Baklava (vegan and delicious)

It’s worth the wait. They always say it’s sweeter when you’re ready – premature indulgence is a disappointment.

I’m here to tell you that when it comes to baklava, all of that is true. Even vegan baklava (don’t go! it’s good!).

Ah baklava, that crispy, sweet, salty dessert. Thousands of hair-thin layers of phyllo dough drenched in honey, with ground pistachios and walnuts pocketed in the middle. Always served in slightly too small diamond-shaped slices that ooze honey (or, cough, agave) down the back of your arm.

Guess how long it takes to make baklava? (Start to finish. Not cook time.)

baklava---rtdbrowning01

8-10 hours.

That means 10 hours of smelling buttery coconut oil, 9.5 hours of smelling the sugar melt into it, 8 hours of flaky pastry swelling into crackly leaves and blowing cinnamon through the house, 7 hours of smelling the bubbly orange-honey syrup that thickens on the stovetop, and at least 6 hours of watching that syrup soak into the pastry and come seeping back out in a river of sweet, sweet orange-scented bliss.

Then you can eat it.

baklava---rtdbrowning03

I can’t remember the first time I tried baklava, but I know that for as far back as my food memory goes, I have ranked baklava in the upper echelons, right up there with gnocchi, risotto, and soufflé. If it is on the menu, I will order it.

For me, most foods that end up high in the ranks like that are there because I think they’re really annoying to make myself, and I’d rather let someone else do it. In my head, these dishes of lore:

(1) take ages to prepare,
(2) require a ton of meticulous steps,
(3) call for expensive I-don’t-want-to-mess-this-up ingredients,
(4) are, incidentally, way too easy to mess up, or
(5) all of the above.

In my head, making something like risotto or gnocchi was a tall order. I would have to be calm and collected (a feat in itself) as I navigated a Centaur’s Minotaur’s (lol) labyrinth of steps and tried not to waste $12 of cheese or Valrhona chocolate.

But, in the way that JavaScript and calculus (and finishing Infinite Jest) are, in fact, doable, I overcame the odds and made risotto. Now, whipping up a seasonal risotto is as easy to me as making a pot of spaghetti, and I don’t even bother with the Marauder’s Map of directions or the high-stakes pressure I thought went along with it.

And baklava was next.

My point? Yep, baklava takes a lot of steps, a lot of time, and some unique ingredients. But nope, it’s not that hard to make.

baklava---rtdbrowning04

Here’s a poem I wrote about baklava, in case you were still thinking it’s not worth the wait.

This is in praise of my hands that
unfurl parchment-thin sheets of phyllo dough,
billowing them out in small feather sheets
and layering them, bandages,
one over the other

sweeping a brush right and left in quick motions,
laying down strokes
of coconut oil and vegan Earth Balance (it’s good),

grinding pistachios, almonds, walnuts,
scooping out vergeoise sugar
from the north of France,
sprinkling it over,

then swishing again,
right-left, left-right,

Until a tome of layered pastry,
thin fall leaves, a high rise of crackly vellum,
is before me,

and my hands lift a carafe of orange-sweetened honey,
and pouring it over the top,
finally get around
to making baklava.

Vegan (or not) Baklava
Serves 12-15
Guidance from the acclaimed Alton Brown’s recipe

Special equipment: brush

Pastry
2 teaspoons cinnamon
18 oz. nuts (I used equal parts pistachios, walnuts, and almonds)
⅔ cup vergeoise sugar
¼ cup water
rosewater in a spritzer (totes optional)
1 pound (1 package from the frozen bread section of the grocery store) thawed phyllo dough
4 oz. coconut oil
4 oz. Earth Balance (use butter if you don’t want to be vegan, man)

Syrup
1 cup honey
1 cup agave (omit the honey and use 2 cups agave if you want to be a super vegan)
1 ¼ cups water
¼ cup orange juice
2-inch slice of fresh lemon peel

1. MUY IMPORTANTE! Thaw phyllo dough in the refrigerator overnight, then leave at room temperature for one hour before using. Preheat oven to 350 F.

2. Lay out phyllo dough and trim to fit in a 13 x 9 inch pan. Keep the trimmings to make fun tiny things.

3. In a food processor, blitz cinnamon, nuts, and sugar until the pieces are bigger than sand but smaller than gravel, around 10-15 pulses.

4. Combine coconut oil and Earth Balance (or butter) and heat until softened. (Either microwave it in 5-second intervals, stirring frequently, or warm in a small saucepan on the stove over very low heat.)

5. Using a brush, apply a thin layer of the oil mixture to the bottom of the baking dish, and cover with one sheet of phyllo. Repeat, brushing each layer of phyllo as you go, until you have 10 layers. Sprinkle ⅓ of the nut mixture in an even layer over the dough. Optional: spritz with rose water.

6. Continue with 6 more phyllo layers, brushing each sheet with the oil mixture. Sprinkle the next ⅓ of the nut mixture in an even layer and spritz with rose water. Apply 6 more layers, brushing each sheet with oil as you go. Sprinkle the final ⅓ of the nut mixture over the dough and spritz with rose water.

7. Continue layering the remaining sheets of phyllo (around 10 sheets) with the oil mixture.

8. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and slice baklava in squares or diamonds (or have an epic fail like me and mean to make diamonds but just make squares in a diagonal pattern). Return to oven and bake another 30 minutes. Let cool completely.

9. Meanwhile, combine honey, agave, water, orange juice, and lemon peel in a saucepan and bring to a simmer, cooking 8 minutes, until slightly thickened.

10. When baklava is completely cooled, recut. Drizzle with ¾ of the syrup, reserving ¼ for serving. Cover and refrigerate 6-8 hours (I KNOW) before serving.

Serve baklava at room temperature or chilled. If you want to get crazy, scoop ice cream over it and drizzle with more syrup.

Baklava keeps covered on the countertop for up to 5 days. Some even say it improves each day. Some are freaks who don’t eat all the baklava at once.

9 comments

  1. Love lovety love love.

    that is all. 🙂

  2. Richard Lebrun · · Reply

    You left my mouth watering!

    Grandpa

    1. Grandpa, thanks for reading! Sorry to tantalize you with baklava from many miles away…:)

  3. Oh wow, Randle. There is so much I want to say. I really enjoyed this post! First, I love your writing, and your poem! And your humor. And the fact that you made baklava, and a crazy vegan-vergeoise-agave-coconut-oil version of it! It looks perfect by the way. I hope you liked the vergeoise by the way. I bet agave is 1000 times better in TX than in Lille (I use it occasionally, but it is not my go-to sweetener).
    During my travels in the Middle East, I ate many different baklavas, so it kind of feels like you are talking about an old friend of mine. Some day I will write a post and share my own experiences.

    1. Thanks, Darya! The vergeoise sugar was so delicious – I ate some out of the bag. o.O There are a lot of types of agave available here: organic, dark, light, extra light, etc. I didn’t know it wasn’t widely available in Lille, but I bet you have some amazing honey there? The honey I brought back from Normandy is so delicious. And I can’t wait to read about the varieties of baklava you had in the Middle East – I didn’t know there were many different kinds. I have a recipe for phyllo “cigars” I want to try. It’s in the Jerusalem cookbook. Thanks for stopping by! And thanks for the sugar! 🙂

  4. Looks amazing! I’m definitely giving this a try soon. Yum yum yum!

    1. Hi Sarah! Thanks so much! And thanks for stopping by. Tell me how it goes! 🙂

  5. […] keep saying this isn’t a vegan blog, and then I keep making vegan things (like baklava – swoon). Well, if you don’t want to make these vegan, just use butter. […]

  6. […] keep saying this isn’t a vegan blog, and then I keep making vegan things (like baklava – swoon). Well, if you don’t want to make these vegan, just use butter. […]

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