Do this!

AriCooks, dessert, Vegan

Our kooky and lovable pal (and former roommate) Efraim used to tell such great stories. One was about a yogi master he studied with while he was in India, whose unorthodox instruction consisted of contorting himself into various shapes and poses and saying  [insert Indian accent] “DO THIS!” Although as a teacher I tend to spend too much time explaining and deconstructing pirouettes and pie crust preparations, sometimes I find clear and direct ordering-about works best (and honestly, who doesn’t like being told what to do now and then?).

I know you may feel that baklava is too complicated, too messy or too exotic to tackle, but I am here to assure you that if you just follow this recipe everything will be fine. Better than fine, actually, because you will have crispy, sweet, warm, gooey baklava and the skills to make it again and again. Do this!

Walnut Baklava , adapted from Williams Sonoma, Essentials of Baking

This recipe was originally for pistachio baklava, but pistachios are very pricey and since we love walnuts, I substituted them instead. You will need to make the syrup first, so it can cool, and toast your walnuts in a 325ºF oven for 7-10 minutes (do not walk away and get distracted, they will burn very quickly!!!) If you do not want to use butter (which needs to be melted and clarified), you can just melt some margarine- I used the Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks.

For the Syrup

3/4  cup sugar

1 cup water

2 Tbs fresh lemon juice, strained

1 cinnamon stick

2 orange and 2 lemon zest strips

3/4 cup honey (9 oz)

For the filling

1/4 cup sugar

1 tsp grated orange zest

1 tsp grated lemon zest

3 1/2 cups toasted walnuts, finely chopped (or 4 cups pistachios, finely chopped)

1 lb filo dough, thawed in the fridge overnight (do not try to unfold frozen filo– it will break and you will have a big mess)

3/4 cup clarified unsalted butter, or melted margarine, cooled slightly (I had to set mine over low heat during the brushing-on, because it started to congeal)

Position a rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat to 325º F. Butter (grease) a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. To make the syrup, in a saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, water, lemon juice, cinnamon stick, orange and lemon strips and honey. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves (keep an eye on this, the mixture will bubble up and boil over if you are not careful). Remove from the heat and let cool completely. Remove and discard the cinnamon stick and citrus strips.

To make the filling, in a bowl, mash the sugar with the orange and lemon zest. Add the nuts and mix well. Set aside.

Place a sheet of wax or parchment paper on a large, dry work surface. Unroll the filo sheets, lay them on the parchment, and cover them with a kitchen towel to prevent them from drying out. Line the prepared dish with one filo sheet. If the sheet hangs over the sides of the dish, fold the overhand layer to fit (I cut some of the sheets to size). Brush the sheet with a thin coating of clarified butter (or melted margarine). Repeat with two more sheets for a total of three sheets. Sprinkle lightly with about 1/2 cup of the nut mixture.

Cover the nuts with two more filo sheets, brushing each sheet with butter. Sprinkle the filo lightly with about 1/2 cup of the nut mixture. Repeat to use the remaining filo and nuts, layering and buttering 2 filo sheets and topping with more of the nut mixture. For the final layer, top the baklava with 3 or 4 buttered filo sheets.

Using a sharp knife, and cutting only the top layers of filo, cut on the diagonal across the dish, first from one corner, then from the opposite corner, into diamond-shaped (mine came out as triangles, but I always was a little geometrically challenged) pieces.

Bake the baklava until golden brown, 35-40 minutes. Cut the baklava all the way through and pour the syrup over the entire thing. Let cool on a wire rack to room temperature before serving. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

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