Mrs. Z's Secret-Ingredient Baklava


Baklava Syrup:
  • 1/2 cup mild-tasting honey
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • Juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 cup graham crackers, finely crushed (The secret ingredient!)
  • 1 1/2 pounds walnuts or almonds (I use walnuts, as did my Mom.)
  • 1 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 pound butter, melted and clarified (Skim off the milk solids and don't use the stuff in the bottom of the pan.)
  • 1 pound filo dough
  • Whole cloves


1 _ Combine all the syrup ingredients in a saucepan and simmer for 10 to 20 minutes until a thin syrup is formed -- no longer. Allow to cool to room temperature while you build the baklava.

2 _ Heat the oven to 350° F.

3 _ Crush graham crackers into fine crumbs by putting them in a locked plastic bag and pounding them with a meat tenderizer, rolling with a rolling pin, or blitzing in a food processor -- whichever works best for you.

4 _ Grind the nuts finely with a manual nut grinder (best) or in a food processor (taking care not to go too far, or you will have nut butter).

5 _ In a bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, nuts, sugar, and cinnamon.

6 _ Lay out the filo dough on a clean kitchen towel. (Of course -- who would use a dirty one?) Lay another towel on top of the filo to help prevent it from drying out.

7 _ In a roasting-type pan as close as possible to the size of the filo (the Food52 test kitchen used an 8 x 8-inch square), begin building the baklava. Layer 6 to 8 sheets of filo in the bottom of the pan, brushing each sheet lightly with butter before adding the next. I use a silicone brush to do this. (Many Greek cooks I've watched, including my mother -- the aforementioned Mrs. Z -- simply drizzle the butter from a teaspoon. So don't worry if you don't have a pastry brush.)

8 _ Sprinkle the nut mixture in a thin layer over the filo dough. Cover with 3 to 4 more sheets, each brushed lightly with butter. Repeat until nut mixture is completely used up. Cover with 6 to 8 fila, brushing each layer lightly with butter. (No one has claimed this is a diet dessert!)

9 _ Refrigerate the uncooked baklava for an hour or two until the butter solidifies. Then, cut with a sharp knife (before baking!) into small squares or diamond shapes. If you want the traditional diamond shapes, start with a corner-to-corner diagonal cut. Stick a whole clove into the center of each piece.

10 _ Bake at 350° F for no longer than one hour. If the baklava dries out, it is ruined. It should get very lightly golden brown.

11 _ As soon as you take it out of the oven, pour the room temperature syrup evenly over the hot pastry. The rule is hot pastry, cool syrup -- or you'll get a soggy dessert! Start with about half of the syrup, letting the pastry absorb it -- you may not use it all. I like to serve baklava on a platter, each piece nestled in a pretty paper or foil cupcake cup.