I've heard a bazillion people say they are intimidated at the thought of making Paklava or anything else using phyllo dough. If that includes you, raise your hand. OK, now take that hand and smack yourself in the head with it repeatedly. I'll wait ...
Done? Cool. The hardest part of making Paklava is cutting it, so as long as you have a sharp knife, you're golden. No worries! The rest is all up to you - what size, shape, flavor, etc. you want. It's really very forgiving. Just make sure you have a few pristine sheets for the top layer if you can.
A friend asked me to make it for a baby shower over the weekend. It wasn't until then that I realized I hadn't made it since I started this blog, so I hadn't posted Paklava yet. Well, not the traditional version anyhow. I did make a Chocolate Almond Toffee version a while back. I made a tray of that too for the shower. Yummmm!
1 lb butter
2-3 T Crisco shortening
2 boxes phyllo
cinnamon / sugar
1 c water
2 c sugar
If you have your phyllo in the freezer and know you'll be using it the next day, pull it out and put it in the fridge to thaw, then take it out of the fridge while you clarify your butter and prep your filling. You want to make sure there aren't any frozen or wet spots left, or it will stick together. Just leave it in the box on the counter for now.
Next you want to clarify your butter. Some people don't bother, some people use unsalted butter, etc. I was always taught to use regular butter and to clarify it so you won't end up with dark spots on your dough from the salt and other solids. The Crisco is to help make your end product crispier, but don't worry if you don't have any.
Slowly bring the butter (and Crisco) up to a simmer. It will start to get foamy on the top and you will be able to hear it bubbling below the surface. Let it bubble for a minute or two to really separate, then pull it off the heat and let it cool for a while.
See how it's all foamy on top?
Skim off the foam once it has cooled.
The next layer is what you want to use.
Pour that middle layer into a measuring
cup or other vessel, but stop when you
get to the white bottom layer.
I pour the bottom layer in with the foam and let it cool completely to a solid so I can throw it away. If I think of it, when I finish a jar of pickles or something, I'll keep the jar under the kitchen sink for things like this and grease from frying, etc. I try to be nice to my pipes ... don't want the house getting clogged arteries! ;)
While you're waiting for the butter to cool so you can skim it, you can take that time to chop your walnuts and mix them with some cinnamon and sugar. How much of each you use is up to your personal taste. I usually start with a 16 oz bag of Diamond walnuts. If I have extra, I just freeze it for next time. I throw it in the food processor with about 1/4 c of sugar and a few tablespoons of cinnamon. You don't want to go overboard with the sugar. I made that mistake once when I was a kid and it made my walnuts burn.
My Mom and grandmother used to grind the nuts and then shake them in a sieve to remove any skins. I haven't bothered doing that for years. Some people like theirs on the chunky side. I usually prefer it to be pretty well ground. It always seemed to me that when I tried to eat a piece of Paklava that had big chunks of walnuts, when I would take a bite, a lot of the filling would fall out. Besides, it's easier to slice when you're not trying to carve through big chunks of nuts. Sometimes I'll make two nut layers, sometimes only one. It just depends on what kind of mood I'm in, what I'm making it for, etc. That's totally your call!
OK, now you're ready to get started. Nuke your clarified butter to re-heat it, then brush the bottom and sides of whatever pan you plan to use. The only thing I'll say about pans is that if you use something dark, like a non-stick cake pan, really keep an eye on it while it's baking, because you might burn it. I try to stick with a jellyroll or other light baking pan, but I have seen some people use casserole dishes.
Open your first package of dough and unroll it. Most people will tell you to dampen a dish cloth or paper towels and cover the dough as you go along. The only time I have EVER found that to be useful was years ago when I lived on Cape Cod and the only phyllo I could find was in the deep freeze section of my grocery store and had probably been there for years. It was loaded with starch and very thick and brittle. There were some batches that had so much starch on them, I actually had to scrape it off before I could start. I haven't seen anything like that in at least 20 years. Now, if you plan to stop mid-stream and go watch your favorite TV show and come back to it, that's another story ... then you can cover it! Otherwise, don't worry about it.
Because the size of the dough varies from brand to brand, and the size of your pan may vary depending on how many people you're making it for, etc., you've got some options. We usually use huge trays, so with some brands of dough, we can actually fit a whole sheet sideways - meaning if we put two sheets next to each other with their long sides touching, it will cover the pan. Other times, that's not the case, so we'll just fold the excess over. That's fine, but keep in mind that if you keep folding it over in the same spot, you'll have a mountain of dough there and the other side will be skimpy, so just be sure to vary it. If you end up with any broken pieces, you can just crumple them in a shallow spot.
For the shower over the weekend, I made a huge tray of the traditional Paklava and a small tray of the chocolate one. I got lucky with the chocolate version - the dough fit that tray perfectly!
See how the sheets overlap in this tray, so I have folded them in different places? Just try to keep it fairly even.
Did I get ahead of myself? I'm trying to be very specific to make you feel more comfortable about working with the phyllo, but this is turning into a novel. You have brushed your tray with melted butter. Add two layers of phyllo, then brush the top with butter. Keep going until you have what feels like a good bottom layer to you, brushing every few sheets with butter. For whatever reason, almost every recipe I have ever read specifically tells you to put eight sheets of phyllo on the bottom. I don't know anyone who makes it that thin! I use almost a whole box on the bottom, then add a layer of nuts, then start again, using the rest. If I'm planning to use two layers of nuts, I'll use about eight layers of dough between those, but I want a nice substantial top and bottom layer!
I usually prefer a more finely ground and thinner layer than this, but most people seem to like it this way, and I was making it for someone else, sooo ...
I keep layering until I'm all the way to the top of my tray. A trick I learned from my sister is that when you get to the end, rather than brushing or drizzling butter on every second layer of phyllo, use the butter on every layer so it will hold together better while you're slicing it. That was always my complaint. When I would try to cut the Paklava, the layers would be trying to slide away from me.
It should look something like this - a smooth top layer
brushed with more butter.
To slice it, make your first cut from one corner to the opposite corner, then decide how big you want the pieces and keep making slices working out to another corner, then spin the tray around and make rows out to that corner. Depending on the tray, sometimes I'll end up with nice triangle pieces in the corners. Other times, I'll end up with some random edge pieces - that just means more samples for you to taste test when all is said and done. :)
Now that you've made your cuts in one direction and have a tray of rows, turn the tray and start making cuts in the other direction so you end up with diamonds. You can start in the middle again if that's easier for you. I usually just start and one corner and work toward the other.
Some people say that an initial blast of heat is what makes it puff up in the oven, so sometimes I'll start at a higher temp and then lower it - preheat to 375, then immediately lower it to 350 when I actually put the tray in the oven. I usually just bake it at 350 until it's golden brown (about 40" or so).
Here's a tip for if you use two layers of nuts. If you want to make sure the middle is cooked, when the top is a nice golden brown, use a fork or knife to lift the layers on one of your diamonds and take a peek to see if the middle layers have browned. If they're still very light, toss a sheet of foil over the top and let it go a while longer.
I'm not sure what happened with this batch - I actually did start it off at 375, but it never puffed up for some reason. Not sure if it was a new brand of butter I was trying out or the weird weather we were having that day. Because I was making it for an event, I felt bad and actually ended up throwing together a tray of Kadayif to go with this and the tray of Chocolate Almond. From what I hear, nobody was any wiser about my flat Paklava, and it got raves, so I was just being too hard on myself.
Wow! I just went to add a link to my Kadayif in case you wanted to see what I was talking about, but it turns out I haven't made that in a while either! I did post a Pumpkin Kadayif I had experimented with, so you can take a peek at that if you want. I'll have to post the Cream Kadayif I made over the weekend in the next few days.
Back to the Paklava! Here we go again ... every recipe you look at will tell you something different when it comes to the syrup. Always pour hot on hot, never pour hot on hot, pour cold syrup on hot dough, pour hot syrup on cold dough... I was taught to let the Paklava cool completely, then make the syrup and pour it over the top while the syrup is hot. That makes more sense to me because I'll spoon the syrup over the top, then remove a corner piece and tilt the tray toward that corner. I fold up a potholder and put it under the opposite corner, to let the syrup drain toward the empty corner. Then use a spoon to scoop it up and hit any missed spots. If you're using cold syrup, it will be too thick to run like that, and I can't imagine it really soaking in either. I will say that if I have the time to plan ahead, I'll make my Paklava a day or two ahead of whatever I'm making it for. That gives it time to dry out a little so it's sweet, but not sticky gooey.
See the syrup draining into the corner?
Scoop it up with a spoon and hit any missed spots.
I've gotten ahead of myself again. To make the syrup, bring the water and sugar up to a boil, then squeeze in the juice from about half a lemon. I'll squeeze it over the big spoon I'm stirring with and will spoon the syrup with to catch any seeds. Let it simmer for 2-3". Some recipes tell you to boil it for 10", but I know someone who did that once and ended up with candy after they poured it over their Paklava. They were crushed!
I don't usually eat Paklava (Baklava) out, so I'm not sure if people just do this for a garnish, or if they usually put pistachios in their filling, but you usually see ground pistachios on the top. I happened to have some pistachios handy, and since I was planning to stack two layers into a bubble-top carrier, I decided to chop some and sprinkle it on top so the top layer wouldn't stick to the bottom.
I know, here I am telling you how easy it is and I go on forever! The abridged version ...
Brush your tray with butter
Add layers 2 sheets at a time
Butter every 2nd layer
Add the nut layer wherever you want
Start layering again and go all the way to the top
Make your first cut from corner to corner
Bake until golden
Hot syrup on cold dough