Phyllo Fail..Baklava Success..and a GIVEAWAY!

June 27, 2011 at 1:39 am | Posted in Daring Bakers, Dessert, Giveaway, Pastry | 76 Comments
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Back in 2009, a fellow Daring Baker friend and I were discussing my 1st Daring Bakers challenge, and what I should do.  I was throwing out ideas, and like first pitches in baseball..they were all over the place.  Baklava was one of them, and then we both joked how hated I would be if I made it a requirement to make the phyllo dough from scratch.  I swear on every pair of jeans with broken zippers, I never thought I’d see the day.  Well, that day has come, and Erica, nobody hates you, and in fact, I think they’re loving it!

Erica of Erica’s Edibles was our host for the Daring Baker’s June challenge.  Erica challenged us to be truly DARING by making homemade phyllo dough and then to use that homemade dough to make Baklava.

OK..I suck.  I really do.  I gave it a shot, but not a good one.  We had a blast of humidity here, on and off the past month, and I just wasn’t able to muster up the motivation and desire to continue rolling out paper-thin sheets of dough for three hours.  I started, and by sheet number 3, I threw in the towel.  They ripped, they stuck together, they laughed in my face.  I buttered each crumpled mess of three doughy phyllo sheets, sprinkled them with some of my sugar nut mixture, then rolled them into roses (scrunch and roll, it’s actually quite simple), baked them, and plopped them on top of some of my baked baklava, drizzled with a little extra honey syrup.

I feel like a cop-out, but the truth is..I’m a horrible super, stretchy, thin dough rollerProof is in the pudding..look at my strudel dough from back in ’09.  Everyone had gorgeous, stretchy, transparent sheets of dough that they rolled and stretched to kingdom come…they truly could have been hung as sheer curtains, that’s how perfect they were.  In the mean time, I was barely able to roll mine larger than a trash can cover, and it was completely unyielding.  It just sort of stayed flat, didn’t even bend, then tore in half when I tried to lift it with the tops of my hands to stretch it.  I just used what I had, and ended up with maybe two flakey layers upon baking.   I think I just have to accept the fact that I’ll never be part of any tablecloth-dough stretching team, for strudel or phyllo.

However, I’d never made baklava before, so this was definitely a challenge for me.  Thankfully, I bought 2 lbs of phyllo as backup, almost expecting phyllo failure.  With that said,  I am no longer intimidated by the process of putting together a baklava. I always put off making it..thinking there was no way I wouldn’t end up with a mess of crumpled phyllo as I layered it in the pan.  Oh, and the cutting/scoring part..I swore it would be impossible, and I would end up pulling and tearing each square or diamond into an inside out mess before baking.

Well..none of the above happened, so I’m pleased as punch, but the thing is..I can’t stop eating it..and it’s scaring me.  I’m scared because I can feel my organs ready to protest as each morsel of dripping baklava permeates my system with sugar.  I don’t think I’ve ever had this much sugar in my body at once, and I don’t think I’ve had this little sleep either.  I’ve been on a constant sugar high every night for the past week.’s just so damn good!

I’d like to share a little of my history with baklava and sticky, dripping Greek (actually of Turkish origin, thanks to Emre!) pastries in general, with you all.  When I was in college, there were several pizzerias peppered throughout the streets of our city campus.  They each had a purpose, so they were all used..none left out.  One pizzeria was the after bar/clubbing pizza place.  You always went there after an alcohol-laden night, even those who were hooking up.  It was fun seeing booze-induced couplings scarfing down gooey pizza before the inevitable boom boom .  Oh, the pizza was good.

Another made phenomenal subs.  In fact, every time I walked in, the owner knew ‘my sandwich’ and immediately got it started, and it was always absolute perfection.  It was a hoagie roll, split, spread with mayo, topped with provolone, toasted, then piled with crabmeat salad, the real stuff.  I know it sounds gross, but I loved it.

The next one was the ‘after game’ pizzeria, or after all classes pizzeria, for those who liked to supplement their food plan with pizza.  Sort of a college version of an amuse bouche, well, several amuse bouches, prior to the main meal.

THEN, there was the baklava pizzeria.  We called it this because there was always a fresh pan of homemade baklava on the counter next to the cash register. It was a small place, so when it would get really crowded, my roommate, and others, would grab a piece or two from the pan and scurry back to our table with devious looks.  Thievery!  Criminals! It was bad, but the baklava was  This is where and when I fell in love with baklava.  I craved it immensely.  I couldn’t go in that damn place without buying a piece (Yes, I did pay).  This is also when I knew baklava was a very dangerous little pastry, and it led me to other dangerous Greek pastries, and many a Greek festival at Greek churches near every place I lived after college, where I indulged shamelessly.

Well..I managed to break the habit and stay away.  In fact, I hadn’t had baklava or any Greek or Turkish pastry for about 10 years prior to this challenge.  Now I know how to make it.  I’m SO screwed.  What’s even worse is..they make phyllo sheets to fit 13 x 9 pans perfectly, so it makes for quick and easy layering.  Once again, SO screwed.

Since I copped-out on the homemade phyllo, and had 2 lbs of store-bought phyllo, I didn’t make a small 9 x 9 inch pan of baklava, which was the recipe given to us, so we wouldn’t have to roll out 30 to 40 sheets.  With 2 lbs of phyllo, I made a version of THIS RECIPE for a 13 x 9 pan ( I used the syrup from the challenge, though, with a few changes).  I love and curse this man at the same time.  This recipe is pretty much a compillation of all the awesome baklava I’ve ever had, from the pizzeria in college, to every Greek festival I’ve ever been to.  I did make some changes.  I used equal amounts of cashews, pistachios and walnuts, but then realized I was a cup short of 6 1/2 cups of nuts, and the only nuts I had left were macadamias.  I guess you could call this a crazy combo nut baklava, but it’s good crazy, as in, I wish I could stop eating it and trash it ‘good crazy’.  I also added a little fresh squeezed orange juice to the syrup, along with cinnamon sticks, orange peel and split and scraped vanilla beans, to flavor it before straining.

A few quick notes and hints;

  • Pour hot syrup on cooled baklava instead of cool syrup on hot baklava.  This prevents a soggy bottom
  • Even though I didn’t tear the slices of baklava inside out, I’m a horrid baklava cutter.  My rows were not only incredibly uneven, but raggedy.  Three sizes of baklava in one pan.
  • Super sharp knife comes in handy, as does a super sharp ability to draw straight lines.
  • Yes, I did attempt to make each slice pretty with phyllo hearts.  FAIL.
  • I didn’t want diamond shapes, I really wanted squares!
  • Baklava can last a month if the water in the syrup evaporates when cooked down, or obviously, if you don’t use water in your syrup.
  • Make this, then give it away after one piece.  You’ll thank me later.
  • I just ate another piece.

I almost forgot..the GIVEAWAY!  Colleen from contacted me last week and offered me $50.00 worth of free t-shirts with any prints or photos I’d like.  I decided I wanted to transfer this generous offer to my readers.

ooshirts, is a rapidly-growing custom apparel company. They can and will print anything you want on these shirts – whether it be your blog, company or website name, a memorable quote, a favorite saying, a photo of my baklava (hehe), or a favorite photo etc etc. This comes out to 4 to 5 shirts, depending on what design you end up choosing.  You have four chances to win this giveaway, use as many as you’d like 🙂

1.  Leave a comment.  Maybe tell me what you would have printed on these shirts.  Go check out their site and see some of their custom shirts and the awesome possibilities!

2.  Follow me on Twitter @parsleynsage

3.  Follow @ooshirts on Twitter

4.  Tweet this giveaway. @parsleynsage is giving away $50.00 worth of shirts with prints and/or photos of your choice. Comment to enter!

The winner will be chosen one week from today, and will receive a coupon code to use for their free shirts and prints, at  Good luck everybody!

Back to the challenge.  To see all the real Daring Bakers, the ones who actually made and rolled out tons of sheets of phyllo, and turned out some gorgeous baklava’s, click on the links to their blogs, HERE.  To get the recipe, plus step- by-step photos, for phyllo and the challenge recipe for baklava, click HERE.

My Nutty Take on an Awesome Baklava Recipe
adapted from, with my revisions, John’s Jotttings

2 pounds phyllo dough (approx. 40 sheets)
2 cups finely chopped walnuts
2 cups finely chopped unsalted cashew nuts
1 1/2 cups finely chopped unsalted pistachio nuts
1 cup finely chopped macadamia nuts
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3/4 pound unsalted butter (melted)

1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups honey
1 cup water
1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
2 cinnamon sticks
1 large vanilla bean, split
1 long strip of orange peel, pith scraped off

Make the Syrup:
1. Combine all ingredients in a medium pot, scraping the vanilla bean into the mixture and throwing in the pods.  Heat over medium high heat. Stir occasionally until sugar has dissolved.

2. Boil for 10 minutes, stir occasionally. Once boiled for 10 minutes remove from heat and let cool.  Do not strain yet, let the flavors steep in the honey, water and sugar until the baklava has baked and cooled.

Build the Baklava:
1. Grease a 13×9 pan (bottom & sides) and set aside. Mix well the nuts, sugar and cinnamon in a bowl and set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place a pan of water on the bottom rack.

3. Set aside one full-size sheet of phyllo dough. Cover with plastic wrap.

4. Cut remaining phyllo sheets into 13×9 sheets. Actually, measure your pan and cut the sheets to match the actual inside dimensions. On my pan it is actually 12″ x 8″, for example. With a big sharp knife you should be able to cut all of the phyllo at the same time. You will most likely have a lot of left over phyllo – consider finding another dish where you could use the smaller pieces of leftover phyllo dough.

5. Carefully lay the full-size phyllo sheet into the greased pan, folding over the pan edges. With a pastry brush, liberally apply melted butter.

6. Lay a cut sheet of phyllo into the bottom of the pan, and with a pastry brush liberally apply melted butter. Repeat 9 more times, so that you have the one full sheet and 10 smaller sheets as your bottom layer.

7. Sprinkle 2 cups of the nut mixture into the pan. Lay 6 more sheets of phyllo on top, making sure to liberally apply the melted butter between each sheet. Repeat this 3 more times, so that you have 4 separate layers of the walnut mixture. For the top layer place as many phyllo sheets on top as you have remaining, again making sure to liberally butter between each sheet. Using a sharp plastic spatula, carefully fold over the large sheet of phyllo that should still be extended over the edge back onto the top, so that you can see down the inside edges of the pan. In effect you now have one big baklava package wrapped with your initial phyllo sheet. Using a very, very sharp serrated knife, carefully score the baklava into whatever shape you want. A diamond pattern is the traditional shape. Try to cut about half-way down into the baklava when you do this.

8. Bake for 2 1/2 to 3 hours at 300 degrees until brown.

9. Let the baklava cool completely.  Strain the syrup, then reheat until hot. Slowly pour over the cooled baklava.  Cover with plastic wrap and let the baklava absorb the syrup for at least 4 hours.  Can be kept refrigerated for up to a month.

Note from John: When working with phyllo be sure to work fast and keep the unused portion covered with plastic wrap at all times, as it tends to dry out pretty fast. Also, be sure to carefully follow the defrosting instructions on the phyllo – the sheets will stick together if you try to do a “speed defrost”.

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  1. Lovely baklava! Sorry to hear that you had problems with your homemade pastry… The roses are pretty, nonethelss.



  2. Dang, I wanted to be the first to say that Baklava looks seriously ooey gooey goodness! the hearts and roses are such a great touch too. I love reading about how things went together for you because it’s so entertaining.
    Photos are gorgeous too 🙂 xoxox Suz

  3. I was in stitches. I’d seen a post from one of the other bloggers who’d made her own phyllo and all I could think of was, “why??” I couldn’t imagine working that hard for something I could pick up at the supermarket better than I could make myself.

    I love you. LOL

    The photos of your finished baklava have me drooling ! Joyful drooling, mind you.

  4. I know what you mean..I almost gave up about a dozen times and I am sure I will never make the dough myself again..but your finished baklava looks AMAZING!
    The flowers and hearts are so beautiful..

  5. That is one beautiful baklava! I didn’t make mine since I am traveling and in a very hot country, I decided it would be to hard to manage such a dough.

  6. I can’t find any fail here. These look mouthwatering and fabulous. Looks very challenging to make and you certainly met that challenge!

  7. The baklava looks amazing. I know how difficult it can be to roll dough. Indian women are pretty good at it ‘cos we do it daily (yes, yes – daily). I cannot even think of attempting Daring Bakers stuff. Maybe a couple of years from now 🙂

  8. It makes me feel much better to know I’m not the only one who struggled to make the phyllo (and no doubt the strudel, had I been a Daring Baker at the time). Your experience sounds much like mine, except you had the sense to buy in back-up! Your baklava looks thoroughly gorgeous, I have to say. I’m loving the little rose on top.

  9. Wow – way to turn your gooey, humidity-affected dough into, well, roses! 🙂 Your baklava came out beautifully, and it looks ooey gooey yummy delicious! And love that it reminds you of college. I have to laugh about the baklava-pizzeria – seems a funny combination, but a delicious one! 🙂 Great job, homemade phyllo or not.

  10. The decorations are beautiful, and the combination of nuts and orange sounds amazing. I’d be on a sugar high too. I’m sad that I didn’t make a large pan, and it’s all gone.

  11. Your pastries are GORGEOUS! Well done!

  12. Your baklava looks delicious. The roses are a great touch – good use of your homemade phyllo!! I, too, had a VERY hard time keeping away from the finished baklava – leftovers did not last in our house! Thanks for sharing the fun with us!!

  13. After your experience, I’m not sure if I’m happy or sad I didn’t make time to do this challenge. It does sound fabulous though, especially with the difference nuts and orange juice.

  14. I love that you point out that the ability to cut a straight line is key. I am terrible at cutting straight lines and every time I make baklava, I too have baklavas of all different sizes and variations of diamond shapes. Haha! I do love baklava though, and yours look yummy 🙂

  15. I LOVE baklava!! And these looks do delicious. You’ve made them with such precision – they look so beautiful! Yum! Great giveaway too my friend! I’d want the words “Drug Free Body” printed on the shirts for one of my best friends and myself. If you read the post on my blog about our Chicago adventure, it will make more sense haha.

  16. I’m following you already (duh) and also following ooshirts 🙂 Here’s the tweet:!/notaleaf/status/85337531176058880

  17. I totally understand the difficulty in making really large pieces of thin phyllo! I copped out and made them in muffin tins, so I only had to make thin “small” pieces of phyllo… much more manageable for my rolling challenged self! 🙂 Your final product looks gorgeous though!

  18. I would get the saying ” All my kids have paws” written on my shirt.

  19. Beautiful baklava! You did great on this challenge. I’ve done the baklava before as well, so i didn’t do it again…my butt was my reason. No one likes sweets in this house except for me….haha

    What a fun giveaway! I would probably have something put on it that has to do with my blog. I’ll have to think about that one!

  20. My family 25th Anniversary Family Reunion is this year and we were looking to make t-shirts to commemorate the week long occasion!!


  21. I love having my baklava with a scoop of good vanilla bean ice-cream. Strangely, the ice-cream is a break from the sweetness of the syrup, and the creaminess just goes so well with the crispy layers of phyllo.

    Love the roses!

    (Lol, would have been a laugh if you had done phyllo as your challenge, you’d have had to get it right 😀 I loved the cannolis though, so no loss either way :))

    Looks perfect, nice one!

  22. I’ve never attempted phyllo dough, and I’m afraid to try! Your roses look great. And, the mix of nuts sounds delicious. I’d love to try some baklava with macadamias. I believe I would be in the same situation of not being able to stop eating it!

  23. Your phyllo roses look really good! And your filling sounds scrumptious, I am a fan of all the nuts you used.

  24. The first time I made baklava, all the apprehension I had about it disappeared as well. It’s so much easier than I thought… though I doubt I will ever try to make the phyllo dough from scratch. The little roses were so resourceful.

    If you feel like making it again, I have an amazing chocolate-hazelnut baklava recipe on my blog. It’s my absolute favorite version.

  25. Love the hearts so incredibly adorable

  26. Great job on the challenge! I admire your tenacity. I gave up after trying to roll the second sheet. 🙂

  27. awesome dessert and shirts!

  28. Your baklava looks delicious. I think I would print t-shirts with my blog logo.

  29. même si tu as eu des problème avec la pâte phyllo, le résultat est superbe , les roses et les coeurs trop mignons et tes photos sont merveilleuses!
    merci pour ta visite et ton gentil commentaire ! bises!kouky

  30. My, you had a hard time and still ended up with something THAT pretty? 🙂 I loved the way you decorated each piece, even if they weren’t the exact shape you would have wanted them to be 🙂 Congrats on a great challenge!

    The giveaway sounds great, what about Daring Baker Challenge print? 🙂

  31. I would like to however point out that baklava is in fact a Turkish dessert, not Greek 😉

  32. Homemade phyllo dough or not that looks like a killer baklava! I am yet to post my experiment with Baklava and will be doing so today. I had no problem rolling out the dough too thin but I think I was too skimpy with the melted butter and my baklava was a little too crisp for my liking This is the second time I have tried baklava- the first time with store bought phyllo and this time with home-made and don’t think I’ll be making it again! I miss the baklavas I had on my dubai trip! Sigh!

  33. Yummy!!! These look great. Sorry your filo didn’t turn out quite right, though it is nice to see that 13 X 9 sheets are available pre-made. 🙂

  34. Wow great job with the challenge, lovely baklava, like your hearts too…

  35. The baklava looked beautiful. I would love to have a t-shirt with my adorable puppy’s face on it!

  36. I follow you on twitter

  37. following ooshirts on twitter

  38. Oh you naughty girl back in college…wish I knew you! Loved that story. And those rosettes on top was brilliant, getting a back up was brilliant too. You gave it a shot and turner your mess into a success….makes you a winner in my book. Yes youo are SO in trouble they look amazing!

    My tshirts would say: Cheap Ethnic Eatz wants Lisa’s Baklava

  39. Already a follower on twitter.

  40. Following now @ooshirts on Twitter

  41. Just tweeted

  42. Hahah loved reading your super positive failure 🙂 I’ve been meaning to try baklava once too. I’d also love to win some of those shirts!

  43. I follow you on Twitter. I’m thinking of a logo of my blog, or a cupcake 😀

  44. The baklava looks incredible! I’ve never had any but I’ve always drooled when I’ve seen them in bakeries. They always look delicious!

  45. Your roses and heart shaped decorations are so cute! I also had problems rolling the dough, it’s a real good arm exercise.

  46. Love love love your baklava with the hearts and roses! And it looks so sticky sweet–perfect! I had a bit of a problem with my dough too so my sheets aren’t thin and gorgeous. But it’s so delicious and I had to give most of it away or I’d have eaten them all. Excellent job on this month’s challenge and beautiful pictures!

  47. tweet:

  48. I’d print the lyrics to soft kitty, from the big bang theory-one of my favorite shows! The baklava looks so much better than what I’ve ever made!

  49. Part of me says you can’t control humidity! But then I think of the cultures where baklava comes from, and I think they must know something we do not!! Maybe they are rolling and building simultaneously. Still, I kind of like the dough roses, I’m not gonna lie. And it is always about the attempt!

  50. Awesome rare receipe to find 🙂


  51. Your phyllo roses look great, and I bet they taste awesome on top of a square of sticky baklava – a little extra crunch! Looks beautiful!

  52. Lisa, that is a simply stunning looking baklava-I don’t think I’ve ever seen one look so lusciously edible as this! Love the roses and hearts too! 🙂

  53. I saw your baklava on and thought it looked delish! I love the nut combo and I could definitely see myself devouring this!

    I have always wanted to make a custom shirt. I’d probably have one of my goofy sayings put on a shirt. Or a Gilmore Girls quote!

  54. This looks outstanding! I can’t wait to try it!

  55. seems we had a similar experience with the phyllo! I threw out my batch after a few ruined sheets! but, unlike me, you managed to get a beautiful dessert out of it!

  56. All i can is – wow!
    As usually, you absolutely rock!
    I can definitely say all your challenges interpretations are amazing, unique and beautiful
    and seems like you’ve done it again
    wtg dear!

  57. Oh, Lisa, I’m so sorry the phyllo didn’t work out! I had trouble myself, and ended up throwing out a bunch of sheets that stuck together (forgot to mention that in my post, though, hehe). I found out later that Laurent’s dad actually wanted to buy me some phyllo, just in case I messed up, but Laurent told him I wouldn’t take it very well (and he was right!).

    Well, either way, your finished baklava are beautiful, just perfect! And the little hearts are adorable! Even when you have mishaps, you always do a great job!

  58. Well, your results are stellar that’s for sure. Saw this at Food Porn Daily; that is it!

  59. Congrats! I just saw these on food porn daily – and the certainly deserve to be there! Simply stunning. 😀

  60. Lisa, Your baklava is the prettiest I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot! Looks scrumptious! My mom was Armenian and that side of the family made quite a bit of baklava in my growing up years (I think Armenia may claim it as their own too:)) I really do want to try it, and MAY attempt the phyllo dough.
    Let’s see, I would have “I love my munchkins” put on the front of my t-shirt and maybe my web address on the back:)
    I wish I could “tweet” this, but haven’t touched my account since the first week I joined up, a long time ago! I need to resurrect my account:)
    Have a great 4th of July weekend, Lisa!

  61. Beautiful job on the challenge Lisa! Best, Sandie

  62. I’ve always enjoyed my visits with you Lisa…however, I’ve got to admit this one made me chuckle all the way through with a saddened spirit attached. Oh, did I forget to tell you the aggravation I’ve dealt with when dealing with Phyllo? Many botched jobs later…and now we finally learnt to get along ;o)

    This dessert is really special…and the finishing touch wraps you up with lovely delicate hearts. Thanks…hugs to you…and stop being so hard on yourself.

    Have a great weekend and flavourful wishes,

    P.S. In the Jamaica photo (Mango post)…it was me and my Mom ;o)

  63. i think your work is lovely–baklava is one of my absolute favorite desserts, and you’ve done it justice!
    i’d have to think long and hard about what to print on my shirt, but it’d probably be something like ‘let go and let god’ or ‘pray to god and walk forward’ or something completely odd and random. like me. 🙂

  64. i have a couple of bad memories making pastry. Your baklava turned out amazing!!
    if it wasn’t for all the sugar and butter I’d eat baklava daily :))

  65. i love your blog thanks for doing a giveaway. i’d print the photos we take on the shirts if i won.

  66. Mouth watering! Saw it on FPD and wanted it soo bad! Following u on twitter!

  67. Beautiful baklava! I think I would put a photo of my kid in a heart on my shirts. % different sizes to flucuate with my weight~!!

  68. You have such an interesting history with Baklava! I had a good laugh over the variety of pizzarias you had there in your college time..

    Anyway, your phyllos are such a success this time, look at the flakiness…. And just love the decoration on the top, much better than my plain top 🙂 A beautiful turnout of the challenge, cheers to you!

  69. How wonderful!!

    How about “Keep Calm and Eat Baklava” on my tshirt, hehe.

  70. Oh baklava is indeed so good. I shouldn’t have told my family that the baklava keeps well for two weeks. They wouldn’t let me give any away, and have been working their way through it steadily. Ah well, even though I rolled my way through the challenge, I cannot see myself ever doing that again, so store bought phyllo is fine in my book 🙂 Love how you incorporated the little roses on top. Very pretty.

  71. Your baklava looks unbelievable. I think you were brave to even try!

  72. Awesome baklava…so artistic as always and I bet it tastes so good you cant stop eating it yourself. Love to try some myself. Great job and photos as always.

  73. I have never made baklava. Could it be that I am afraid that it is too complicated and fussy or am I afraid that it will be so good I won’t be able to stop eating it till the pan is empty? Yours is stunningly, achingly gorgeous and looks soooo good. Yum! And crazy pizza place story.

  74. Beautifully made! I love how you added the top phyllo to make it decorative. Looks delicious

  75. I love baklava! I have never tried to make my own…I think I need to give it a go! 🙂

  76. Loved this recipe, and will add it to my “Best macadamia Nut Recipes” blog over at Squidoo! I Used fresh Hawaii macadamia nuts for this recipe. I get mine from In my opinion, Hawaii produces the best Mac Nuts!

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