Some would argue dessert is the best part of a meal, and when you have beautiful homemade baklava on the table, it’s easy to see why.
Sure, you could buy one from a store. But where’s the fun in that? Plus, following an easy baklava recipe and making one from scratch will leave you with more satisfaction as you dig into your dessert, knowing it was crafted with your own hands.
Authentic Turkish Baklava Recipes
While no one knows for sure where the first baklava was made, this sweet pastry is believed to have originated in Turkey during the days of the Ottoman Empire. These days, you’ll find many countries boasting their own versions of traditional baklava recipes.
Using what they had locally, bakers filled layers of pastry with a mixture of crushed nuts and honey syrup before baking and cutting the finished product into handheld pieces for easy snacking.
With an estimated 81 million Muslims in Turkey, you’ll often find baklava served as a celebratory food to mark the end of Ramadan there. But as one of the most popular dishes in Middle Eastern cooking, you’re just as likely to see it on dinner tables and in coffee shops throughout the year.
Recipes are passed down from generation to generation, taking inspiration from modern cuisines and palettes to create new vegan alternatives and even healthy baklava recipes to lower the sugar content of this traditionally sweet treat.
Ingredients You’ll Need
Filo pastry (you’ll also see it spelled as phyllo, especially in Greek baklava recipes) is essential when you make Turkish baklava. In Turkish, it’s referred to as yufka, meaning “folded or pleated bread.” This is because you need to fold, roll and stretch the dough until it becomes a single, thin sheet.
Store-bought filo can be just as good as what you can make yourself, so if you’re looking to save time, this is a helpful shortcut.
Then it’s all about the filling. You can use any nuts you’d like, but if you want to follow the traditional Turkish baklava recipe, use pistachios. This is known as fistikli baklava, and it’s one of the simplest variations to make.
You’ll also want to have on hand:
- Butter or ghee (enough for melting)
- Two or three cups granulated sugar or two tablespoons honey
- Two cups water
- Lemons to make a tablespoon of lemon juice
These will form your syrup base. Rosewater can also be added for a slight twist on the classic recipe.
How to Make Greek Baklava
As people throughout history traveled around the world and migrated to new lands, so too did their favorite dishes. Baklava was no exception and quickly found its way to countries like Greece during the early modern period.
The biggest difference you’ll find in a Greek baklava, compared to a Turkish one, is the type of nuts used. Walnuts are the most common substitution and you’ll often find spice additions in both Greek and Lebanese baklava recipes.
How you layer your pastry in a Greek recipe is also different. Traditionally, 33 layers have been used to represent the years of Jesus’ life, but you’ll also find recipes using 40 pastry layers for baking during Lent.
Ingredients to Use
Since you’ll be following a walnut baklava recipe here, this is the first ingredient to pick up. If you’d like to make a nuttier filling, grab some almonds and pistachios too. Cinnamon and ground cloves are typically found in Greek baklava fillings.
Other mixture ingredients you can add are:
- Sesame seeds—this is common in Northeastern Greek cooking
- Sunflower seeds
The rest of your ingredients will be fairly similar to a Turkish recipe, with filo pastry, and water, sugar and lemon juice for the syrup. Some Greek bakers will add orange extract or a small amount of juice to bring out an even stronger citrus flavor.
Making a Traditional Baklava
Grab a rectangular baking dish and lightly brush melted ghee or butter on the bottom and sides to stop your dough from sticking. Roll out your fresh or bought filo sheets into single thin layers, covering the remainder with a slightly damp towel as you work—this helps prevent them drying out.
Take care as you work with each layer of filo. The thinness of the pastry is one of the standout features of this dessert, but it also means it’s fragile to work with and can easily break while you’re prepping. And no one wants a leaky baklava coming out the oven!
Add the first layer of filo to the dish. It should fit the bottom exactly, so trim any excess along the sides. Repeat this process until you have around ten sheets of filo as your base layer, with a layer of butter brushed on between each piece.
In a food mixer, pulse your nuts (pistachio for Turkish and walnuts for Greek, or any combination you’d like) until they’re a fine consistency. Add half the total amount to your filo layers in the dish. Keep the mixture as even as you can.
Repeat the filo process again, with around eight to ten layers of pastry before the other half of the nuts. Place the remaining pastry sheets on top of the nuts.
Carefully cut the uncooked baklava into squares or diamond shapes before putting it in the oven—it’ll take roughly 30 to 45 minutes to bake at 350 degrees, depending on the cooking instructions of your pastry and how many layers you’ve added.
While the baklava is baking, make your syrup. Bring the sugar and water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer until all the sugar has dissolved and the liquid is thickening. Stir in your lemon juice for two minutes, before removing from the heat.
Once your baklava is cooked, pour the syrup mixture over the top of the pastry as evenly as possible. Leave your pastry to cool and absorb the syrup—anywhere from 2 hours to overnight is fine. If you have any finely chopped nuts left, sprinkle these on top of the pastry before serving.
Variations to Impress Your Guests
Since baklava is often made on special occasions, it’s likely you’ll be sharing your bake with friends and family. You don’t have to stick to purely traditional recipes to make a brilliant baklava, though, and experimenting with new ingredients can yield some truly delicious results.
As you progress in your baking journey, you may come across a recipe for baklava rolls. Otherwise known as Sargali, these Greek treats are simply a round version of the traditional baklava—think spring rolls but filled with nuts instead!
Your ingredients will be exactly the same, but instead of layering your pastry with filling between, you’ll be creating rolls. Layer eight to ten pieces of filo dough, with butter in between each, and spread your nut mixture on top of the sheet.
Carefully roll the sheet toward the middle until you have a long roll around an inch thick. Cut this and place in a baking dish, then repeat until you’ve used up all the dough. Before baking, cut across each roll to make four or five smaller rolls, then cook for around 30 minutes.
Almost every ingredient in baklava is vegan-friendly. No eggs are involved and the only dairy is the butter, so any vegan baklava recipe you find should only have one or two substitutions to remove any animal products.
If you’re working with store bought filo, check the ingredients for dairy and, if needed, look for a vegan dough instead. For traditional Turkish baklava recipes, swap out the honey for sugar or agave nectar in your syrup. Use vegan butter to brush your pastry layers and you’ll have yourself a fully vegan baklava in no time.
Other Baklava-Inspired Desserts
With only a few ingredients making up a baklava, it’s easy enough to take inspiration from the flavors and work them into other sweet desserts.
Baklava cheesecake is a good alternative when you’re looking for a lighter pastry and sandwiches traditional cheesecake filling between layers of baklava nut mixture.
If you’re after another pie or tart treat, a honey baklava tart uses a shortcrust-style pastry instead of filo and adds almonds for a frangipane hint into the nut mixture.
Portable desserts are always a winner, so a baklava cookie bar is an ideal way to combine the flavors of a traditional recipe with a soft cookie crust and honey syrup.
Bake Your Best Baklava Ever!
You don’t have to be an expert baker to make a baklava everyone can’t stop raving about.
Once you’ve got the hang of working with filo pastry and nailed a few attempts at a traditional recipe, add new spices, change up the citrus in your syrup or throw some different nuts and seeds into your filing for a truly unique take on this much-loved dessert.
How to Bake Better Pastries
Baking Basics: Make Perfect Pastries Every Time