Learn how to make baklava from scratch with my easy tutorial. This delicious Middle Eastern dessert is made with flaky phyllo pastry, nuts and simple syrup. You can make this baklava recipe ahead of time and wow everyone!
Living in Istanbul meant enjoying delicious and syrupy baklava with a cup of tea any time of day. Desserts in the Middle East and the Mediterranean always hit the spot, whether its revani cake (semolina cake), qatayef or sutlac (Turkish rice pudding), you know you can always find the perfect treat for your sweet cravings.
Baklava is a delicious dessert that's popular in Greece, Turkey and other parts of the Middle East. It's basically made of flaky phyllo, a nut mix (pistachio or walnuts), warm spices and soaked in simple syrup. Each country has its own specialty in terms of nuts or the syrup, and they're all absolutely delightful.
My recipe for baklava is inspired by my years in Istanbul, Turkey where we used to get cevizli baklava (walnut baklava) or fıstıklı baklava (pistachio baklava) regularly from a shop right by the Bosporus called Faruk Güllüoğlu.
What's baklava made of?
- Phyllo dough: You can find phyllo dough in the freezer section close to pie crusts. Fillo dough is very thin (not to be mistaken with yufka, which is thicker) and dries out easily, therefore it's best to keep it in its packaging until you're ready to assemble the baklava and, while doing so, be sure to cover it with a clean kitchen towel. Thaw the phyllo dough according to the packaging before using it.
- Nuts: I love using walnuts when it comes to making baklava. It's best to chop them using a food processor. Make sure not to chop them too finely, otherwise you won't get the nice crunch.
- Butter: Use all the butter mentioned in this recipe to have flaky baklava with golden layers. Brush each layer generously with melted butter for the ultimate crispy baklava. Br sure to use unsalted butter or equal amount of ghee (clarified butter) for this recipe.
- Sugar: We need granulated sugar to make the simple syrup and to ever so slightly sweeten the nut mix.
How to make baklava
- Make the simple syrup: Place the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium high heat. Once it comes to a simmer, lower the heat to medium and simmer for 15 minutes until it thickens into a syrup. Turn the heat off and add the lemon juice. Set the syrup aside to cool completely. Remember, the syrup has to be fully cooled before adding it to the baklava.
- Prepare the filling: Place the walnuts, sugar and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.
- Assemble the baklava: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Take the phyllo dough out of the packaging, unroll on a clean surface and cover with a clean kitchen towel.
Brush the bottom of a 13x9 baking pan with melted butter. If your phyllo dough is almost 26x9 inch (usually 15-18 of them in a package), fold one in half and brush with melted butter. Repeat with 4 more phyllo sheets so you have 5 folded sheets (10 layers). It's okay if the phyllo sheet tears for any reason, just put them back together and top with the next sheet.
Spread half of the nut mixture all over the phyllo sheet and top with another 5 sheets (10 layers) and make sure to brush each sheet with melted butter. Top the phyllo dough evenly with the remaining nut mix, Repeat with the remaining 5-8 sheets of fillo and brush each sheet with melted butter.
Using a sharp knife, cut the baklava into diamonds and pour the remaining butter all over the baklava.
- Bake and finish: Bake in the oven for 50 to 60 minutes until top layer is golden.
Take the baklava out of the oven and immediately pour the cooled syrup all over the hot pastry. Let it sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour before serving.
Tips to make the best baklava
- Cool Syrup: To avoid soggy baklava, make sure the syrup is completely cooled and the baklava is hot out of the oven.
- Nuts: Don't chop the nuts too finely. Make sure they're still a bit crunchy and have a bite to them.
- Phyllo: Depending on the brand you're using, you'll either have 15-18 large phyllo sheets (roughly 26x9) or 40 sheets that are almost 13x9. If you have the larger ones, there is no need to cut the in half, just fold them in half and brush each sheet with melted butter.
- Use unsalted butter: Margarine - or other butter substitutes, for that matter - won't work for this recipe. However, ghee works just fine since it's clarified butter.
Since baklava is loved and made in many countries, it won't be a surprise that there's many different variations out there. Greek baklava recipes usually use about 2 tablespoon honey in the syrup and Lebanese baklava recipes call for orange blossom water or rosewater. Turkish baklava recipes, like the one we have here, normally go for simple syrup with just a bit of lemon juice.
As for the nuts, in addition to walnuts, you can use unsalted pistachios. Pistachios and walnuts are the classic fillings for baklava. If you're feeling adventurous, you can also use cashews or hazelnuts. They're not traditional, but I'm sure they'll be tasty.
How to store baklava
You can store baklava in an airtight container for up to 3 days at room temperature or 10 days in the fridge. Let the refrigerated baklava sit on the counter for a couple of hours before serving.
To freeze baklava, place it in a freezer safe container and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight before serving.
Frequently asked questions
Keep the syrup cool and the baklava hot for crispy baklava. If you pour warm syrup over hot baklava, it'll get soggy. Likewise, if the baklava is cool, it won't absorb the syrup and will get soggy.
Yes, you have some options. The most common nuts to use in this Middle Eastern pastry are walnuts and pistachios. You can also combine these two, and bring in hazelnuts or (if you're really bold) cashews if desired.
Baklava was one of the most popular desserts in the Ottoman empire, therefore you can't pinpoint its origins to a specific country. Every country, including Greece and Lebanon, has put its own delicious twist on this classic Middle Eastern pastry.
Yes, you can make baklava up to 8 hours in advance and keep it at room temperature until you're ready to serve.
Simply continue making the baklava. Phyllo sheets are very delicate and tear easily. It's OK if it tears while you're assembling the baklava. Tuck the torn parts inwards and keep assembling. Keeping the phyllo sheets under a clean kitchen towel will keep the sheets from drying out.
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- 1 ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 tsp lemon juice
Baklava and filling
- 14 oz walnuts about 3 ½ cup
- 1 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 cup unsalted butter melted
- 16 oz phyllo dough thawed according to the packaging
Make the syrup:
- Place the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium high heat. Once it comes to a simmer, lower the heat to medium and simmer for 15 minutes so the syrup thickens a bit. Add the lemon juice, turn the heat off and set the syrup aside to cool completely.
Prepare the filling:
- Place the walnuts, granulated sugar and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the walnuts are finely chopped. Set aside.
Assemble the baklava:
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Take all the phyllo sheets out of the packaging and unroll them. Place them on a clean surface and cover with a kitchen towel to keep them from breaking. Take a 9x13 baking pan and brush the bottom with melted butter.
- Fold a sheet of phyllo in half and place it in the baking pan. Brush the sheet with melted butter. Repeat this with 4 more sheets, brushing every sheet with melted butter. Spread ½ nut mix over the phyllo dough.
- Top with 5 more phyllo sheets (folded in half) and brush each sheet with melted butter. Spread the remaining nut mix on the phyllo sheet evenly.
- Repeat with the remaining phyllo sheets (remaining 5 to 8 sheets) and make sure to brush each layer including the last one with butter.
- Cut the baklava into diamonds using a sharp knife. To do so, cut the pastry diagonally and then in strips, 1 to 1 ½ inch wide. You can watch the video for a full tutorial. Alternatively, you can cut them into squares. Pour the remaining butter all over the baklava.
Bake and finish:
- Bake the baklava in the oven at 350 degrees F for 50 to 60 minutes until it's golden. Take it out of the oven and immediately pour the syrup (which is now completely cool) evenly all over the hot baklava.
- Let the baklava sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour before serving. This will give the baklava enough time to absorb the syrup in each layer.
- Phyllo dough is very delicate and could tear easily. It's okay if it tears a bit while you're assembling the baklava, it won't affect the flavor.
- Make sure the phyllo dough is fully thawed before using it in this recipe.
- Phyllo packages can have anywhere between 15 to 18 sheets that you can fold in half to use in this recipe. Use 5 sheets (folded in half) in the first 2 sets and the rest for the final set. You basically need 10 layers of dough in the first 2 sets and since we're folding the phyllo sheets, 5 sheets would be enough for each set. Keep in mind that if the phyllo dough you're using is already cut in half and is approximately 9x13, then you need to use 10 for the first set, 10 for the second set and the remaining for the third set.
- Make sure the nuts are not chopped too finely, a bit of crunch makes these even better.
- If desired, you can add 1 tablespoon rosewater or orange blossom water to the syrup when it's simmering.
- It's very important to have the syrup completely cool and the baklava hot. This would ensure crispy baklava that's not soggy.
- Variations: You need 14 ounces of nuts to make baklava. You can use walnuts, pistachios or a combination of both. You can also use cashews or hazelnuts.
- Make ahead: you can make baklava up to 8 hours in advance in keep it at room temperature until you're ready to serve.
- Storage: Store the baklava in an airtight container for up to 3 days at room temperature or 10 days in the fridge. Let the refrigerated baklava sit on the counter for a couple of hours before serving.
- Freezing: Place them in a freezer safe container and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight before serving.