Baklava is a sweet pastry that was probably introduced by the Assyrians in the late eighth century B.C.E., making it an ancient dessert—and meaning that there are as many variations on it as there are ethnic groups and people baking it! Chef Amy Riolo has her own take on almond baklava (other cooks prefer walnuts or other nuts—again, there are a lot of different ways to make it) and shows that the secret to making a great almond baklava comes, surprisingly, at the very end.
Making the syrup
But before we let you in on the secret, let’s start at the beginning with the almond baklava syrup. Combine 1 ½ c. sugar with the juice of one orange, some orange peel to taste, and 1 c. water. Mix them in a saucepan and then heat—medium heat is fine—while stirring constantly, until the mixture starts to bubble around the edges. Once you see that bubbling, turn the heat well down but leave the mixture to simmer gently for about 10 to 15 minutes.
Put 3 c. blanched almonds, ½ c. sugar and 1 t. orange blossom water in the food processor. Don’t just turn the processor on: instead, process on and off, on and off, until the mixture you get is grainy. You don’t want to just leave the processor on because the result you’ll get will be too smooth.
Creating the baklava
Clarify some unsalted butter—Riolo doesn’t say how much, but you’re going to want to be generous with it (that’s the whole point of the baklava!), so make sure you have enough—by melting it in a saucepan and skimming off the milk solids.
Take the pan and brush the bottom with clarified butter. Now take a sheet of phyllo dough (some people spell it filo) and place it on the bottom of the pan. Brush the sheet of phyllo dough with plenty of clarified butter, and then add another sheet. Brush the next sheet with a generous amount of clarified butter, and add another. Keep going with this butter-phyllo-butter layering until you have 14 sheets of phyllo dough sitting in your pan, which should be about half the package of pastry dough.
Spread the almond filling as evenly as possible over the last sheet that you put down in the pan. When you’ve done that, go back to layering as before: butter, phyllo dough, butter, phyllo dough, until you’ve used up the entire package.
Now you’ll want to cut the pastry into its individual signature diamond shaped pieces. Use a very sharp knife, hold the pastry down, and press hard to create diagonal cuts.
When you’ve finished, place the pan in an oven preheated to 350 degrees and bake it for 40 to 50 minutes until it’s golden in color.
And now: the secret to great baklava!
So here’s what you want to do: take the baklava out of the oven when it’s just a little more golden-brown than you think it should be. Take your syrup and pour it evenly over the top, and if you took it out at just the right time, you’re going to hear it sizzle. That’s the sound you’re looking for, because that’s what gives the almond baklava its signature taste as it absorbs the syrup.