Walnut baklava is a well-known Middle Eastern pastry that combines flaky pastry, walnuts, cinnamon, and raisins. But the best part might just be the attar syrup that soaks the baklava and holds everything together, in its sugary, citrusy grip.
In Syria, we buy baklava at a shop instead of making it at home. Cities are spilling with baklava shops that sell all sorts of pastries with just the right balance of crispiness and sweetness. I personally think that the baklava sold in Europe is too sweet; it detracts from the taste of the nuts. This is why I choose to make my own baklava.–Anas Atassi
☞ Table of Contents
HOW DO I CUT BAKLAVA PERFECTLY?
Because you’re cutting this before you bake it, the phyllo won’t be crisp, and if you’re planning to serve your baklava (and not just eat it out of the pan, like some of us did…) you’ll probably want them to be as neat as possible. We recommend using a serrated knife, that way, you can use a sawing motion, rather than pressing down on your baklava. And wiping down your knife with hot water will be infinitely helpful. We’ve also heard that using a particularly delicate electric carving knife can do a very impressive job.
For the atter syrup
- 1 cup water
- 2 1/3 cups granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon orange blossom water or rose water
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon or orange zest preferably organic
- 1 tablespoon lemon or orange juice
For the baklava
- 2 1/2 cups walnut pieces
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 20 sheets phyllo pastry (half of a 1-pound package) thawed if frozen
- 11 tablespoons (5 1/2 oz) unsalted butter, melted
- 2/3 cup atter syrup, or more
- 1/4 cup finely ground pistachios
Make the atter syrup
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the water and sugar. Heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves.
- As soon as the syrup begins to boil, quickly stir in the orange blossom or rose water, zest, and juice. Remove from the heat and cool completely before using. Extra atter syrup can be refrigerated in an airtight container.
☞TESTER TIP: Make use of that extra atter syrup by drizzling over a bowl of yogurt or stirring into a cocktail.
Make the baklava
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
- In a food processor, grind half of the walnuts with the raisins, brown sugar, and cinnamon until a thick paste forms, 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 minutes. Add the rest of the walnuts and pulse a few times so that they are distributed evenly but remain somewhat chunky.
- Cut twenty sheets of phyllo to fit a 9-by 13-inch (23-by 33-cm) metal cake pan. Slick the bottom and sides of the pan with some of the melted butter and line the bottom of the pan with 8 phyllo sheets, brushing each sheet with some melted butter before layering the next sheet on top. This will help them stick together, and will help them crisp up while baking.
☞TESTER TIP: Keep your phyllo covered with a damp cloth while assembling the baklava, to prevent it drying out.
- Crumble half of the walnut filling over this phyllo base, distributing evenly, and taking care not to tear the phyllo.
- Stack 4 sheets of phyllo pastry on top of the filling, again brushing each sheet with butter before layering on the next sheet. Crumble the other half of the filling on top, and spread it evenly over the phyllo.
- Top the baklava with the remaining 8 sheets of phyllo, again brushing each sheet with butter before layering.
- Brush the rest of the melted butter onto the top sheet and cut the baklava into your desired shapes (squares, rectangles, or diamonds). Bake until cooked, crispy, and evenly golden, 20 to 35 minutes.
Finish the baklava
- When the pastry is golden, remove from the oven and immediately pour 1/3 cup of the atter syrup evenly over the pastries. Let the syrup soak in for 15 minutes, and then slowly pour over 1/3 cup syrup, stopping if it begins to pool on the bottom.
- Sprinkle the baklava with chopped pistachios and let cool completely before serving.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
Whenever I find baklava on a menu or in a bakery, I order it. I have eaten a LOT of baklava...and while I'm still convinced Sofia's Greek Pantry in Belmont, MA makes the absolute best honey and cinnamon baklava to ever pass my lips, this recipe for walnut baklava is simply outstanding. I'm convinced the success comes from two surprise twists: raisins and the atter syrup soak. The beauty of the raisins (blitzed into a paste with brown sugar) is you have this deeply rich and flavorful filling that retains moisture and doesn't feel dry or mealy. Sandwiched between 8 layers of phyllo on each side, it feels beautifully balanced, with enough pastry layers for crunch and structure without getting in the way of the glorious filling. The atter syrup was a revelation and makes what sometimes is a sickly-sweet confection into something that somehow feels both light and indulgent.
I don't have enough good things to say about it. The reviews from everyone I distributed treat plates to throughout the neighborhood were unanimous: probably the best baklava anyone has ever eaten. It was even better on day two...and I offered additional atter syrup for drizzling on top (whatever syrup is left is delicious stirred into yogurt or mixed into a cocktail). This recipe is a labor of love (it takes over an hour to just assemble the layers) but you can taste all the care and years of tradition and refinement that the author captured here. Treasure this recipe...it's a keeper.
Advice: Be extra careful when you are buttering the first layer of phyllo after each nut layer, this one is the most delicate and most likely to stick to your pastry brush. I suggest using a double boiler for the butter here, since you can bring the set up over to the assembly site and the residual heat in the pot will keep the butter in the bowl on top warm and easy to use the entire time. Since there is no salt in the filling, I opted for salted roasted pistachios on top.
"Best baklava I've EVER had" is what my neighbor said after I dropped off a few pieces for her to try. I must agree with her—this is an outstanding walnut baklava recipe. It was very easy and incredibly impressive. I didn't have any rosewater or orange blossom water, so I simply used some orange zest and orange juice. So crisp and lovely. Also, I topped it with salted pistachios and I really loved the little bit of salt on top. A final word of advice—don't open your filo until you're ready to use it as it begins to try out quickly and can crack and fall apart. Alternatively, you can keep it covered with a damp towel. Definitely give this one a try—it's easy and quite therapeutic to assemble.
Originally published May 16, 2021