Pistachio-Walnut Baklava (Daring Bakers' Challenge)

June 27, 2011

Phyllo dough, along with symmetrical layer cakes, yeast breads that actually rise, and the ability to avoid stepping barefoot through a rogue hairball at 3 o'clock in the morning, is just not in the cards (not mine anyway.) I'm not sure what went wrong, or when the phyllo dough, which up until the rolling portion of the recipe, had been so genteel, decided to turn on me. I would like love to blame the humidity and heat for making all the layers stick together, but considering where this amazing dessert has it's origins, I can't really point fingers at the temperature. I'm eyeballing the flour though. Maybe the half-bag that I threw onto every square inch of every layer (as well as my kitchen) wasn't enough? Maybe the flour wasn't really flour, but sticky tape? It shall remain a mystery. But phyllo dough and I will meet again, and next time I'll be prepared... and I'll have an unexpected ally, Winter.

Erica of Erica's Edibles was our host for the Daring Baker’s June challenge. Erica challenged us to be truly DARING by making homemade phyllo dough and then to use that homemade dough to make Baklava. Thank you Erica. Despite the the devious dough, I did have fun making this!

Baklava, despite it's in-you-face sweetness, has always been one of my favourite guilty pleasures. Yet every time I enjoyed it, there was a twinge of dissatisfaction in knowing that I hadn't made the dough from scratch (the same way a race car driver might feel driving an automatic.) So, I was super-excited when I saw this month's challenge!

The thing about baking, and perhaps life in general, is that in order to truly succeed, you need to go into it full of confidence. Doubt, my lifelong shadow, was with me on this recipe from the get-go. The layers of dough had to be thinner than thin (i.e. they have to be transparent enough that if you hold it over a book, the words are visible.), and I'm not very good at rolling out doughs. But, I did manage to find something thin enough to pass as a wooden dowel...I even got to play with a saw, which is something I've never done before, and most likely will never do again (who knew that cutting something that's only about 1 1/2-inches in diameter could be so difficult? I finally hacked it apart using a hammer and a lot of misplaced anger.)

The second obstacle was the heat. In my haste to get everything finished on time, I chose the most humid day of the year to prepare the phyllo dough. It was friendly and forgiving, up until I tried to roll, pull, plead and flatten it out. The layers that I managed to make thin-enough to pass inspection, stuck together like paste and glue. The other layers were not thin enough, yet even they managed to cling to each other for dear life. My biggest mistake was refrigerating the layers. In this recipe, cold dough is not your friend. I think it explains why my layers were not only too thick, but also dry, and a far cry from the light flaky texture that baklava is known for. Had I dove into this with more confidence, patience, and less humidity, I think it would have been a huge success. The nut mixture and syrup were spectacular (I was tempted to drink the left over honey syrup with a straw.)

My advice to anyone who makes this is, instead of rolling out the entire portion of dough all at once, roll and assemble as you go, that way you won't have to peel the sheets apart and cry out to the baking gods in frustration. Also, believe you can do it. Dough can smell fear. To help you out a bit, I wrote out the recipe using the above method that I wish I had used. Please let me know if it makes a difference. :-)

Baklava Print

Nut-Filling Ingredients [Note: I only used pistachios and walnuts. You may use any combination you like, be creative!]
1 (5-inch/125 mm piece) cinnamon stick, broken into 2 to 3 pieces or 2 teaspoons (10 ml) (8 gm) ground cinnamon
Pinch of allspice
3/4 cup (180 ml) (170 gm/6 oz) blanched almonds
3/4 cup (180 ml) (155 gm/5½ oz) raw or roasted walnuts
3/4 cup (180 ml) (140 gm/5 oz) raw or roasted pistachios
2/3 cup (160 ml) (150 gm/ 5 1/3 oz) sugar
phyllo dough (recipe below)
1/2 cup ( that's 1 stick) of melted butter

Combine nuts, sugar and spices in a food processor and pulse on high until finely chopped. If you do not have a food processor chop with a sharp knife as fine as you can. Cover and set aside as you prepare the phyllo dough.

Phyllo Dough Ingredients [Note: the nut mixture and syrup recipes are made for a 9x9 inch pan, so double the following phyllo dough recipe to match. If not doubled, the following recipe will fit an 8x5-inch baking dish.]
1 1/3 cups (320 ml) (185 gm/6½ oz) unbleached all purpose (plain) flour
1/8 teaspoon (2/3 ml) (¾ gm) salt
1/2 cup less 1 tablespoon (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon (2½ ml) cider vinegar, (could substitute white wine vinegar or red wine vinegar, but could affect the taste)

In the bowl of your stand mixer combine flour and salt.
Mix with paddle attachment.
Combine water, oil and vinegar in a small bowl.
Add water & oil mixture with mixer on low speed, mix until you get a soft dough, if it appears dry add a little more water (I had to add about 2 more teaspoons.) It shouldn't be ragged.
Change to the dough hook and let knead approximately 10 minutes. You will end up with beautiful smooth dough. If you are kneading by hand, knead approx. 20 minutes.
Remove the dough from mixer and continue to knead for 2 more minutes. Pick up the dough and through it down hard on the counter a few times during the kneading process.
Shape the dough into a ball and lightly cover with oil.
Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let rest 30-90 minutes.

Rolling the Phyllo dough
** Remove all rings and jewelry so it does not snag the dough**
Use whatever means you have to get the dough as thin as you can. A wooden dowel works well, but if you can't find one, a rolling pin will work too. You may also use a pasta machine if you have one, or a normal rolling pin whatever works for you.

Preheat the oven to 350F.
Brush the bottom of the pan with the melted butter.

1. Unwrap your dough and cut off a chunk slightly larger then a golf ball. While you are rolling be sure to keep the other dough covered so it doesn’t dry out.
2. Be sure to flour your hands, rolling pin and counter. As you roll you will need to keep adding, don’t worry, you can’t over-flour.
3. Roll out the dough a bit to flatten it out.
4. Wrap the dough around your rolling pin/dowel
5. Roll back and forth quickly with the dough remaining on the dowel.
6. Rotate and repeat until it is as thin as you can it. Don’t worry if you get rips in the dough, as long as you have one perfect one for the top you will never notice.
7. When you get it as thin as you can with the rolling pin, carefully pick it up with well floured hands and stretch it on the backs of your hands as you would a pizza dough, just helps make it that much thinner. Roll out your dough until it is transparent. NOTE: you will not get it as thin as the frozen phyllo dough you purchase at the store, it is made by machine.
8. Trim the rolled out layer so that it will fit into the pan. Do this by gently placing the pan on top of the layer and trimming the excess. Be sure the layer is on a well-floured surface as you do this.
9. Place the first layer into the pan, and brush it with the melted butter.
10. Repeat the rolling and buttering process approximately 5 times, ending with butter.
11. Sprinkle about 1/3 cup of the nut mixture on top of the fifth layer.
12. Continue rolling, layering phyllo and buttering repeating 4 times.
13. Sprinkle 1/3 of the nut mixture on top.
14. Continue rolling, layering phyllo and buttering repeating 4 times.
15. Sprinkle 1/3 of the nut mixture on top.
16. Continue layering and buttering phyllo 5 more times. On the top layer, make sure you have a piece of phyllo with no holes if possible, just looks better.
17. Once you have applied the top layer tuck in all the edges to give a nice appearance.
18. With a Sharp knife cut your baklava in desired shapes and number of pieces. If you can't cut all the ways through don’t worry you will cut again later. A 9x9 pan cuts nicely into 30 pieces. Then brush with a generous layer of butter making sure to cover every area and edge.
Bake for approximately 30 minutes; remove from oven and cut again this time all the way through. Continue baking for another 30 minutes. (Oven temperatures will vary, you are looking for the top to be a golden brown, take close watch yours may need more or less time in the oven.)
While the baklava is baking, prepare the syrup.

Syrup Ingredients
1 1/4 cups (300 ml) honey
1 1/4 cups (300ml) water
1 1/4 cups (300 ml) (280 gm/10 oz) sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 (2-inch/50 mm) piece fresh citrus peel (lemon or orange work best)

Combine all ingredients in a medium pot over medium high heat. Stir occasionally until sugar has dissolved.
Boil for 10 minutes, stir occasionally.
Once boiled for 10 minutes remove from heat and strain cinnamon stick and lemon, allow to cool as baklava cooks.

When baklava is cooked remove from oven and pour the cooled (will still be warmish) syrup evenly over the top, taking care to cover all surfaces when pouring. It looks like it is a lot but over night the syrup will soak into the baklava creating a beautifully sweet and wonderfully textured baklava!
Allow to cool to room temperature. Once cooled cover and store at room temperature. Allow the baklava to sit overnight to absorb the syrup.


  1. I just had bakalava last nite, brought from the middle east by a friend..and was wondering how great it would be if i could prepare these delicacies at home.Lo! your blog on it cudnt have been at a better timing. As always love the clean clean look and recipes from your blog! Thanks a ton.
    Bangalore, India

  2. Yes, it is never good to doubt of your capacities when baking fot the DB. Those still look good, though. Congrats on making the challenge!



  3. I would have never known you had trouble with this, as it looks perfect! Did you use a ruler? How did you get such straight sides? I think your tips are excellent, as I had some of the same problems. I also used too many nuts, but that was a tasty mistake.

  4. I'm truly impressed by anyone who takes on something as daunting as phyllo. The photos look amazing, and I wouldn't have guessed that you struggled with it. I'm glad the syrup was such a success!

  5. Oh you did a splendid job!! These are the most perfect baklava squares I've ever seen. :-)

  6. It still looks delicious - and beautifully photographed :o)

  7. the daring bakers prjects never fail to wow me and this was no exception!

  8. Mine were sticking too and I didn't think I floured them enough. I think they needed a piece of wax paper in between the sheets. Great photos and I'm sure delicious!

  9. It looks so light and pretty! I had the same problem with the dough sticking together but I will also do this again until I conquer it.
    Thanks for sharing the other recipe, might try that instead.

  10. Those are marvelous! I love that you made them square too.

  11. This was a challenging one for sure. Your finished baklava looks beautiful, regardless!

  12. looks wonderful. Sorry to hear the dough gave you some difficulties, you would never know it though, awesome job!

  13. Hi, Erica
    Thanks! I'm glad it looks better than it actually was. :-)


Thanks for visiting, and for taking the time to read through my ramblings!
If you have a recipe comment or question, I'd love to hear from you.

Happy Baking!
♥ Valerie


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