For many years, at Christmas it was just me and my children and on alternate years, my daughter only. That's what divorce does to you on holidays. We always made it special, however, and it was fun. It was filled with so many special memories for me, and I hope my children as well.
During one year that my daughter and I were alone, on Christmas Eve day we got the crazy thought of how fun it would be to surprise my mom and dad for Christmas Day. That thought turned into a should we? and then it became a let's do it! and we jumped in the car and drove ten hours. The only call made was to a hotel to make sure we could get a room. A room at the inn so to speak! We stopped once and found the biggest poinsettia plant we could find and when we knocked on the door to my parents house we hid behind it. My mom was so surprised and my dad had tears of joy. One of the most special times my daughter and I will hold in our hearts.
We would also make Baklava. No, we aren't Greek but we decided to give it a try one year and after that made it every year. Well, until she grew up and moved away. But even in college when she would come home the first request would be to make Baklava. Oh, how I miss those days. The years move on but the memories stay and isn't that what traditions and holidays are all about? She is in China again this year and I miss her but I hope she's making Baklava and creating new memories with new friends to hold on to in her later years. And when she's finally home, I'll ask if we can make Baklava together once again.
So we sing, we dance and on the ninth day I give to thee...
16 oz phyllo dough thawed by package instructions
1 1/4 cups unsalted butter 10 oz or 2 1/2 sticks, melted
1 lb walnuts, finely chopped (about 4 cups)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice (juice of 1/2 lemon)
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup honey
Thaw phyllo dough by package instructions (this is best done overnight in the fridge, then place it on the counter for 1 hr before starting your recipe to bring it to room temp).
Trim phyllo dough to fit your baking dish. My phyllo package had 2 rolls with a total of 40 sheets that measured 9x14 so I had to trim them slightly. You can trim one stack at a time then cover with a damp towel to keep from drying out.
Butter the bottom and sides of a 13x9 non-stick baking pan.
Start with your honey sauce (which needs time to cool as baklava bakes).
In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup honey, 2 Tbsp lemon juice, and 3/4 cup water. Bring to a boil over med/high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved, then reduce heat to med/low and boil additional 4 min without stirring. Remove from heat and let syrup cool while preparing baklava.
How to make Baklava: Preheat Oven to 325˚F.
Pulse walnuts 10 times in a food process or until coarsely ground/ finely chopped. In a medium bowl, stir together: 4 cups finely chopped walnuts and 1 tsp cinnamon.
Place 10 phyllo sheets into baking pan one at a time, brushing each sheet with butter once it's in the pan before adding the next (i.e. place phyllo sheet into pan, brush the top with butter, place next phyllo sheet in pan, butter the top, etc. etc.). Keep remaining phyllo covered with a damp towel at all times. Spread about 1/5 of nut mixture (about 3/4 cup) over phyllo dough.
Add 5 buttered sheets of phyllo, then another layer of nuts. Repeat x 4. Finish off with 10 layers of buttered phyllo sheets. Brush the very top with butter.
Cut pastry into 1 1/2" wide strips, then cut diagonally to form diamond shapes. Bake at 325˚F for 1 hour and 15 min or until tops are golden brown.
Remove from oven and immediately spoon cooled syrup evenly over the hot baklava (you'll hear it sizzle). This will ensure that it stays crisp rather than soggy. Let baklava cool completely, uncovered and at room temp. For best results, let baklava sit 4-6 hours or overnight at room temperature for the syrup to penetrate and soften the layers. Garnish baklava with finely chopped nuts or drizzle with melted chocolate. Store at room temp, covered with a tea towel for 1 to 2 weeks.
**NOTE You may also sprinkle sugar or bread crumbs in-between the phyllo sheets to make the dough crispier.