Like the many varieties of good wine, honey comes in a spectrum of flavors and colors. This nutty baklava is made with California Meadowfoam honey, which has caramel-marshmallow tasting notes. Baklava can be made with any variety of honey you have on hand but I highly recommend using a locally-produced varietal you enjoy.
Over the past few years, I’ve sampled my way through the local honey available at our farmer’s markets. Varietal honey is created when honey bees forage primarily from one type of plant, bringing its nectar back to the hive. Thus varietal honey comes in many forms: clover, sage, star thistle, buckwheat, tupelo…the list goes on.
Far and away my favorite honey, Meadowfoam is made from the pretty, white meadowfoam flower. But the honey is a deep, amber color. I thought the color and rich vanilla-marshmallow flavor would complement Alton Brown’s Baklava recipe. As hoped, my baklava [the second batch, that is] turned out beautifully nutty, crunchy and with the caramel honey sweetness of this lovely varietal.
These cut baklava even resemble honeycomb.
Alton’s recipe is quite good, if a little over-complicated and, ehm…pretentious. [No, I don’t have a spritz bottle just for rose water!] Also, his written instructions would have turned the syrup into a hard candy. So, I made a few changes.
Most importantly, cut the baklava before baking. It will make your life SO much easier. I also recommend cutting back on the sugar in the syrup slightly to let the honey shine. If you don’t have three kinds of nuts, feel free to substitute. Personally, I do think the rose water is important but if you are in a jam it won’t ruin the dish to leave it out. Here’s his recipe with my modifications.
Meadowfoam Honey Baklava:
Adapted from Alton Brown’s Baklava recipe.
Makes one (1) 9X13 pan OR two 8X8 pans or baklava.
For the filling:
1 (5-inch piece) cinnamon stick, broken into pieces (or 2 teaspoons ground)
15 to 20 whole allspice berries (2 teaspoons ground)
6 ounces blanched almonds
6 ounces raw or roasted walnuts
6 ounces raw or roasted pistachio
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon rose water
1 pound phyllo dough, thawed
8 ounces unsalted butter, melted
For the syrup:
1 1/4 cups Meadowfoam Honey (or your favorite varietal)
1 1/4 cups water
3/4 cups sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 (2-inch) piece fresh orange peel
Begin by pre-heating the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease your pan(s) with butter.
Place the cinnamon stick and whole allspice into a spice grinder and grind.
Place the almonds, walnuts, pistachios, sugar and freshly ground spices into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped, but not pasty or powdery, approximately 15 quick pulses. Set aside.
Combine the water and rose water in a spray bottle (or a small bowl if you don’t have a spray bottle) and set aside.
Trim the sheets of phyllo to fit your pans. Take the phyllo out of its wrapper and quickly cover with a damp (but not too wet) paper towel. This will keep your dough hydated and easy to work with as you build your layers. Otherwise, it’s a race against the clock, so please use the paper towel!
If you are doing the two 8X8 pans, separate your nut mixture into two bowls equally. Set one aside for your second pan of baklava.
Place a sheet of phyllo in your pan. Brush with butter to coat. Lay another sheet on top and brush with butter. Repeat until you have ten (10) sheets of buttered phyllo layered in your pan. (Don’t skimp! I’m serious, you want every delicious layer.) Top with 1/3 of the nut mixture (really 1/6 if you are doing two smaller pans instead of the large sheet). Spray or, using fingers, flick with the rose water mixture. Repeat phyllo layering with another six (6) sheets of phyllo dough, brushed with butter. Add the next 1/3 of the nuts and spritz with rose water. Repeat with another six (6) sheets of phyllo, butter and last 1/3 of the nuts and rose water. Top with eight (8) sheets of buttered phyllo. Butter top generously.
If doing a second pan, repeat the steps above. Cut the baklava into serving-sized pieces using a sharp knife BEFORE placing into the oven .
Put pan(s) in the oven and bake for 45-60 minutes. Remove when the phyllo is a medium brown color and crispy. The nuts should be toasted throughout. Let cool for 2 hours.
Make the syrup during the last 30 minutes of cooling. Combine honey, water, sugar, cinnamon stick and orange peel in a 4-quart saucepan and set over high heat. Stir occasionally until the sugar has dissolved. Once boiling, boil for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and discard orange peel and cinnamon stick.
After the baklava has cooled for 2 hours, re-cut the entire pan following the same lines as before. Pour the hot syrup evenly over the top of the baklava, allowing it to run into the cuts and around the edges of the pan. Allow the pan to sit, uncovered until completely cool. Cover and store at room temperature for at least 8 hours and up to overnight before serving. Store, covered, at room temperature for up to 5 days.
What’s your favorite type of honey?