All of my life I have been lucky enough to have Baklava. My Ya-ya, my Grandma, and my mother all made it for special occasions and random Tuesday nights. Eventually my sister and I learned how to make this beautiful greek pastry. Of course we happily learned about our own family twist on the classic. Today I am upping the ante by pairing my baklava with a dessert wine from my home state of Virginia.
For you poor souls who haven’t had these abundant layers of deliciousness, Greek Baklava is a pasty made of Phyllo dough, nuts, honey, lemon, butter, and warm spices. All simple ingredients which magically transform to a crisp and sweet dessert unlike anything else. It is literally the food of the Greek gods! Other cultures have their own version–this is the one MY family has made since my great-grandmother, my Ya-Ya, immigrated to the United States almost a century ago.
Wine Pairing with Baklava
I chose Barboursville Philéo, a sweet dessert wine, to pair with my Greek Baklava. Barboursville is one of the most awarded wineries in Virginia, home to the beautiful Octagon vintages, and creator of the Wine Enthusiast Top 100 Wine achiever Viognier Reserve 2017. I am not telling you how many bottles I have sipped on of these wines. Philéo is an 88 point wine, a silver medal winner in its own right.
Philéo (which conveniently means LOVE for friends and special things in Greek) is a non-vintage blend of Moscato Ottonel, Traminette, and Vidal Blanc. The latter two grapes are particularly suited to growing in Virginia. ABV 10%
Visually, the wine is almost totally clear. On the nose, I get pronounced aromas of honey, lemon juice, and pear. On the palate, the wine is sweet, but balanced with fine acidity and and a clean finish.
If you aren’t lucky enough to be a Virginian, or can’t procure Philéo via mail order–I would suggest another light, acidic, dessert wine made with Muscat grapes. You could also pair my Baklava with strong coffee, ouzo, or cognac.
How to make Baklava
Baklava is made in three steps. The nut filling, the layering of phyllo and butter, and the pouring on of a not-so-simple syrup.
First thing, let’s tackle the nut filling. Some people like a mixture of walnuts, pistachios, or even hazelnuts. For whatever reason, my family uses pecans. Honestly, they’re my favorite nut, aside from peanut butter. I like to think this is because my dad’s brother used to live on a pecan farm in Alabama, and we just had pecans in our life. I have no other explanation. (By the way–pecans are pronounced “PEA-KAHN.” As my uncle told me decades ago, you PEE in a CAN, you don’t eat it.)
In a food processor, you need to grind the pecans with sugar, cinnamon, and half a freshly grated nutmeg. Pulse it a few times to get to a medium fine texture with some larger chunks.
Next, you will need to melt more butter than you think you need. Every single time I have made this I start out melting 2 sticks of butter, and end up needing 2 more sticks of butter. Yes, a full pound. Melt it all at once and don’t be like me–needing to stop and melt in the middle of the layering. Make sure you have a clean basting brush too!!! You will need it for all the layering.
You will also need to find a box of frozen phyllo dough and thaw it overnight in the refrigerator. Yep, overnight. DO NOT try to microwave it. DO NOT try to force it. You will undoubtedly have to throw away half a box that sicks together if you do. It is very sad when that happens. Learn from my impatience.
THIS IS THE ONLY HARD PART of making Greek Baklava–the layering. In actuality, it is neither hard nor confusing–you just need to be patient and extremely gentle with the butter brush.
You need to set up four stations–the phyllo, the pan you’re baking in, the ground nuts, and the melted butter. First, brush the pan with about a tablespoon of butter. Ever so carefully layer a single sheet of phyllo. Butter that sheet carefully with about a tablespoon of butter, and layer again. You want a total of 5-6 layers of phyllo/butter for the base. Sprinkle about a cup of nuts evenly on the layer and cover with a sheet. Butter that sheet! Add another sheet/butter for at least 3 layers. Sprinkle Nuts. Add 3 more sheet/butter layers. Continue until you are out of nuts. I like to end with at least 5 layers of phyllo, pouring on the last bit of butter, and then one last dry layer of phyllo.
Ok, so this is the only OTHER hard part of the process. You need to cut lines through the top layers of phyllo before baking. Traditionally this is in a diamond pattern. Make an X from the four corners and fill in the rest. Use a super sharp knife tip and go slowly. Put the pan in a 300F oven for 90 minutes.
The last part is the syrup. About an hour into the baking time, assemble the syrup components. Place all in a medium sauce pan over medium heat and do not stir. Just wait until it melts and starts bubbling. Let it bubble for about 5 minutes. Right before you pour over the baklava, take a metal spoon and skim the bits ooff the top. CAREFULLY pour over the “right from the oven” baklava.
Oh, and I lied. THIS IS THE HARDEST PART. You now have to wait overnight for the baklava to do its baklava magic. Just walk past. Do not touch. Do not sneak a taste. Leave it. Uncovered. Cooling on the counter. Overnight.
As a reward for waiting, Greek Baklava is a pretty awesome breakfast. With coffee of course! Take your super sharp knife and now cut all the way through all of the layers. Put one tiny diamond on your plate. Peel off the layers, one by one, while sipping and savoring the butter, citrus, cinnamon, pecan goodness. Savages (like my husband) cut into the pastry with a fork.
- 1 pound pecans or walnuts, pistacios, hazelnuts
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp nutmeg freshly grated preferred
- 1 pound phyllo from frozen, defrosted in refrigerator overnight
- 1 pound butter sweet cream, melted
- 1 large lemon zested and juiced
- 1 3/4 cup water
- 1 cup honey
- 2 cups sugar
- 5 whole cloves
- 1 stick cinnamon broken
- 1/4 cup cognac or ouzo, brandy
- Preheat oven to 300F. Prepare nut filling: place shelled peacans in food processor, add sugar and spices. Pulse 7-10 times until medium gritty with a few medium chunks. Set aside.
- Set up staions of unwrapped/unrolled phyllo, melter butter, nut mixture, and baking dish (I used 9×14 metal pan). Brush one tablespoon or so of butter on bottom of pan. Layer one sheet. Brush with butter. Add one sheet, brush with butter. You need a minumum of 5 layers, up to 12 sheets. Sprinkle 1 cup cut mixture. Layer another 3-5 phyllo/butter layers. Repeat until out of nuts. You should have about 5 layers of nuts. End with another 5-6 layers of phyllo and butter, ending with unbuttered phyllo. Score top layers of phyllo with a very sharp knife creating a diamond pattern. Bake for 90 minutes.
- 30 minutes before removing baklava from oven make syrup. In mediumm sauce pan, pour water, cognac, honey, and sugar. Add lemon zest and juice. Drop in spices. Bring to a gentle bubble over medium low heat. Do not stir as it creates crystals on edge of pan. Let bubble for about 5 minutes. By this time, the baklava should be ready to come out of the oven. Remove syrup from heat, take a metal slotted spoon or small metal skimmer and carefully remove lemon zest and whole spices. Carefully and slowly pour over hot baklava.
- Let baklava rest and cool on counter uncovered overnight. Cut with a sharp knife the diamond pattern again, this time through all layers.