So this was my last week of work as a research assistant – in fact, I’m typing this up in the airport at Stockholm during a 5 hour layover to PARIS! Adventure is out there! (CAW CAW)To be honest, it really surprised me how sentimental these final days have been at the hospital. Not that it’s been a bad experience, far from it – I’ve just felt so ready to move on and take that next step in medical school. But I could never have anticipated when I started this job how deeply this community would resonate with and change me, not only on a professional level but also on the ongoing path of personal growth, and it’s been overwhelming to fully realize this. So I refuse to say that this is goodbye, but rather – until we meet again!
Bizarrely – whenever people heard that this week was my last week, it felt like I had announced a funeral instead of my resignation. One of my patients started tearing up (which of course made me tear up too!); I have also received multiple threats (I think they’re kidding…right? :P) from people joking to sabotage my medical school acceptance or make me miss my flight to Europe. Like, guys, it’s not like I’m moving to the mountains and becoming a hermit. I’ll still visit New York from Chicago whenever I can!
It’s also somewhat amusing (and possibly a little freaky) how extra nice everyone has been to me this last week. I mean, definitely puffed up the old ego a bit (quick, someone please help deflate with some Perspective!), but I do get a little suspicious when my very Greek-from-Greece-and-goes-back-to-Greece-every-year boss raves that this baklava recipe is THE best baklava he has ever tasted! Like, better than Astoria, better than Greece, THE best – and this was my first time ever trying to make baklava, so what gives?
Perhaps one of this recipe’s virtues is that it can’t really be directly compared to traditional Greek or Turkish baklava – to my understanding, cherries or fruit in general aren’t a typical ingredient in these flaky pastries (of course please correct me if I’m mistaken). I actually was not all too sure it would work, but for some reason I really wanted to try it because I love the thought of cherries and walnuts together. Thankfully, according to my very happy taste testers, the cherry adds a unique and definitely welcome element both in flavor and texture – a layer of chew to contrast the flaky nutty crunch, a sweet and tart floral pop amidst the richness of each buttery bite.
And then I threw in some cardamom, well, just because. I think cardamom may be my new favorite spice, even over cinnamon! Next time a recipe calls for cinnamon, maybe try substituting some cardamom just for kicks – cardamom’s warmth and sweetness keeps it within the same flavor profile, but adds a element of novelty subtly reminiscent of chai.
So while I don’t want to overhype expectations that this baklava actually beats out authentic baklava from Greece, I and my loyal taste testers certainly can attest that this is Very Good Baklava. Maybe even Great. Why don’t you give it a try and let me know how you think it ranks? After all, this world certainly is big enough for more than one “favorite” baklava 😉
Cherry Walnut Baklava
inspired loosely by Natasha’s recipe
makes one 9×13″ pan, cut as you wish – about 48 generously sized diamonds or double that for smaller triangles
dairy free/vegan options available
- 1 lb package frozen phyllo sheets, thawed per package instructions
- 1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) melted butter or vegan butter (oil works as well if preferred)
- One 9 oz (~3 cups) bag walnuts, finely chopped/coarsely ground
- 3 teaspoons ground cardamom, divided
- 16 oz bag frozen or fresh pitted dark sweet cherries
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup honey
- 3/4 cup water
- optional – reserve a garnish of ground/chopped walnuts and cherry juice to sprinkle & dab on after baking
- First, make the cherry filling by mashing them up and reducing in a pot until the consistency of thick jam. Set aside to cool.
- Next grease a 9×13 pan well – you can also line with parchment paper to make removing the finished baklava easier later. Preheat oven to 325 F.
- Next, see how many 9×13 sheets you have in your phyllo dough package. If they are full sheet size, cut in half to make double of roughly 9×13 sheets. Numbers may vary from package to package, which will influence your strategy on how many layers and how many sheets per layer your baklava will have.
- The basic structure of baklava is: a thick (more sheets) bottom layer, then alternating filling and thinner (fewer sheets) layers, then a thick top layer. In my case with the phyllo brand I got (Filo Factory, if you wanted to know), my baklava blueprint ended up being: 8 sheets bottom layer, walnut filling, 5 sheets middle layer, walnut filling, 5 sheets middle layer, cherry filling, 5 sheets middle layer, walnut filling, and finally 8 sheets top layer. You can adjust these numbers as needed based on how many sheets of phyllo your package has.
- With this blueprint in mind, onto what to do with it. A few tips to keep in mind as you’re working: Keep any sheets of phyllo you’re not working on covered with a lightly damp towel so they don’t dry out. Don’t stress over rips and tears as it really doesn’t matter in the final product. Trim sheets as you go because pans get slightly wider as you work your way up from the bottom.
- Lay your first sheet in the greased pan. Use a pastry brush to lightly dab and brush the sheet with a thin layer of melted butter. Lay down a second sheet on top and repeat until your bottom layer is done.
- Brush melted butter on the top sheet of the bottom layer. Sprinkle about 1/4th of the ground/chopped walnuts and a teaspoon of cardamom. Repeat with another middle layer, walnuts/cardamom, and another middle layer.
- Take the cooled cherry filling and spread evenly over the topmost layer. Repeat the sheet & buttering process for another middle layer, walnuts/cardamom, and then the final top thick layer. Brush melted butter on the topmost layer.
- Cut the baklava BEFORE baking. Bake for about 60-80 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through for even baking, until the top looks flaky and lightly golden.
- While baking, combine the water, sugar, and honey in a pot (can just use the same one as with the cherries honestly) and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Bring down to a simmer and let simmer, uncovered, for about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
- Immediately after pulling the baked baklava from the oven, evenly pour the honey syrup all over the baklava. If you wish to garnish with some chopped/ground walnuts and cherry juice, now is the time.
- Let cool, uncovered, to room temperature. Store uncovered at room temperature or covered with a towel/not in an airtight container. Baklava is best after an overnight rest at least to let the honey syrup soak through and set, but is delicious anytime 🙂 since there are no preservatives in the cherry layer, I would suggest storing for no more than 3-4 days – which shouldn’t be a problem, honestly!
Nutritional information: These pastries are rich and they taste like it too. It definitely gave me a chuckle to see the phyllo sheets advertised as a “low fat” product, which yeah I guess it is technically – but it kind of defeats the purpose if you need to slather it in butter to prepare it! While marginally better nutritionally than cake because of the nutritional contributions from the nuts and fruits, enjoy these as a treat.
Nutritional information (calculated without vegan subs, estimating about 48 generously sized pieces):