Rich and Flaky Christmas Bakalava

Bakalava is a rich pastry made from layers of flaky dough and nuts held together with honey or syrup.

Its roots lie in ancient societies of Greece, and the Middle East and maybe that is one reason why Christians like it at Christmas time.

1 pound frozen phyllo dough (or fillo dough)

3 ¼ cups sugar, divided

1 ½ cups water

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 pound shelled walnuts

½ teaspoon ground allspice

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoons ground cloves

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

¾ pound unsalted butter (3 sticks)

whole cloves, optional garnish

Thaw phyllo dough according to package directions – keep refrigerated in original wrapper until ready to use.

In a heavy sauce pan combine 3-cups sugar, water and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently to dissolve sugar. Cook without stirring until syrup reaches 212-218 degrees on a candy thermometer (at this temperature syrup will fall from a cold spoon in a sheet). Remove syrup from heat and set aside to cool.

Finely chop walnuts. Mix together well walnuts, ¼-cup sugar, allspice, nutmeg, ground cloves, and cinnamon. Set aside.
Clarify butter. Cut butter into smaller pieces, place in heavy pan and melt on low heat until bubbly and foamy. Simmer until foaming stops and the liquid turns clear (about 30-40 minutes). Remove from heat, skim foam from top and strain the clear butter through cheesecloth into another container, being careful to leave the milk solids and any milky liquid in the pan.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter sides and bottom of a 9×13 pan. Unwrap phyllo dough and carefully roll out; if needed, cut dough to fit the pan. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and a damp dish towel while not in use (to prevent drying). Layer 12 sheets of phyllo in prepared pan, brushing each layer with butter, starting at the edges and working to the center. Sprinkle with approximately 1-cup nuts. Layer with 8 more sheets, brushing each layer with butter, sprinkle with nuts. Continue until all phyllo and nuts are used, ending with 6-8 sheets of phyllo on top.

Cut baklava into 40-48 pieces, careful to cut clear through bottom layer of phyllo. If desired, garnish each piece baklava with a whole clove. Bake 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 200 degrees and continue to bake 30 minutes longer. Remove from oven and pour cooled syrup over warm pastry; baklava will soak up most of the syrup as it cools. Let stand for several hours before serving.