I adore good baklava. Whenever I see it in a small bakery, I buy it and almost always go for the walnut-filled ones. There are so many different versions, though, originating from different places, so I thought I’d come up with a recipe the old-school way, by calling my friend Melek Erdal. An incredible chef and someone I admire in the food world, Mel has spent a lot of time researching and making various takes on baklava, and documenting makers of fresh filo pastry in London. We chatted while I took notes about what to do; no specific measurements, more a conversation about what to look for and how things should taste.
Mel’s tips included clarifying the butter, so it doesn’t burn on the top or bottom, which would change the taste of the whole thing, and sprinkling pistachios on top as an option (using pistachios for the whole thing is mad boujie). I sent Mel pictures, I shared it with friends and slowly kept returning back to the tray for more. Now I can’t get enough.
Prep 10 min
Cook 1hr 30 min
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground green cardamom
1 generous pinch sea salt (I use Maldon)
27 40cm x 30cm sheets filo pastry
275g unsalted butter, clarified
Pistachios, ground, to garnish (optional)
For the sugar syrup
400g caster sugar
3 cardamon pods
100g honey (optional)
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 pinch saffron
1 vanilla pod
First, make the sugar syrup. Put the sugar, 500ml water, cardamom, honey (if using), lemon zest, saffron and vanilla in a small saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer for four minutes. Take off the heat, squeeze in the lemon juice, leave to infuse and cool for one hour, then strain.
Scatter the walnut pieces into a 40cm x 30cm x 4cm baking tray, and roast in a 180C (160C fan)/350F/gas 4 oven for 15 minutes. Remove, leave to cool, then blitz to just thicker than a ground nut (ie, not to a powder). In a large bowl, mix the chopped nuts with the cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and salt until evenly combined.
Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6 and put a large, heavy tray inside to heat up.
Take the baking tray you used for the walnuts and start building up the filo layers, brushing each one generously with clarified butter. When you have reached 15 layers, pour over the ground walnuts and pat out gently to form an even layer. Top with the remaining 12 filo sheets, brushing clarified butter between each layer.
Brush the top with more butter and, using a sharp knife, portion the baklava – I like to cut it into diamond shapes. Bake for 20 minutes, turning the tray now and then so it cooks evenly, until golden all over. Turn down the oven by 20 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes.
Remove from the oven, leave to stand for five minutes, then pour the strained sugar syrup evenly over the top. Sprinkle with the ground pistachios, then leave to cool, ideally overnight, before recutting and serving. The baklava will keep in an airtight container for three to five days.