Making pistachio baklava might seem a little daunting, but it’s actually quite simple, using store-bought frozen phyllo sheets from the grocery store!
Most people associate pie and ice cream with summer, and so do I. But I also associate summer with my dad’s strawberry drink and tray-fulls of homemade Egyptian baklava that my mom made, always in the summer.
Baklava isn’t difficult to make, but it does take time, patience, and care. It’s a delicate exercise of layering thin sheets of phyllo and brushing them with melted butter. It’s very calming once you get into the rhythm. It should never be rushed or thrown together. It’s a sweet treat that is best served with tart, summer-fresh berries and a good cup of coffee (preferably Turkish coffee).
My mom used to make baklava with hazelnuts, but since I’ve developed a pesky allergy to them, now we make replace them with pistachios. It’s also quite common to make baklava with cashews, so feel free to replace the pistachios with the same weight of hazelnuts or cashews.
If you want to make baklava without nuts, one baking substitution to consider would be to use ground pumpkin seeds or ground sunflower seeds. The flavour will be different but this should work quite well! Replace the pistachios with the same weight of either.
When baking with pistachios, you’ll notice that sometimes the pistachios don’t seem very green. To fix that, you can peel the pistachios to remove the skin from the nuts so that the filling of your pistachio baklava will be extra green (a labour of love in itself), but you really don’t have to. Many countries add rose water or orange blossom to the syrup after cooking it, and sometimes even the nut filling, but we usually don’t.
Greeks tend to use honey in their baklava syrup, but we use sugar and a splash of lemon juice. Both the lemon juice and the honey (an invert sugar) help prevent crystallization of the syrup, just like with caramel. So don’t skip those ingredients.
Some countries add spices to the filling, like cardamom and cinnamon, and other use citrus zest. It all depends on the family and the country of origin. I’ve even seen chocolate nut fillings for baklava, but I’m a bit of a purist and I prefer all nut fillings.
How you cut the baklava is also a matter of personal preference: squares, diamonds, bars, or even something a little more elaborate. This recipe yields baklava in its simplest form, and you know it’s good when you bite into a piece and taste the syrup and, of course, the butter, and even the memories.
When you take the time to make baklava, you might as well make a big tray of it. This recipe makes a 9×13 pan of baklava, which is quite a bit of baklava, but don’t worry: baklava can be made ahead, because of the syrup, it’s slow to go bad (in fact, I’ve never seen it happen!), and you can store it for days at room temperature or in the fridge for even longer. Just make sure to keep it covered. You can also freeze baklava, if you prefer, and it will keep for months.
If you prefer something savoury to bake with phyllo, try my asparagus phyllo tart, which is a real treat with spring asparagus.
- 375 mL (1½ cups) water
- 400 g (2 cups) granulated sugar
- 1 tsp (1 tsp) fresh lemon juice
- 390 g (14 oz) whole pistachios approximately 3 cups
- 2 tbsp (2 tbsp) granulated sugar
- 454 g (1 lb) phyllo thawed overnight in the fridge
- 230 g (1 cup) unsalted butter melted
For the syrup
- Bring the ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan and continue to boil for about 15 minutes, until the syrup is thick and has reached a temperature of about 230ºF. Transfer to a container and cool completely (can be made the day before and stored on the counter, or chill it in the fridge for a few hours to speed up the process).
For the filling
- Peeling the pistachios is optional, but whether you do or you don't, grind the pistachios with 2 tbsp sugar in the food processor by pulsing, until the mixture forms a medium-fine grind.
- Set aside
To make the baklava
- Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Be sure there is a rack in the middle of the oven, and one above.
- Butter a 9x13 Pyrex glass dish (find it on Amazon).
- Prepare the phyllo dough by unwrapping it and unrolling it. Cut the stack in half, width-wise so that you have two stacks of ~9x13" sheets. Set them aside, being sure to keep them covered with a slightly damp kitchen towel to prevent the sheets from drying and becoming brittle and flakey.
- Begin layering the phyllo by placing 2 sheets in the bottom of the prepared pan, then brushing them with melted butter. Repeat this until you've used up half the package of phyllo, ending with melted butter.
- Sprinkle the ground nut filling over top, then 2 tbsp melted butter, and press everything down evenly in the pan.
- Continue layering the phyllo on top, this time buttering every single sheet as you go.
- End with butter.
- Cut the baklava into squares, diamonds, or a more elaborate pattern. Drizzle the leftover melted butter over top, letting it run down in the cuts and grooves (if you've got more than a few tablespoons, drizzle a couple over top and store the leftovers in the fridge). Sprinkle water over top.
- Bake the baklava for 30 minutes on the middle rack, then move it up and bake for another 30 minutes, until the top is nice and golden.
- Remove the baklava from the oven and immediately pour over all of the syrup. The syrup will sizzle as it hits the hot pan.
- Let the baklava cool completely, then recut it before serving.
- For this recipe, I used Stirling unsalted butter
- When my mom would make baklava, she would go through the step of clarifying the butter to remove the milk solids. This will allow you to store the baklava for longer without the risk of the butter going rancid. It also leads to a cleaner flavour. I'm lazy, so I use straight melted butter.
- This is a recipe for Egyptian baklava made with pistachios. If you want to use rose water or orange blossom water, remember to use them sparingly. Too much rose water will make the dessert bitter.
- Note that the Greeks make the syrup for baklava with honey.
I do my best to bake with the finest ingredients. Stirling Creamery, a Canadian company, has provided the butter for this post.
Janice Lawandi is chemist-turned-baker, working as a recipe developer in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. She studied pastry at Le Cordon Bleu in Ottawa and cooking at l’Académie Culinaire. She has a BSc in Biochemistry from Concordia University and a PhD in Chemistry from McGill University. Visit janicelawandi.com to see my portfolio.