If you are anything like me, you were taught to never show up to a party empty handed. So, when I was invited to a mid-week 4th of July cookout, I needed something that could be made Sunday, nearly 3 days before the party and still be as good (or better) than the day it was made. This meant cupcakes, pies, and anything that could become stale was out. I thought about making sangria and letting the flavors meld together over the 3 days, but then realized driving with an open container of booze on the 4th of July was unwise. So I turned to my trusty baklava recipe. See, the trick to good baklava is letting it sit for at least 24 hours after pouring the honeyed syrup over the layers of phyllo and nuts. This waiting period gives the syrup time to soak into all of the cinnamon-y layers and glue the bars together.
1 lb walnuts, finely chopped
1/2 cup sugar
2.5 teaspoons quality cinnamon
3 sticks butter, melted
1 16-ounce package phyllo sheets
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup honey
1.5 teaspoon vanilla
1. Preheat oven to 300°F
2. Combine walnuts, 1/2 cup sugar, and cinnamon. The box of phyllo dough should come with 2 individually wrapped 8-ounce packages. Unwrap one package and cut sheets in half. To keep the sheets from drying out, place between two sheets of wax paper and cover with a clean damp towel.**
3. Using a pastry brush, spread a light layer of melted butter along the bottom and sides of a pan approximately 10×14 inches.
4. Layer 16 half sheets on the bottom of the pan, buttering each sheet as you layer it.
5. Spread a healthy cup of the walnut/sugar mixture this first layer. Top with 10 half sheets of phyllo dough, buttering between each layer and staggering to cover the pan.
6. Repeat step 5 two more times so that you have 3 nut layers. After the final nut layer, simply layer the rest of the phyllo sheets on top, brushing the top with a final coat of butter.
7. Using a sharp knife cut halfway through the baklava. I like to cut it in quarters lengthwise and thin cut it on the diagonal, creating diamond like shapes.
8. Bake in a preheated oven for 1 hour.
9. Forty-five minutes into the baking time, begin to make syrup. Bring water, sugar, honey, and lemon juice to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, add vanilla.
10. Remove baklava from the oven and immediately (and very carefully) pour the syrup over the baklava. It will boil and “spit” so, again, be careful.
11. Cover with plastic wrap and foil. Let sit for at least 24 hours, or up to 2 days. The longer it sits, the better it gets.
12. Cut the rest of the way through the baklava, and place in air tight container for up to another 4 days.
** You will use most, if not all of the box of phyllo dough, but only unwrap a package at a time to keep it from drying out.