Her name was Lil’ (short for Lillian). She stood there, barely 4’6” wearing orthopedic shoes, silver hair teased high, in her 1970s-era kitchen. She looked at me and smiled bright, clapping her hands together and said, “OK, let’s make Baklava!”
It was a Monday night, and our husbands were at their weekly Kiwanis Club meeting. I had mentioned a few months back that I wanted to make Baklava together, and she happily obliged. If I was going to learn to make authentic Baklava, I was going to learn from a “little old Greek lady”.
From my bags, I unloaded the groceries she had instructed me to buy. Together we measured and prepared the ingredients, progressing line-by-line down the recipe scrawled on a random piece of notebook paper. She showed me how to carefully layer the nut mixture and brush each sheet of phyllo dough with butter - “don’t skimp on the butter!” – she would say.
As the pastry-laden 9” x 13” baking dish bubbled and browned in the oven, we laughed and talked about the origins of the family recipe she had learned to make as a young girl. I wish I had a selfie of the two of us in her kitchen to capture the evening (no smart phones back in 1999) but her sweet smile is still vivid in my mind. I had learned to make authentic Baklava from a “little old Greek lady,” and the experience was wonderful.
Springtime is “Baklava season,” as I often make it for an Easter treat. It’s not a difficult recipe, but it does take time, care, and a few technical tips from a “little old Greek lady” don’t hurt. In her memory, please enjoy ‘Lil’s recipe with my compliments.
¾ Lbs. Butter
1 Lb. package of Filo Sheets
1.5 Lbs. Walnuts - Coarsely Chopped
1.5 tsp Ground Cinnamon
½ Cup Sugar
Boil Together: (5-7 minutes)
2 Cups Sugar
2 Cups Water
¼ Cup Honey
1 tsp Lemon Juice
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and butter a 9”x13” baking dish. Begin by layering 8 sheets of filo dough, folded in half, brushing each layer with melted butter. Sprinkle ¼ of the nut mixture on top. Add 3 sheets of filo, folded, and brushed with butter and top with nut mixture. Repeat 2 more times. Top the last layer of nuts with 7 sheets of filo, folded, and brushed with butter.
Cut pan into 3” by 3” squares, cut each square across into a triangle. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake for 20-30 minutes more until golden brown. Remove from oven and pour cooled sugar syrup over hot pastry. Cool to room temp and re-cut before serving. Store at room temperature.