I can’t believe it took me this long to finally post a recipe that features homemade phyllo. Fun fact: I learned how to make phyllo from scratch the Montenegrin way from watching the Australian cooking competition, My Kitchen Rules, when a contestant, Zana, this snarky, germaphobic, perfectionist Montenegrin-Albanian lawyer made her own phyllo from scratch quite often. While the recipe is my own, I adapted the technique from watching her do it on the show. From my experience, it is quite similar to rolling out pasta by hand, the main difference being that the phyllo needs to be a lot softer than pasta dough. Pasta dough is elastic and requires a ton of kneading so that you get that al dente, chewy mouth-feel to it from the glutens being built up inside of the dough. For phyllo, you don’t want it to be chewy, so less kneading, and less glutens. You want the phyllo dough to just come together, and from there, let the rolling commence!
But enough talk about the phyllo. Let’s talk about the main thing that this article is about: baklava. Baklava, a Middle Eastern dessert, is layers of phyllo pastry (see the relevance now?), brushed with butter and switching off with layers of chopped nuts, spices, and honey. The typical nuts used in baklava include pistachios and walnuts, while the spices include cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom. For my version, I’m choosing to omit the cloves (mostly because they’re more of a wintery spice and I’m trying to make this recipe more seasonally attuned), and I am also adding in a very unique twist instead of honey: dried fruits rehydrated with bee pollen. Typically in the Middle East, dates are used instead of sugar, and that’s where the inspiration for this came from. Now dates are very sweet, and I don’t want the dessert to be cloying, so I opted to use dried cherries and apricots instead. I’m soaking them in water that I’m flavoring with the bee pollen to not only soften them, but season them as well with honey-like flavors, but with none of that intense sweetness. With those fruits, I’m going to chop them up and use them in the filling in lieu of honey.
Typically, baklava is also finished with a syrup of sorts. I’m just going to add sugar to the bee pollen water and bring that to a simmer to create the soaking syrup with. Since the baklava won’t be too sweet, with the only real sugar coming from the dried fruits at that point, adding in the syrup will properly season the pastry and bring it up to an appropriate sweetness without bringing it overboard. While I love sugar, not everyone does, and this needs to be a dessert that takes this into consideration. The syrup, being seasoned with bee pollen, will just perfume the baklava in ways honey could only wish to, giving it this floral fragrance unique to the ingredient. But enough talking about the ingredients, the rationale, and the backstory. Let’s drive straight into the actual recipe.
1 cup all-purpose flour + more for dusting
1/2 cup water
a pinch of salt
Make a well in the flour and add in the water and salt. Knead gently until a dough just forms. Dust with flour, and transfer to a floured surface. Start breaking the dough in half repeatedly, until you have about 16 evenly sized balls.
1/3 cup shelled pistachios
1/2 cup shelled walnuts
1/3 cup dried cherries
1/3 cup dried apricots
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves* (only if you’re on the mood, since cloves can be such an aroma bomb anyways, although aroma bombs are MUCH welcome during fall and winter)
a pinch of salt
Soak the fruits in the soaking liquid first. Strain and press to remove any excess liquid and add that back into the soaking liquid to make the syrup from (this adds more flavor to it anyways and you’re adding that flavor back into the baklava in the end, so it’s a win-win). Grind up the nuts and puree the rehydrated fruits. Alternatively, if you do not own of a food processor
or if it is being dumb and not working, panic and cry in a corner like a clueless moron just chop everything up by hand. It’s not that hard, unless you do not own a knife. For the nuts, you can just put them in a ziplock and wrack with to death. It’s quite therapeutic. Take that, whatever is annoying you in that current moment!
2 1/2 cups warm water
1/4 cup bee pollen
Literally mix these together. Put over heat and stir if the bee pollen does not dissolve. Keep lukewarm. After using the soaking liquid, reserve it to make the syrup.
16 phyllo balls
4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1/4 cup cold water
Take each ball and roll out as thin as possible. Brush the butter on 12 of the layers, and stack them so that you have four mounds of pastry. Roll out each mound again to get them as thin as possible. Trim the edges of each mound so that they are even in shape. Place the first rolled out mound in parchment lined shallow sheet tray. Then smear on about 1/3 of the filling. Then do the next mound, and repeat with the filling. Do this again, so that you have four layers of phyllo and three layers of nuts and fruits. With a knife, gently cut through the pastry, first to create squares in the dough, and then again to get diagonal triangles from each square. Those are your individual baklava servings. Brush the tops of the entire pastry with the cold water. Bake at 400 degrees F for 20 minutes, and then lower the temperature to 300 degrees F and continue baking for 15 more minutes to cook through the dough and brown the tops. Remove from the oven, and pour the syrup onto the pastry and allow to soak for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with mascarpone sorbet or lightly sweetened yogurt and crushed nuts!
Residual soaking liquid
1/4 cup honey
Combine the ingredients and reduce to about 1 cup’s worth of liquid. Keep at room temperature so that you can soak through the layers of phyllo.