Baklava is one of my favourite things—I love honey, and crisp phyllo as a carrier, with layers of chopped nuts. It’s something few of us consider making from scratch… it seems like a fancy, finicky thing, but the truth is, it’s not. Phyllo is very forgivable, so you can layer it with butter, honey, nuts and spices and however you shape and cut it, it will be delicious. (If it looks like a disaster, call it baklava mess, and serve it in a dish, with a fork and an extra drizzle of honey, as if you intended to do it that way all along.)
We have some pretty fabulous honey here in Alberta—the number one honey producing province in Canada. At any given time I have a half dozen jars on my shelf in varying shades of gold. So when the Alberta Beekeepers Commission (who have served Alberta beekeepers since 1933) asked me to come up with a recipe using Alberta honey, I was happy to oblige. It’s been a rough year for honey – and our local beekeepers.
There’s a family in Calgary who own Anatolia Turkish Cuisine in the Crossroads Market, who make the most fantastic baklava with ultra-green pistachios imported from Turkey. They have one of the only phyllo rolling machines in Canada (they make their own), and sometimes roll the paper-thin pastry by hand. I went to hang out with the couple and their kids as they made dozens of panfuls one weekend, and it inspired me to make another batch.
Baklava is made with layers of buttery phyllo (you can buy it in the freezer section of the grocery store, alongside other frozen pastry—just don’t mix it up with puff pastry), filled with finely chopped nuts and soaked with a honey syrup. The flavour of the honey is paramount here, so you can play around with the different kinds of honey you have on the shelf— whether you like mild, floral or darker, more intensely-flavoured honey. All of it works in baklava.
Occasionally I toss a cinnamon stick or a few whole cardamom pods into the honey syrup along with the strip of lemon to infuse it with a bit of spice, but it’s not necessary—either way, the flavour of the honey really shines through. I love making baklava during the holidays—it’s suitably festive, with its spiced nuts and flaky, sticky sweetness, and keeps better than a lot of cookies and bars out there. And besides eating it out of hand, baklava is perfect for an after-dinner dessert, perhaps with a dollop of whipped cream or mascarpone.