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 baklava that my mom made. Baklava makes me think of all the family that would come visit us from far away, family that we hardly ever got to see. Yet, those visits were always full of love, no matter how much time had elapsed, or in some cases, even if it was our very first encounter. It’s a sad truth that when family lives so far away from you, you hardly get to see them, and sometimes you never get to meet them. So those summers spent together were extra special because they were rare moments in time to be cherished.
I have memories of the summer cottage we rented, full of family. And on those occasions, the fridge was always bursting with food. I can picture my mother carefully buttering and layering thin sheets of phyllo to build up a tray of buttery baklava, layer by layer. It took time and patience, but the real secret to yummy baklava is in the butter and the love.
Baklava isn’t difficult to make, but it does take time, patience, and care. It’s an exercise in quiet butter painting and I think it’s the perfect summertime activity. 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).
My mom used to make baklava with hazelnuts, but since I’ve developed a pesky allergy to them, now we make it with pistachios. For this recipe, I peeled the pistachios so that the filling would be extra green (a labour of love in itself), but you really don’t have to. Many countries add rose water to the syrup and 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. Some countries add spices, like cardamom and cinnamon, and other use citrus zest. It all depends on the family and the country of origin. 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.
If you prefer something savoury to bake with phyllo, try my asparagus phyllo tart, which is a real treat with spring asparagus.
Buttery pistachio baklava recipe
Buttery pistachio baklava
- 375 mL water 1 1/2 cups
- 400 g granulated sugar 2 cups
- 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
- 390 g whole pistachios 3 cups
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 454 g phyllo 1 lb package, thawed overnight in the fridge
- 230 g unsalted butter 1 cup, 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.
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.