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Author Notes: My friends Wendy and John host an incredible New Year's Eve party every year, and every year there is a theme. One New Year's Eve many years ago, the theme was Persian food, the spread was unbelievable: cinnamon duck, pomegranate soup, and shrimp tacheen to name a few. They asked me to bring baklava and It's been an annual tradition ever since. This recipe is totally worth the preparation time (about 2 hours before baking). —Sadassa_Ulna
Serves many (about 42 pieces)
- 1/2 cup honey
- 2 cups sugar
- 1-1/2 cups water
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 12 whole cardamom pods
- 1/4 cup rose water
- 1 pound raw pistachio halves
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 pound (40- 42 sheets) phyllo dough sheets*, read storing/thawing directions
- 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
- 2 clean kitchen towels for assembly
- 11" x 17" jelly roll pan
- 1 pastry brush
- 1 pinch salt (optional)
- Check the phyllo dough directions as to proper thawing method before beginning. Toast the pistachio halves in a large skillet over medium low heat for 5-7 minutes while stirring; do this in two batches if necessary, depending on skillet size. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
- Begin the syrup: Mix all syrup ingredients except the rose water in a large saucepan. Cook over low heat and stir until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to medium and allow to cook 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool; begin the nut filling.
- Prepare the nut filling: in two batches, coarsely grind the pistachios in a food processor. Do not allow the nuts to turn to butter; the smallest pieces should look like sand. Hand mix the ground nuts with the sugar,spices and salt in a bowl with a large spoon and set aside.
- Add the rose water to the cooled syrup mixture. The filling and syrup can each be covered and stored (separately) for 24 hours before assembling, if desired.
- To assemble the baklava: butter the 11" x 17" jelly roll pan. Melt the remaining butter in a small saucepan over low heat and set aside. Put some ice cubes in a small glass and fill with water for later. Wet the kitchen towels and wring out well. Unwrap/unroll the phyllo and cover with one damp towel. [The thin sheets of phyllo dry out very quickly which causes them to break into shards, so keep them covered throughout entire process].
- Set up the pan, the covered phyllo and the melted butter so they are all in reach. Place two sheets phyllo in the pan to cover bottom and overlap sheets slightly, about a half inch. Excess will hang over the side; trim this with a sharp knife so that the sheets are flat in the pan and save the scraps! Keep them covered as well with a second damp towel. Brush the sheets in the pan with some melted butter.
- Place two more sheets as above but without overlapping**; brush with butter and trim excess, reserving scraps. Continue to layer up, and plan to have seam lines in different places. By layer four you can piece together scraps to make a layer. Continue to make buttered layers until you have seven or eight layers of phyllo. Pour half of the nut filling over the top layer and spread about evenly. Put the butter saucepan over low heat if it is getting thick.
- Start another seven or eight layers first using two whole sheets slightly overlapped, then layering up using the reserved scrap pieces. Don't worry about gaps for these middle layers, just stagger the seamlines as you layer up. Pour the rest of the nut filling over the top layer and spread about evenly. Now is a good time to PREHEAT OVEN TO 350 DEGREES.
- Create the final seven or eight layers and disguise any remaining scraps somewhere in those middle layers; save two whole sheets for the top layer and butter it well.
- With a sharp knife, cut through the top level of the assembled baklava lengthwise into six equal strips. Do not cut all the way through to the bottom of the pan. Make diagonal cuts at a 45 degree angle - each about 1-1/2" apart - to form diamond shapes.
- Sprinkle the baklava with the icy cold water to form many droplets: these weigh down the top phyllo and prevent them from curling and blowing off. Bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 300 degrees and bake until golden, about 15 to 20 minutes.
- Cut through the score lines while hot. Pour the cooled syrup evenly over the entire sheet. Allow to cool for four hours minimum, but preferably overnight. Cover and store in an airtight container for up to one week.
- * Overlap seams only on the bottommost layer of each eight-layer phyllo level, and for all other layers make seams align without overlap.
- ** Phyllo sheet size and quantity may vary; this recipe is based on one pound phyllo equaling approximately 41 sheets that are each 9" x 14". If your one-pound package contains less than 40 sheets you might need to make 6-7-layer levels, or purchase a second package of phyllo.
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