Holiday Baking How-to: Grandma Marie’s Baklawa

07 Dec Holiday Baking How-to: Grandma Marie’s Baklawa

Freshly Baked Baklawa by Grandma Marie

You know it’s a special occasion at our house if Grandma Marie comes bearing a plate of freshly made baklawa, the traditional Lebanese treat she’s been making for years.

Baklawa, or baklava, made by layering thin sheets of phyllo dough with chopped nuts, butter or oil and honey or syrup dates back to the 8th century B.C. in the Middle East. Phyllo comes from a word meaning “leaf” in Greek, referring to the paper-thin layers of dough used in most recipes. This sweet rich treat was reserved for holidays throughout history because of the time and expense associated with making it.

Differences in preparation of baklawa depend on the ethnic tradition, with some calling for pouring olive oil over the nut-filled layers of dough while others brush butter atop the phyllo. You may find finely ground walnuts in some versions, while others call for pistachios. Typically a cold syrup or honey is poured over the baked baklawa, hot from the oven.

Back in Lebanon where my husband Mike’s mother Marie grew up, there were beautiful sweet shops where you could buy baklawa, so Marie’s mother never made it at home.

It wasn’t until Marie arrived here 56 years ago as a newlywed that she ever made baklawa. There were a lot of Old Timers from Lebanon here, many first generation, who used to get together and make cheese and baklawa and other things, she said.  The best recipe she remembers for baklawa was from Victoria Paul.  Marie started with that recipe and played with it over the years, arriving at the one she now uses to bake the baklawa she makes year-round, for weddings, 1st communions, birthdays and Christmas.

Grandma Marie’s baklawa recipe achieves a delicate balance of sweetness and crunch, and it always amazes me how perfect the little diamond-shaped pieces come out every time she makes it. One key in making baklawa, Marie told me, is having everything ready to go ahead of time, which calls for some planning. Marie makes it all look so easy as you watch her effortlessly assembling her signature gift from the kitchen. Years of practice have obviously paid off. For Grandma Marie, it is a labor of love, to be sure.

Perhaps you’d like to expand your holiday baking horizons with this week’s Special of the day, Holiday Baking How-to: Grandma Marie’s Baklawa. Happy Baking!

Grandma Marie’s Baklawa
Recipe by Marie George
(makes one 10 x 15 inch pan of baklawa)
*Prepare ingredients ahead of time.
Make the syrup:
Combine 3 cups sugar, 2 cups water and juice of half a lemon in a medium saucepan and boil for 10 minutes.
Add 1 tablespoon orange blossom water or rose water.
Refrigerate until ready to use.
Make the filling:
Combine 1 pound finely ground walnuts*, ¼ cup sugar and 1 tablespoon orange blossom water or rose water. (or unsalted ground pistachios)
Refrigerate until ready to use.
Clarify the butter:
Melt 1 pound unsalted butter, skim off foam.
Thaw one 10-ounce box fillo (phyllo) dough in refrigerator overnight, then one hour at room temperature.
When ready to assemble:
Rewarm prepared butter.
Spread butter over bottom of a 10-inch by 15-inch jelly roll pan to cover.
Lay 6 sheets of thawed fillo in pan. 
Spread all of prepared filling on top of fillo sheets in pan.

Spread the prepared filling over the fillo dough

Spread evenly to the edge of the dough, pressing down with the back of a spoon.
Cover with additional 6 sheets of thawed fillo dough.
Cover with prepared butter.
Open second package of thawed fillo dough and put on top.
Cover with prepared butter.
Line up fillo dough so edges meet. 

Cut diagonal cuts across baklawa

Starting in one corner, cut a diagonal cut to the opposite corner, all the way through the baklawa.
Continue cutting diagonal cuts across baklawa, spacing them about 1 inch apart as shown in photo.

Rotate pan and cut straight lines across baklawa

Rotate pan and cut straight lines across baklawa, again about 1 inch apart, creating diamond-shaped pieces. 


Spoon butter over the top

Spoon prepared butter on top, using up the rest of the butter.
Bake in a preheated oven at 315 degrees for 45 minutes to one hour, until lightly browned.

Spoon cold syrup over hot baklawa

Spoon 1 ½ cups of the cold prepared syrup over the hot baked baklawa.
(Extra syrup can be used if you’re making another pan of baklawa or for pancakes or cookies.)
Let baklawa cool completely before removing from pan and serving.
Baklawa will keep 1 week at room temperature  or 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator.
It also freezes nicely.

                Sydne George is a food journalist specializing in recipe development, food writing and food photography. She can be reached at Sydne’s “Special of the day” columns and recipes are archived at:





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