If you don't know what baklava is, here's a little history lesson for ya. It's a middle eastern/mediterranean dessert (popular in Greek restaurants, though my Turkish grandmother prepared it as part of her culture) that combines layers of fillo dough and chopped nuts that are smothered in a simple syrup that absorbs into the pastry, making it sticky and super-sweet. And if that doesn't entice you enough, here's a picture.
Not only is it one of the easiest desserts to make, but it's impossible to mess up. I'll post the recipe but it doesn't even really matter if you follow it. The first time I tried to make it I used way less fillo dough and more sugar, and it was great. The second time (that I photographed) I used more fillo and less sugar (as per my father's request), and it was still great.
I used walnuts and breadcrumbs for the filling (minimal breadcrumbs, supposedly my grandma used to use like 7 slices of bread but I thought that was a bit excessive, so I used a half a cup). But some recipes call for almonds or pistachios. I just like walnuts best (and sometimes have a slight allergy to almonds, best to stay away from them).
So basically you just layer the ingredients to your liking. Mine goes like this: 2 slices fillo, brush with melted butter, two slices fillo, brush with butter, one slice fillo, top with half the nut mixture, two slices fillo, butter, two slices fillo, butter, two slices fillo, butter, two slices fillo, rest of the nut mixture, two slices fillo, butter, one slice fillo.
But I swear it's easy.
Now, sorry to backtrack but it's important, while you're layering and brushing and all that, get a small pot on the stove with two cups of sugar and two cups of water. Let this come to a boil (until the sugar is entirely dissolved) and then simmer for around 15 minutes, or until the mixture starts to thicken. Then when you're done layering, cut the baklava into pieces (it's way too messy to try and cut it after it's baked) and spoon about 1/4 cup of the sugar syrup over the baklava. This helps to keep the top layer of fillo in place (I didn't do this the first time and while it doesn't change the taste at all, it prevents the fillo from drying and curling; it's all about looking pretty).
16 oz walnuts (amounts to around 3 cups when crushed)
1/2 c. breadcrumbs (I used a slice of stale white bread)
1/2 stick butter, melted
package frozen fillo dough
2 1/3 c. sugar, divided
2 c. water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Crush or food process the walnuts to a grainy mixture (should be partially powder but still have small chunks of walnuts). In a medium bowl, combine walnuts, breadcrumbs and 1/3 cup sugar. Set aside.
To make the simple syrup, combine water and 2 cups sugar in a small pot and bring to a boil. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, simmer for around 15 minutes (or until the liquid thickens slightly). Remove from heat.
Generously butter a 9 x 13 inch pan and layer two pieces of fillo dough (if the dough doesn't fit the pan, feel free to trim the edges). Using a basting brush, brush the top of the second sheet with the melted butter. Add two more layers of fillo, brush with butter. Add one more layer and then top with half the nut mixture. Top that with two layers of fillo, brush with butter, and repeat this process until there's eight layers of fillo on top of the nut mixture. Top with the rest of the nuts, then two layers of fillo, brush with butter, and one final layer of fillo.
Score the top of the baklava with a very sharp knife (cut into as many squares as you want) and drizzle 1/4 cup simple syrup over the top.
Bake for 50 minutes, or until the top of the baklava is golden brown. If it seems to be browning too fast, feel free to cover with a piece of tin foil.
Once the baklava is out of the oven, pour the rest of the simple syrup over the top. It might seem like a lot, but it absorbs into the fillo dough. Let the baklava rest out on counter (uncovered) for AT LEAST four hours. This is the hardest part, but try to resist the temptation to cut a square as soon as it's out of the oven. The syrup is the most important part and if it's not entirely absorbed the baklava will be dry.
**Fillo dough dries out really quickly, so make sure to cover the sheets with plastic wrap and a damp cloth while you're working.