This stickily sweet family of nutty pastries has its origins in the layered filo desserts of medieval central Asia, which, when combined with the Arab tradition of soaking pastries in syrup, produced the baklava known and loved today from Uzbekistan to north Africa. Often found in huge, golden trays on the counter of bakeries in its native region, it’s surprisingly simple to make at home, too.
Prep 30 min
Cook 65 min
Makes 1 tray, to feed 8-10, depending on appetite
300g walnut pieces
75g pistachio kernels
125g ground almonds
Zest of 1 orange
A generous pinch of salt (optional)
1 tsp ground cardamom seeds (about 15 pods)
12 sheets filo pastry (2 x 270g packets)
250g granulated or caster sugar
Juice of ½ lemon
1 tbsp orange blossom water, or to taste
1 A word on the filo
I say surprisingly simple, but I can’t advise making your own filo. I’ve tried a recipe for the stuff used in baklava and it requires more patience and finesse than I possess. If, however, you’d like to give it a go, you can find many recipes online, or in Arto Der Haroutunian’s classic book Sweets and Desserts from the Middle East.
2 And on the nuts
Though I’ve recommended my favourite combination below, you can pretty much use any nuts you enjoy and can afford; pistachios, though delicious, are particularly pricy, while walnuts on their own can be too bitter for some palates. As long as you end up with roughly the same weight, feel free to customise.
3 Start the filling
Once you have your filo, shop-bought or homemade, and have decided on the nuts, you can start on the filling. Melt the butter. Coarsely grind or finely chop the walnuts until you have a chunky rubble (if using a food processor to do this, be careful they don’t turn into nut butter). Cut the pistachios into thin slivers – these will add crunch and colour to the finished pastries.
4 Finish the filling
Combine the walnuts, pistachios and ground almonds in a bowl, then mix in the orange zest (scrub the orange well before grating the zest), salt (optional, but recommended, or the baklava may end up overwhelmingly sweet), ground cardamom (if you’re not a cardamom fan, leave it out and substitute cinnamon to taste) and five tablespoons (75ml) of the melted butter.
5 Grease the tin and line with filo
Heat the oven to 180C (160C fan)/350F/gas 4. Liberally brush a roughly 30cm x 25cm baking tin with some of the remaining melted butter. Lay out the filo on a work surface, and have the nut mixture within easy reach. Line the tin with a sheet of filo, brush with melted butter and repeat with five more sheets, buttering them as you go.
6 Add the filling, then top with more filo
Spoon the nut mixture evenly over the top layer of filo, making sure it’s fairly tightly packed without pressing it down too firmly. Top with the remaining filo, again brushing each sheet with butter before adding the next. Be extra generous with the butter on the top layer.
7 Cut into diamonds and bake
Using a sharp knife, cut through the filo layers and filling in parallel lines spaced about 4cm apart, then repeat on the diagonal so the pastry is divided into diamond shapes. Bake for about an hour, until richly golden on top, turning the baklava around halfway through, so it colours evenly.
8 Make the syrup
Meanwhile, put the sugar and lemon juice in a pan with 125ml water. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then simmer for about 10 minutes, until syrupy. Take off the heat and leave to cool slightly, then stir in the orange blossom water to taste (brands vary greatly in strength, so add a little at a time).
9 Drench in syrup, bake again, then coolRemove the from the oven and turn up the heat to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. Pour the syrup over the top of the baklava, especially along the pre-cut lines, and return to the oven for five minutes. Leave to cool completely, then run a knife along the lines to loosen them before attempting to lever the pieces out of the tin.