Mrs. Z's Secret-Ingredient Baklava

By • December 31, 2013 45 Comments

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Author Notes: This is my mom's recipe. I don't know where she got the idea for her "secret ingredient," but it produces the best baklava EVER. If you like baklava but can't get past the cloying sweetness, this is the one to try -- you will never go back or be satisfied with the stuff you get in Greek restaurants again. When my soon-to-be father-in-law (not Greek) tasted a piece that I'd baked for his daughter's wedding, he held it up and said, "This -- THIS -- is marrying into the family!" cookbookchick

Food52 Review: WHO: Cookbookchick is a news producer who has been hanging out at Food52 since 2009.
WHAT: Baklava -- only ten times better.
HOW: The method is familiar; the key here is all in the secret ingredient.
WHY WE LOVE IT: Cookbookchick asked us to put ground up graham crackers in our baklava, and now that we have, we’re not sure we’ll ever go back. The graham crackers round out the nuttiness of traditional baklava, and it give it a pleasant heft. Do not, under any circumstances, try to eat just one.
The Editors

Serves many

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

Baklava:

  • 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.
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Comments (45) Questions (0)

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24 days ago Lana Rozhik

I am new lover of baklava and even newer to making my own so I chose this recipe. I used only half of the syrup called for and allowed it to rest overnight before serving. It was gone within 24 hours! It's been a week since I made it and I can't wait to make it again!

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28 days ago Juliana Tibbet

I make a simple syrup with sugar,water,rose water and have made it with walnuts. It is interesting to read other peoples versions.
I am sure they are all good, for me I find the honey just too sweet

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about 1 month ago Buzz

the recipe is pretty similar to ours(guess all baklava recipes are similar ;) ) other than the cloves---sure seems like a lot of them--guess will have to give it a try

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5 months ago nana marie

Our family is Lebanese.. we use rosewater for added flavor & pistachio's in place of walnuts.

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8 months ago sevenfaces

Rave reviews from happy eaters! Really excited to have finally made baklava. Not difficult, just time consuming, but impressive results. I used 1/2C sugar in the glaze and 3/4C sugar in the filling and found it to be at my very upper limit of sweetness. Thanks so much for sharing your "secret ingredient" :)

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11 months ago BananaBoat

I'd never made baklava before, and this recipe was great! What a beautiful dessert.

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11 months ago cookbookchick

I'm so happy you like it! Thank you for letting me know!

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12 months ago shu-jin_rankin

This recipe was so incredibly delicious, thank you cbc!

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12 months ago cookbookchick

shu-jin, I am so pleased you enjoyed the baklava! Thank you for letting me know!

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about 1 year ago LINDA

My Yia Yia's recipe also includes Zwieback toast as a filler. When times were lean (as they often were) using the Zwieback for some of the nuts was an economic necessity. I usually use walnuts and pecans, will try almonds instead of the pecans. Keep in mind - IF you can let baklava sit for several DAYS before eating, it will taste even better. It's the letting it sit part that is difficult.

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12 months ago cookbookchick

Thanks, Linda! Very interesting about the Zwieback. I like your idea of mixing pecans in with the walnuts. And isn't that great about baklava that it keeps so well? (If you can resist, that is!)

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about 1 year ago sarabclever

Just made this yesterday and it's 1/4 gone. Delicious! My first attempt at baklava, can't wait to make it again!

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about 1 year ago cookbookchick

I'm so happy that you enjoyed it, sarabclever! Easier than it looks, right?

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about 1 year ago bookjunky

I would love to make baklava and this looks like an interesting recipe. You say you may not use all of the syrup but I am not sure how to tell whether you have used enough or not. Could you clarify? Thanks!

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about 1 year ago cookbookchick

Hi bookjunky! I pour about half the syrup over the hot baklava and let it get absorbed before pouring the rest in. When you start pouring the second half of the syrup, do it slowly and just watch it so that you don't end up with the baklava swimming in syrup. Most of the time all of the syrup gets absorbed and I don't have any left over.

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about 1 year ago bookjunky

Thanks, that's what I needed to know!!

Oh, one more question. How far ahead can you make this? I assume it keeps well?

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about 1 year ago Chris

Is it necessary to use filo dough is that a brand or a specific type of dough? Thanks.

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about 1 year ago cookbookchick

Yes, it is necessary to use filo dough. It is not a brand name. There are a couple of brands commonly available in the freezer section of grocery stores in the U.S. Here's a description: http://en.m.wikipedia.org...

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about 1 year ago Smorgie138

I would assume you could. However I see that the recipe is calling for the graham crackers to be finely ground, your nut texture (in my humble opinion) is more of a preference. Growing up, my grandmothers would use a rolling pin and a baggie or a mortar & pestle to breakdown the nuts to the desired texture. If using a grinder/processor of some kind, you should maybe try to grind the nuts in small batches so not to make butter.

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about 1 year ago scotrotsios

Can I grind the nuts and the secret ingredient in the food processor at the same time? Would the filler help prevent the nuts from turning into nut butter? Can you use a combination of nuts?

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about 1 year ago cookbookchick

I have never tried to do that, but it seems to me that you will lose the control you need to keep the nuts from going too far. Maybe try it with a small amount of the nuts and graham crackers? And yes, you certainly could use a combination of nuts, but I would think given the differences in various nuts, you should grind them separately.

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about 1 year ago Smorgie138

As I have seen numerous recipes for baklava, especially using a filler (usually zwieback cracker crumbs) this was the first one that I have seen that asked for confectioner's sugar to be added to the nuts. No wonder it is sweeter than what I grew up knowing as traditional from my "YiaYia" (grandmother) and Great "YiaYia". My YiaYias never even used the crumb filler. They only utilized pure nuts. In our household it was only almonds being utilized. Big difference in taste between walnuts and almonds.

I will definitely give this a try to see how it tastes. The graham crackers have intrigued me. Just may leave out the confectioner's though.

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about 1 year ago cookbookchick

Every YiaYia has her own recipe for baklava -- all good! Please let me know if you try mine how you like it.

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about 1 year ago Midge

Very excited to try this. Congrats cbc!

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about 1 year ago cookbookchick

Thanks, Midge!

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about 1 year ago marymary

This will finally push me to make my favorite dessert ever. Like other commenters, I thought it would be too big a task, but I'm putting this on my 'make sooner than later' list. Thank you for sharing and good luck in the contest!

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about 1 year ago cookbookchick

Thank you, marymary! Let me know what you think when/if you make it. It is easier than you'd suppose.

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about 1 year ago drbabs

Barbara is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I've always wanted to make baklava, and this sounds wonderful. Congratulations on being a finalist!

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about 1 year ago cookbookchick

Thanks, drabs! I am over the moon to be chosen as a finalist!

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about 1 year ago cookinginvictoria

I love baklava and this looks like an amazing version. I have never made it before -- it's always seemed way too intimidating -- but your recipe is making me think that I should give it a try. Congrats on being a finalist, cookbookchick!

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about 1 year ago cookbookchick

Thanks, cookinginvictoria! Do try it - it's much easier than it looks!

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about 1 year ago ChefJune

June is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Wow! this sounds wonderful. Do you toast the walnuts before grinding?

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about 1 year ago cookbookchick

Thanks, ChefJune! I don't toast the walnuts but that sounds like a fine idea - I love the deeper taste of toasted nuts. Let me know, please, if you do try my recipe with toasted nuts! I think I'll try that myself next time.

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about 1 year ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

Congratulations! I tested this recipe and it's definitely a winner in my book :-)

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about 1 year ago cookbookchick

Thank you, hardlikearmour! I am humbled that such a fine cook as you tested my recipe, and even more so that you like it so much!