have more than one layer of nuts, with many pastry and nut layers, alternating. Turkish baklava has one thick layer of nuts in the centre, sandwiched by two thick layers of phyllo.
- Greek baklava often uses cinnamon, whereas Turkish baklava can be with no spices or use cardamom. Many Arabic countries also use orange blossom water or rose water to flavour the simple syrup.
Baklava is also made in various different shapes:
- Diamond or square shaped
- Finger shaped
- Round bracelet shaped pieces called "Asawer"
- Flower shaped pieces, amongst many others.
The two nuts commonly used for baklava are:
- Pistachio; the more expensive varieties of baklava include a pistachio-only filling.
- Walnuts; the slightly more affordable variety uses walnuts. It is just as popular as the pistachio, and the one I recommend because it tastes just as good, while being cheaper to make.
- Mixture of both walnuts and pistachio.
- Some variations also include almonds, cashews and hazelnut.
How to make Baklava at home, Step-By-Step
Baklawa is actually made with only a handful of ingredients:
- Phyllo pastry: I usually use two packages (450g-500g boxes) to get two thick layers of phyllo at the bottom and top.
- Butter and olive oil: some baklava recipes call for only butter, but after lots of testing, I found that the combination of butter and olive oil yields the best flakiness and flavour.
- Nuts: walnuts is my go-to for this recipe, but pistachio can be used, or a mixture of the two.
- Cardamom, and sugar: cardamom is highly recommended to flavour the nuts, but if you love cinnamon, you can use that too. Sugar is for the simple syrup.
Preparing the Baklava Components
You start with making the simple syrup by placing the sugar and water in a pot and bringing to a boil then simmer for 10-12 minutes. Set it aside to cool down.
Next, melt the butter and mix it with the olive oil in a small bowl.
Next, make the nut mixture by chopping walnuts in a food processor until you get a coarse consistency. It's fine if you get pieces in different sizes, as long as the individual walnut gets broken down into about a fifth of it's size.
Then mix in the cardamom and add ¾ cup of the simple syrup to it so the mixture looks wet and sticks together.
Tip: adding the simple syrup to the nuts makes it much easier to cut, since the nuts will be wet and stick together.
How to Layer Baklava
To start layering, first measure the phyllo pastry according to the pan or sheet pan you are using. Cut the pastry to fit your pan size exactly using scissors. I recommend using a full sheet pan because typically, most phyllo pastries come to exactly those dimensions, so I don't need to cut it.
Start by brushing the pan with the oil and butter mixture, then layer 3 phyllo sheets. Then brush oil/butter, then layer another 3 sheets. Do this until you use at least 10-11 sheets, brushing every 3rd layer. Don't be shy with the butter/oil - brush generously!
Tip: every time you add 3 layers, press down and across the pan so you can get rid of any air bubbles that form.
Add the walnut mixture spreading evenly and flatten it well with the your hand, creating one even layer of nuts across the pan.
Repeat with phyllo pastry layering the same way, brushing every third layer, and making sure you apply a generous amount of butter/oil for the top layer.
Using a sharp knife cut the baklawa - read the next section for tips on cutting! This is a really important step, to ensure the baklava shape stays intact.
- Bake at 350F for about 45-50 minutes until the Baklawa is a light golden colour
- Pour the simple syrup on top as soon as it's out of the oven - it will make a splashing sound and that's okay! Then allow it to cool completely before serving.
Watch me make it
How to cut Baklawa to achieve a diamond shape
You must cut the Baklawa before it's baked. It's slightly tricky since you need all the layers and the nuts to stay intact. The key to getting a perfect cut is a really really sharp knife. Then start by making straight cuts horizontally across your pan, about 1 inch in size. Then make diagonal cuts starting from one corner of the pan, evenly spaced until you reach the opposite corner. If the diamond shapes are too hard for you, you can always make squares!
As you cut, make sure you don't drag your knife, but rather make a rocking motion so the filo pastry is cut rather than dragged across. Also go over your cuts twice to ensure the last layer is actually cut. While cutting, hold the pastry down using your fingers, but also careful not to tare any of the layers. One final tip you can do to make it easier is to freeze it for about 10 minutes then cut, which will help hold everything together. Check my video for how I cut this Baklawa!
How to store Baklawa to keep it fresh
Baklawa must be allowed to cool completely to room temperature before storing. Then you can store it in an airtight container on the counter if you're going to eat it over the course of a few days. It's fine to also layer the pieces - they should break apart easily. If you end up placing it in a container when it's even just a bit warm, it will soften. So make sure you cool it really well!
It also freezes super well, so you can simply place the pieces in one layer in a container and place it in the freezer. It can stay in the freezer for a few months. Thaw at room temperature before eating it.
This recipe makes about 90 pieces - so it's the perfect dessert to make for a celebration and share with friends and family! I hope you end up trying it, and if you do, make sure you comment and let me know what you think! Also I'd love it if you can take a photo and share it with me on Instagram.
For more dessert recipes, check out:
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Turkey-Style Baklava Dessert with Walnuts
- 20-22 sheets of filo pastry two 500g packages with 10-11 sheets each
- ½ cup butter
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 1 kg walnuts
- 3 tablespoons ground green cardamom
- 2.5 cups sugar
- 1 and quarter cups water
- Pan size: 18 inch by 13 inch
- Preheat the oven to 350F
- Start by making the simple syrup by putting the sugar and the water in a pot and bringing to a boil. Once it boils, lower to a simmer for 7 minutes. Allow to cool
- To prepare the filling, grind the walnuts in a food processor until you achieve a coarse consistency (as pictured). Each walnut should break up to about a fifth of its size
- Mix the walnuts with the ground cardamom and also add ¾ cups simple syrup (leave the rest for later). Mix until it looks well combined and wet
- Melt the butter and mix it with the vegetable oil
- Unwrap the first filo pastry box (it dries out so work fast). Measure the dimensions against your pan (I used a 13 inch by 18 inch pan) and snip any excess using scissors. The filo sheets should sit inside the pan up to the edges
- Start the layering process by brushing the bottom of the pan generously with the butter/oil. Then layer 3 sheets of filo on top, ensuring you press down and remove air bubbles as best as you can every time you add a sheet
- Brush the third layer of filo generously with the butter/oil, then continue layering, brushing every third layer. If you are using 10 or 11 sheets, also brush the top most layer with butter/oil (even if it is not the third sheet). If you have more sheets, feel free to use up to 15 layers
- Spoon the walnut mixture onto the filo pastry covering it all evenly and pack it down using the back of a spoon or your hand
- Unwrap the second box of filo pastry and measure it the same way. Then start layering the filo sheets and brush every third sheet generously with butter/oil, making sure you remove air bubbles. Continue until you reach the top, and also brush the top generously with butter/oil
- Using a sharp knife, make straight cuts parallel to the long edge of the pan, roughly 1 inch in size. Hold down the pastry gently as you cut, and use a rocking motion so the pastry does not drag out of place. You should be able to fit 8-10 rows if using the same size pan. You can also cut them bigger for an easier option
- Then make diagonal cuts running from one corner of the pan all the way to the opposite corner to create diamond shapes (refer to video). Go over all the cuts twice to ensure you cut all the layers
- Bake for 45-50 minutes until the Baklawa is a light golden colour
- Take it out of the oven and pour the remaining cooled simple syrup on top. You may hear a splashing sound and that's okay!
- Optional: garnish with crushed pistachios and rose petals
- Allow the Baklawa to cool completely before serving. Also read the storing instructions above
- You can use more filo sheets, up to about 15 sheets on the bottom and top layers of the Baklawa. It will yield a higher Baklawa with more pastry dough, if preferred
- To make the cutting process easier, you can flash freeze the whole pan for about 10 minutes then start cutting
- Before storing it in an air tight container, ensure the Baklawa has cooled completely for at least 2 hours
- You can freeze the Baklawa to keep it fresh - read the storage instructions above