Persian baklava for Purim
FoodBringing flavor to another level

Persian baklava for Purim

This baklava will make a beautiful addition to your Purim seudah, and it’s wonderful at any time of year.

Persian baklava (Photo by Jessica Grann)
Persian baklava (Photo by Jessica Grann)

A piece of baklava served for dessert with strong tea or coffee is one of the simplest pleasures on Earth. I’ve loved baklava since I was a young child. The fragrant spices and perfumed flower waters in Middle Eastern desserts bring flavor to another level.

As with most foods, heritage and culture have a lot of influence on your favorite recipes. There are many different versions of baklava, which makes it hard to decide which to try. This recipe is a twist on my regular baklava recipe. Persian desserts often contain both cardamom and rose water so, in honor of Purim, I added those flavors but in amounts that are not overwhelming to those not familiar with them.

I often hear people say that they are hesitant to work with phyllo pastry because it’s thin and it can tear easily, but it is very forgiving. Once you brush each layer with butter or margarine and bake it, any imperfections will disappear.

You will need a little extra patience to make this style of dessert, but it’s much less time-consuming than you would expect. There are three steps to this recipe, and it can be made dairy or pareve. This baklava will make a beautiful addition to your Purim seudah, and it’s wonderful at any time of year.

Included are notes on how to make my regular version of baklava with two slight changes, so you’ll have another option to try as well.

Sugar syrup (shira):
2 cups white sugar
1 cup water
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Clarified butter (ghee)
2 sticks unsalted butter or margarine

Pastry with nut filling:

1 1-pound box of phyllo pastry
4 cups of unsalted nuts. I used walnuts for this version, as they are common in Persian cooking.
4 tablespoons butter or margarine at room temperature
5 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoon cardamom
3 teaspoons rose water
A pinch of sea salt

Sugar syrup
I often make the syrup a day or two before I bake baklava. I get the best results when I pour cold syrup onto hot pastry that is just out of the oven.

Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan, and bring it to a soft boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar melts into the water.

Reduce the heat to simmer, and cook for 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from heat, and stir in 2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice.

Allow to cool completely before pouring it into a jar (something like a Mason jar with a tight-fitting lid), and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before use.

Some simple syrups call for rose water or orange blossom water to be added. For this recipe, I add the flower water to the nut mixture to give it a more delicate taste.

Clarified butter/margarine
If you’re making this recipe pareve, just melt the margarine over low heat — no extra steps are needed.

If you’re making this recipe dairy and you can’t purchase ghee, you can easily make it at home in a few minutes. This is a very important step. If you use plain melted butter and leave the milk solids in the butter, your pastry will get soggy.

Melt 2 sticks of butter over medium-low heat until it comes to a soft boil.

Allow it to gently boil for 30-45 seconds, then remove the pan from heat and allow it to cool. I find it much easier to pour the melted butter into a new bowl or jar, using a piece of cheesecloth secured with a rubber band as a strainer, which will catch most of the milk solids.

If you don’t have cheesecloth, pour the warm butter into another jar or bowl where the milk solids will sink to the bottom and create a solid white layer. Do not dip into the white layer when dipping your pastry brush into the butter.


I make this recipe using all walnuts, but you can get creative and use dry-roasted almonds, pistachios or a mixture of various nuts. Half almond and half walnut is fantastic. Pure pistachio baklava is a luxury because the nuts are expensive.

Measure out 4 cups of nuts, then grind them with a hand grinder or in a food processor. Some people prefer very finely ground nuts — I make mine medium-fine, with a few larger pieces to add texture and chew to the dessert. The choice is yours.

Mix the spices, powdered sugar and rose water into the nut mixture. Once well combined, add 4 tablespoons of room-temperature butter or margarine to the nut mixture, mashing it with a fork until well combined. If you see pieces of butter or margarine it’s OK — they will melt together when baked. The nut mixture can be prepared the day before; just cover and let it sit at room temperature until you’re ready to bake.

Phyllo pastry often has numbers on the box. Common numbers are 4 and 7. The lower the number, the thinner the pastry. If you’re new to baking with phyllo, you may want to choose a level 7 if it’s available, which is sometimes labeled as “country style.”

It’s very important to keep the pastry sheets covered with a towel at all times because it dries out so quickly.

Thaw the dough according to the instructions on the package. Cut open the plastic, and unroll the pastry. I typically use a large cutting board to rest the pastry on. When the phyllo is opened, it’s in a large rectangular shape.

Persian baklava (Photo by Jessica Grann)
Cut the pastry in half across the shorter side to create 2 equally-sized stacks of pastry that will fit into the pan perfectly. Cover one portion with a clean kitchen towel then roll up one half, cover it with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, and put it back into the refrigerator.

With a pastry brush, prepare a 9-inch-by-13-inch metal or glass pan with butter or margarine. Dip the pastry brush into the butter or margarine, lightly greasing the bottom and the sides of the pan. Pull a fresh sheet of pastry out from under the towel, lay it into the pan and immediately cover the stack again with the towel.

Lightly brush the pastry sheet with butter or margarine, add the next sheet and repeat until you finish the entire stack. When you add a new sheet of pastry to the pan, press it down gently for a few seconds and smooth out any air pockets before adding the butter. Don’t worry if you see small tears; once they are buttered and baked you won’t be able to tell. Make sure that the edges and sides are well coated. It is normal to lose a few pieces of pastry because it can get really dry and start to tear; just throw those pieces away.

When you finish the first stack, spoon the nut mixture into the pan and, using your hands, gently press it evenly over the pastry.

Take the remaining pastry from the refrigerator, place it down on your work area and cover it with a towel, then repeat the process for the top layer of pastry. When you place the last sheet, brush it with twice the amount of butter or margarine that you used for the other sheets.

Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Don’t skip this step because it helps the butter and pastry layer harden a bit, making it easier to cut and yielding a cleaner result.

It takes almost two sticks of butter or margarine to make this recipe. If you have a little extra, just seal the jar and save it for later cooking or baking.

Set your oven to 350 F and place the baking rack in the middle of the oven.

Take the pan of baklava from the fridge and cut into the top layer of pastry with the sharpest knife that you have. Score it horizontally down the middle of the pan in a straight line, creating 2 thin, wide rectangles. Cut through the top layer of pastry just deeply enough to reach the nut layer, but avoid cutting into the nut layer. Scoring the pastry helps with two things. First, it gives you a guide for later cutting and serving. It also creates a place for the syrup to get into the pastry, allowing the syrup to distribute evenly across the dessert.

Next, score down the shorter side (vertically) of the pastry two times, so that you are creating 9 evenly-sized squares in the pan.

Score each square diagonally to create 12 large triangles. You can leave it this way for larger portions, or you can score each square diagonally again in the other direction, which creates 4 pieces per square for 24 smaller but nicely-sized triangles. I usually cut baklava into diamond shapes, but in honor of Purim and the custom to serve food with 3 points, triangles are lovely.

Bake the pastry for 45-50 minutes. The top should be light golden brown when you remove it from the oven. The scent of baklava while baking is absolutely mouthwatering.

Immediately after taking the pan from the oven, place it on top of the oven and take the cold jar of syrup from the fridge. Pour it lightly and evenly across the cracks and edges, going back to fill in any missed spots. Use all of the syrup. It can look like it’s overflowing across the top, but it will sink in as the pastry rests.

When the pastry is almost cool, take a sharp knife and cut along each triangle all the way to the bottom of the pan. This will ensure that you have a neat-looking result that comes out easily from the pan when it’s time to serve it.

Let it rest overnight for best results, allowing the syrup to meld into the pastry and nuts.

Using a small and thin spatula, remove each piece as it’s time to serve. I suggest placing each piece in a muffin-sized paper liner to keep any excess sticky syrup from leaking onto the platter so that you can easily pick up each piece of baklava using the paper.

Total time from start to finish for this recipe is about 2 hours, but the prep time takes about 35 minutes. You can prepare the butter/margarine, nut mixture and syrup the day before and prepare the pastry the following day. It doesn’t take any longer than baking cookies, and baklava presents so beautifully when served at a special occasion.

My regular version of baklava is almost identical: Simply omit the cardamom, and use orange blossom water instead of rose water.

Chag Purim sameach! Enjoy and bless your hands. PJC

Jessica Grann is a home chef living in Pittsburgh.

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