Baklava seems like a complicated dessert with its many flaky layers. Let’s begin to demystify the magic of baklava by reviewing the steps and equipment involved, starting with the best baking pan for the job.
What is the Best Pan to Make Baklava in?
The best pan to make baklava in is a 13 by 9-inch rectangular cake pan. Straight-sided, metal cake pans without a nonstick coating like this one from USA Pan are your best option, since baklava needs to be cleanly cut in the pan, and nonstick surfaces are particularly susceptible to scarring from knives.
The pan you choose has a significant effect on the results, but there are couple other things you should know about in order to make the best baklava possible. I’m about to share with you my secrets for making the perfect authentic baklava.
Can You Make Baklava in a Glass Pan?
Light colored metal pans will yield the best results, but any 13 by 9 baking pan will work in a pinch, including glass pans. It’s important to note though, that glass has different properties than metal, and that your baking time will be affected for this reason.
Because baklava takes a relatively long time to bake (most recipes call for at least 45 minutes, up to 1 hour and 15 minutes in the oven) using glass vs. metal will have an even greater impact.
Glass in an insulator while metal is a conductor of heat. This means that items cooked in a glass pan won’t heat as quickly as metal, but once heated will cook faster and brown more quickly than if cooked in a metal pan. If using a glass pan in a recipe that calls for a metal one, you should lower the oven by 25 degrees and start checking about ten minutes earlier than suggested. If your baklava seems like it’s browning too quickly, you should cover the pan with aluminum foil to prevent further browning on top.
You can also make baklava in a ceramic pan or a dark metal baking pan. Just pay attention to their unique heat properties as well—dark colored pans for instance will brown more quickly than light colored pans. For more information on this phenomenon and the heat-conducting properties of different materials, check out this Recipe Recon article.
Also, like I mentioned before with nonstick pans, glass and ceramic are also especially fragile. Since you need to cut baklava in the pan, you should be extra cautious not to cut into the pan. This not only damages the pan’s appearance, but over time little divots in the glass or ceramic can give way to larger cracks, creating a potentially dangerous situation. You should always inspect a glass pan before using to ensure it’s free from cracks to be safe.
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How Many Layers of Phyllo Does Baklava Have?
One of the defining characteristics of baklava is its many thin layers. In fact, phyllo, or alternatively spelled filo or fillo, means “leaf” in Greek, so phyllo dough is aptly named due to its extremely thin sheets that crinkle at the edges much like a thin leaf.
While filo dough can be made from scratch or purchased fresh from Greek markets, it is most commonly purchased frozen in one-pound packages. There are usually two rolls per package, eight ounces each, containing approximately twelve paper-thin sheets each. Since most baklava recipes call for one 1-pound package of phyllo dough, if you end up using all or most of the sheets, that would be up to twenty-four layers of phyllo dough, or possibly more!
It’s important to completely defrost packages of phyllo dough in the refrigerator overnight and remove from fridge about 30 minutes before using to bring up to room temperature. Since phyllo dough sheets are so very thin, one must handle delicately to avoid breakage. It’s also helpful to work as quickly as possible and keep the extra sheets covered with dampened paper towels until you’re ready to use them so they don’t dry out and crack.
Phyllo sheets typically are around 18 by 13 inches, but once defrosted you can easily trim them to fit the size of your pan. I love to take the trimmings and brush them with butter and a cinnamon-sugar mixture for a sweet breadstick-like treat!
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When Should I Cut My Baklava?
Somewhat surprisingly, you should actually cut baklava before baking. Once phyllo dough is baked it becomes extremely brittle, and if you try to make the initial cuts after baking it will likely turn into a big pile of crumbs. You will have to recut the baklava along the same lines after you bake it, but the initial cuts will help immensely.
Baklava is traditionally cut into diamond-shaped pieces. To achieve this shape, first cut into four even strips the long way, then cross-cut diagonally. You can also do both sets of cuts diagonally for a slightly different shape, but I find it’s easier to make the straight cuts first and results in more uniform pieces. It’s essential to use a sharp knife for making clean cuts, and it also helps to use a ruler to create evenly-sized pieces for a professional look.
How Do You Keep Baklava from Getting Soggy?
A common mishap with baklava is it turning out soggy. The trick to keeping baklava from getting soggy has to do with the temperature of the syrup in relation to the baklava. You want to pour the fully cooled syrup over the hot baklava right out of the oven to ensure the phyllo dough will fully absorb the syrup and turn crisp once cooled. If the two are the same temperature, the layers won’t fully absorb the syrup, and the syrup will pool up at the bottom, which causes the baklava to turn soggy.
Contrary to what you might think, letting a baklava sit for some period of time does not make it soggy. Baklava actually gets better if you let it sit for at least six hours, up to overnight, at room temperature. Letting it sit for a bit allows the syrup to fully penetrate and relax the layers, creating a more cohesive dessert.
On the opposite end of the soggy spectrum, phyllo dough is prone to drying out, since it’s mainly composed of flour and water and contains almost no fat. Brushing the sheets liberally with melted butter or another form or liquid fat like coconut oil, as an example, is essential for creating those flaky, crispy-but-not-too-dry, layers. The butter layers will steam in the oven between the sheets of dough creating layers.
Are There Different Variations of Baklava?
Baklava originated in the Ottoman Empire 500 years ago, so naturally there are many different variations of baklava today. The commonalities of all baklava recipes are that they are made from phyllo-like dough and finely chopped nuts, with a sweet syrup poured on top. The ingredients and flavors can differ a bit in different parts of the world.
For example, in Lebanon, the syrup used for baklava is infused with orange blossom and rose water. Turkish baklava is traditionally made with a mixture of pistachios, walnuts, and almonds, or sometimes hazelnuts. In Greece, baklava is made with exactly thirty-three layers of phyllo dough, which are to represent the years of Jesus’ life. Throughout the Middle East and around the world, you will find many variations and stories centered around this customary dessert.