August 27, 2004

Black Walnut Baklava

My wee wifey is seriously into competitive cooking and baking. We have had health issues pop up the last three years in the time approaching the Wisconsin State Fair, but before that we consistantly brought home ribbons and occasional bonus prizes. She took the blue ribbon for honey baklava with the first batch she ever made, and the recipe is posted below, much as she provided it to her blue ribbon recipe mailing list. It is a lot of work to prepare, but the result is something far beyond what you would get from a bakery. The good news is that the preparation time is far less than the two solid days it takes to make the mini peaches with which she took the blue ribbon for sandwich cookies our first year in Wisconsin. These are the cookies about which she says "You know those things that look like they take a lot of work but really don't? This isn't one of them."

NOTE: If you don't have chinese cinnamon, use 1 to 1-1/2 tsp of regular cinnamon. Chinese cinnamon is subtler than regular. As an aside, this seems complicated, but if you read the directions it isn't--just time consuming. I created this recipe by combining 3 other recipes & then making the adaptation of black walnuts. I had never made baklava in my life until I submitted this to state fair. I wasn't even going to submit this, but I had extra time & decided to go ahead & make this up. It gets better if you let it set awhile. I took the leftovers to church about 5 days later and it was to die for!!

Also, for some reason the top sheet of phyllo popped up & would not stay down. I didn't think this would impress the judges, so I literally glued it down ... I used a bit of egg white as the glue and after it had dried (about 15 minutes) that top piece of phyllo wasn't going anywhere. If you aren't trying to score points on appearance you probably won't need to worry about this, but it's always nice to know this trick.

2 cups sugar
1 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tbs lemon juice
2 teaspoon black walnut natural flavoring

Nut mixture:
1 1/2 lbs walnuts (1# English walnuts, 1/2# black walnuts)
2 tsp Chinese cinnamon - powdered

1 lb phyllo dough - thawed
1 lb melted butter


Tall large pot for making the syrup.
Ladle (optional)
Candy thermometer.
Baking pan about the size of the phyllo sheets. I've used
stainless steel and have even used a jelly-roll pan.
2-3 inch paint brush for applying the melted butter.
Food processor for chopping the nuts with the powdered cinnamon
Electric Knife (optional) for cutting the pastry before baking.
otherwise a good, very sharp knife.


Thaw the phyllo dough inside it's plastic package, and don't open it until you're ready to go. If you forget, and you need to speed it up, you can thaw it in its sealed plastic package in warm water, but better to remember (I forgot once, can you tell? :-) ).

Chop the nuts with the powdered cinnamon in a food processor. Pulse it to get good control on the size. You want a fine chop, but not powder. This takes about 5-10 seconds. Do it in batches if necessary. You can do this by hand, but it's easier to find a friend with a food processor. :-) Put the chopped nuts in a medium-large bowl.

Put the sugar, honey, cloves, and lemon juice into a tall pot. Stir well and boil until 220 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer (soft ball). Remove from heat, skim any scum off the top and let cool. When cooled add black walnut flavoring.

Melt the butter in a saucepan while the syrup is boiling. Some people clarify the butter, I don't bother.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

OK, time to assemble, open the phyllo and unfold it.

Brush the inside of the pan with melted butter. It really goes much faster with a 3 inch brush for the rest. A larger brush will tear the phyllo, and smaller ones take more time and the phyllo can dry out.

You can cover the phyllo with a wet cloth if you want, (I use an apron). But if you open it and spread it out and do it straight through, I've been told you won't have to cover it. Make sure your butter is very liquid when you start.

Put six sheets of phyllo in the pan, brushing each sheet with melted butter before adding the next sheet. Put about 6 sheets of phyllo dough aside for the top layers. Actually, I just book-mark the last six sheets on the pile.

After the first six sheets, sprinkle some of the nut mixture over the buttered sheet in the pan (about 1/3). It's easier if you have two people, one to do the nuts, and one to put the sheets down and butter them.

Add another sheet of phyllo covering the nuts, then butter that sheet. Repeat the process until you get to the last six sheets (See the notes).

You want to use up the nuts at the same time you run out of phyllo, not counting the six sheets for the top layers, so try to plan it out. This is a little touchy, but if you get it secured at the edges first, it helps, just be delicate, but quick. :-) Don't worry about torn or broken up sheets, just put them in and butter them down. In the end, no one will know. Have no fear and keep working. :-)

Now place the last six sheets on top of the rest, one at a time, brushing each with butter after it is added. You should have a little butter left over. I just pour it over the pastry after I cut it, but that's not necessary, and after you've done it a couple times you can adjust the amount of butter you use.

Cut the pastry into triangle shapes, all the way through. My great aunt used an electric knife, and thought it made the cutting very easy. If you don't have one, use a *VERY* sharp knife. If it's not sharp, it's a real pain/disaster cutting the pastry. Make sure you cut all the way through the pastry.

Sprinkle the top with water.

Put the pastry into a preheated 350 degree Fahrenheit oven. Bake for 1 hour, the top should be a medium golden brown when done.

When done, remove from the over and ladle the cool syrup over the hot pastry. Hot pastry - cool syrup, cool pastry - hot syrup. Let it sit for about 5-15 minutes, then drain off the excess syrup by tilting the pan, as much as as much as 45 degrees.

Let it cool to near room temperature before taking the baklava up, if you can wait, but you can eat those thin edges now, if you want. :-)

All told, it takes about an hour to make and an hour to bake.

Makes 60 to 90 pieces, depending upon size.

This baklava keeps well and freezes well, although I've never found a need to freeze it, it just disappears too fast. :-)

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The lemon keeps the syrup from crystallizing.

Don't worry about broken sheets, or stuck together sheets of phyllo, just piece them together and butter it down. Depending on the size of the pan you use and the size of the phyllo sheets, you probably will not fit the pan exactly, if it hangs over the edges, just fold it back over to the inside of the pan, and butter it down. Do this every 2-4 sheets. If the pan is slightly too big, just lay the phyllo well into each corner or if only one dimension is too large then alternate sides to get coverage. Remember there are a lot of sheets and it all works out, just have no
fear. Turn the overlying edges in and butter them down.

Posted by triticale at August 27, 2004 12:30 AM

Oh man, this looks sooooo good.

Posted by: Ted at August 31, 2004 04:31 PM
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