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I love baking in December, when the holidays give me the excuse to use lots of chocolate and nuts and other “fancy” baking ingredients I might not put in my grocery cart other times of year. I also refill my stash of cacao nibs, vanilla beans, and sprinkles: You can never have too many sprinkles in December.
Every year, I make care packages to send to my loved ones around the country: full of cookies, caramels, cashew brittle, and other treats that will survive and still taste great after a few days of abuse thanks to the U.S. Postal Service. This year, I am going to be adding squares of this honey-sweet baklava to that list. It's the perfect holiday recipe because, with a little effort, you can make a lot of cookies that stay tasty for about a week at room temperature.
My version of baklava is mostly traditional—packed full of buttery layers of phyllo pastry filled with walnuts and pistachios—but I added a few non-traditional extras to the syrup that is poured over the top. A split vanilla bean adds another layer of sweetness (and beautiful little seeds), and just a bit of orange flower water perfumes the cookies just slightly. If you are not a fan (or can’t find) the orange flower water, a bit of cinnamon or cardamom is great in the syrup too.
For easy serving, transfer the finished individual pieces of baklava to cupcake liners or squares of parchment paper, then keep them in an airtight container at room temperature. Baklava can also be frozen, baked or unbaked. Just let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight before serving or baking.
For the syrup:
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup mild honey
- 1 vanilla bean, split
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon orange flower water
For the baklava:
- 8 ounces shelled pistachios, plus a few more to garnish
- 8 ounces walnuts
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 1 pound phyllo dough, thawed and at room temperature
To make the syrup: Bring the sugar, honey, vanilla bean, and water to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Stirring occasionally, boil the mixture until it reduces to a slightly syrupy consistency, about 5 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and orange flower water and set the syrup aside to cool. Remove the vanilla bean pod when cool.
To make the baklava: Preheat oven to 350° F and butter a 9- by 13-inch baking pan. Trim the phyllo sheets so they will fit in the pan. In a food processor, coarsely grind the pistachios and walnuts. Add the sugar, spices, and a pinch of salt and pulse to combine.
Line the pan with one sheet of phyllo dough and brush it with butter. Repeat 5 more times, then sprinkle 1/3 of the nut mixture over the top. Top with 6 more sheets of buttered phyllo dough, followed by 1/3 of the nut mixture. Top with 8 sheets phyllo dough, buttering in between each layer. (Your grand total of sheets: 6 + 6 + 6 + 8.)
Brush the top of the phyllo with butter and trim any overhanging edges.
Use a sharp knife to cut 6 lengthwise strips through the top layer of the dough. Slice each strip diagonally into about 6 diamond shapes.
Bake the baklava until golden brown and crisp, 45 to 55 minutes. Remove the pan to a rack, and carefully cut through the scored lines.
Pour the cooled syrup over the hot baklava.
Let sit for a few hours before digging in. Sprinkle with additional chopped pistachios. Store, covered, at room temperature for up to one week.