This year I’m only in charge of the desserts for Thanksgiving, which is a welcome change of pace. I’m making baklava, chocolate pumpkin pie, chocolate pecan pie, and a deep dish cheddar crusted apple pie (I’ve got about nine big Granny Simths sitting on my counter, all waiting to be jammed into my red Chantal pie plate). So far I’ve managed to get the baklava done, and if you’ve never made it before, that stuff is time consuming! I’d never made it before, and I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but goodness, that’s a lot of layers! But when it was baking in the oven, the wonderful smell proved that it was all worth it.

I ended up combining two recipes (one from Everyday FOOD, and one from epicurious.com) to make my baklava, and here’s the recipe that I ended up with.
1 pound butter
3 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup orange juice
3 whole cloves
3 cups walnuts
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 package (16 oz) frozen phyllo dough (17 by 12 inches), thawed

Preheat oven to 375. Brush a 13-by-9-inch jelly roll pan with butter and set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine a scant 3 cups sugar, lemon juice, orange juice, cloves, and 1 1/4 cups water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer until sugar dissolves and mixture is syrupy, about 10 to 15 minutes. Set syrup aside.

In a food processor, pulse walnuts with cinnamon, nutmeg, and remaining 1/2 sugar until finely ground. Set walnut filling aside.

Clarify your butter. I found that doing it all at once was easier than doing by individual sticks (as some websites recommended). So, put all the butter (you may have to cut it up) into a 2 or 3 or 4 cup pyrex measuring cup and melt in the microwave. Let it sit for a few minutes so that the layers separate nicely. Then, with a regular spoon, skim off the foamy white stuff on the top (you don’t want that). Then pour off the lovely yellow butterfat into a dish, leaving the other white stuff on the bottom of the pyrex (you don’t want that either). Throw away the stuff in the pyrex dish. Now you have lovely clarified yellow butterfat, ready to spread all over your phyllo dough. (And if you’re wondering, I read that clarified butter will make for a more flaky baklava. That’s why I went through all that mess).

Place your stack of thawed phyllo sheets on a work surface and cut in half, to create a stack that is roughly 12 by 8 1/2 inches. This will give you more than enough phyllo sheets to work with so you don’t have to worry about running out or feel guilty about throwing away that torn sheet. Place 1 sheet of phyllo in prepared baking pan (keep remaining sheets covered with a damp cloth). Brush gently with butter; repeat with two more sheets of phyllo, laying each on top of the other. (you now have a 3-sheet stack of buttered phyllo.)

Sprinkle phyllo stack in pan with 1/3 cup walnut filling. Repeat with seven or so more buttered phyllo stacks, sprinkling each with walnut filling. I say seven or so because I just went until no more would fit in my pan (and I had a little walnut filling left over). Top with one more stack; brush generously with butter.

Using a sharp knife, cut unbaked baklava into 24 squares. Bake until puffed and golden, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack; pour syrup over baklava (it’s amazing how quickly it soaks the syrup up, and the sizzling sound is quite lovely). Let stand at room temperature until syrup is absorbed, at least 3 hours. To store, keep at room temperature up to three days.


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