Make Ahead

Mrs. Z's Secret-Ingredient Baklava

December 31, 2013
4 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time 2 hours
  • Cook time 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Serves many!
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

Test Kitchen Notes

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

What You'll Need
  • 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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • John Cooper
    John Cooper
  • Valerie Shumway-Khan
    Valerie Shumway-Khan
  • Juliana Tibbet
    Juliana Tibbet
  • Steven Williamson
    Steven Williamson
  • L H
    L H

Recipe by: cookbookchick

I am retired from CBS News, having worked in both NYC and Washington DC, my native town. I'm married, mother of three, grandmother of two. I've been a passionate cook since I was a child, and have collected recipes since then. I am shamelessly addicted to cookbooks -- hence my moniker -- but I figure it's not only less harmful than other addictions, but also produces a better outcome for those around me. My family call me "the food lady," so I guess they agree!

42 Reviews

John C. June 21, 2019
I used crushed pistachio and walnuts and it tasted perfect.
My mom used to make Baklava with very similar recipe.
recommend you to try Farhat sweets baklava is so surreal.
Valerie S. August 22, 2018
I did a lot of research before I finally decided to make this recipe. But I did tweak it a bit.
1) I made my own clarified brown butter for this recipe. The browned butter added a bit more nutty flavor.
2) I added more spices. 1/8th tsp each of nutmeg, cloves and allspice.
Assembling this was a huge pain (I have OCD) but the flavor was well worth it.
judy September 23, 2017
I make baklava at least twice over the holiday season. Many variations from across the middle east. I like ones with orange or rosewater the best in the syrup. I have used a wide variety of nuts: pine, walnut, pistachio, almond, usually in combination. I think I like the pine and walnuts the best. Pistacio is always a lovely decoration on top because of its' lovely color. Not really a fan of the graham crackers, but I always like to try a new recipe.
Calivas D. September 23, 2017
My grandmother used "Zwebeck" crackers in her recipe (for those who are not familiar with Zwebeck crackers, they are the "Stella Doro" version of Biscotti Cookies (which are probably a better substitute).
Juliana T. July 24, 2017
Our traditional recipe calls for a simple syrup of 1 cup water and 2 cups of sugar, bring to a boil, boil 5 minutes, remove from the stove and add a tablespoon of rosewater, or orange blossom water and cinnamon if you want, boil five more minutes and your done. You either pour cold syrup on hot baklava or hot syrup on cold baklava.
Steven W. July 23, 2017
Is it a sin to use real maple syrup?
L H. May 8, 2016
Looks amazing. I have a child with a nut allergy...any suggestions for nut substitutions? Sunflower seeds? Toasted oats? Other? I'd like for him to have the opportunity to try baklava by safely making it.
Jenny July 22, 2016
I think sesame might be a good option! I would toast them too to enhance the aroma and flavor
Valerie S. August 22, 2018
I wouldn't use the same amount.
Jyothi M. May 28, 2019
I have several allergies..use granola store bought or home made..coarsely crush them...make granola plain with brown sugar melted butter and oats...bake till golden brown in oven at 300.spread a layer of plain its granola...Cheerios toasted dry...crush them in a zip loc bag...and pour agave nectar...with some honey...or molasses with some honey..sweetness to your taste...and try it this way...your child can eat this...Thanks for challenging ideas to help. Good cooking
Donna September 15, 2015
Ok, is it 1 cup of whole graham crackers crushed (difficult to measure!) or 1 cup of graham crackers crumbs?
Jean July 27, 2016
I have the same question!
Steven W. July 23, 2017
One cup after crushing, always.
Calivas D. July 27, 2015
Do you have a good Galaktoboureko or Ekmai recipe? Also, when you have time, please post a step-by-step Kataife recipe (I always ruin it, because the filo always falls apart -- And yes, I always place a damp towel over the portion that is not being used)
Lana G. June 5, 2015
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!
Juliana T. June 1, 2015
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
Buzz May 27, 2015
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
nana M. February 8, 2015
Our family is Lebanese.. we use rosewater for added flavor & pistachio's in place of walnuts.
sevenfaces October 30, 2014
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" :)
BananaBoat August 11, 2014
I'd never made baklava before, and this recipe was great! What a beautiful dessert.
shu-jin_rankin July 13, 2014
This recipe was so incredibly delicious, thank you cbc!
LINDA June 18, 2014
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.
sarabclever June 16, 2014
Just made this yesterday and it's 1/4 gone. Delicious! My first attempt at baklava, can't wait to make it again!
bookjunky June 13, 2014
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!
bookjunky June 16, 2014
Thanks, that's what I needed to know!!

Oh, one more question. How far ahead can you make this? I assume it keeps well?
Chris June 12, 2014
Is it necessary to use filo dough is that a brand or a specific type of dough? Thanks.
Smorgie138 June 12, 2014
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.