The Complete Guide to Homemade Baklava

Baklava: the old world, layered dessert with simple ingredients... that still somehow feels pretty complex. And actually, we won't lie: It is a little complex with all that fancy layering. So let's get you amped with some FAQs and a recipe for elegant, authentic baklava. There's no wrong way to do this; as long as you actually make baklava, you win.

(In a hurry? Check out or Simple Baklava recipe instead!)

What is it?

Baklava is a dessert made with layers of thin phyllo dough brushed with butter and a flavorful nut mixture. It's baked first, then drenched in a honey syrup. What could be bad, right?

Nobody knows exactly where the dessert is originally from, but it dates back to the 8th century with roots in Mesopotamia (that's in the Middle East) — seemingly in Greece, Turkey or Mongolia. 

What kind of nuts do you use?

Typically you use walnuts here. But because the availability of nuts varies so much by location, the nut mixture in baklava recipes differs too. Here are your best bets:

  • Walnuts (Greek)
  • Pistachios (Turkish)
  • Hazelnuts
  • Almonds

Walnuts are less expensive compared to other nuts, so recipes usually use a combo of walnuts and another nut from the list above. Walnuts and pistachios are a particularly popular combination, and that's what we'll use.

What are the layers made of?

Baklava is traditionally made with phyllo dough, but there are plenty of crafty adaptations out there if you want to bypass tradition and go bakalva-esque.

Since the distinct baklava flavor comes from the crushed nuts and honey syrup, and these things are pretty adaptable, it's easy to create your own unique spin. I've seen baklava donuts, baklava pancakes, baklava macarons, baklava cheesecake and baklava cinnamon rolls.

How long does it keep?

Baklava has a really lengthy shelf life — about 2+ weeks. It should be stored in an airtight container, either at room temperature or in the fridge. Storing at room temperature will preserve the crispness, but if you like your baklava chewy and a bit harder, store it in the refrigerator. This dessert has a unique moistness to it, so you'll know it’s nearing the end of its shelf life when it starts to dry out.

Can it be frozen?

Yep, baklava can be frozen before baking or after it’s baked and cooled.

Freezing before baking

Make sure to line your baking pan with parchment paper or foil before putting this together. Once it's made, place the pan in the freezer for a few hours to firm up completely. Lift it out of the pan using the foil or parchment lining. Then wrap the entire dessert in at least four layers of plastic wrap. Place back into the pan and continue freezing.

To thaw, remove the plastic wrap, place the baklava back on the pan and cover the pan with foil. Place in the refrigerator for one day and then let it rest at room temperature for an hour before cutting and baking.

Freezing after baking

Baked, completely cooled baklava can be wrapped and frozen for up to four months. I like to wrap it in small batches (about half a dozen pieces) so I don’t have to thaw out the entire pan when I want a treat. Wrap tightly in at least four layers of plastic wrap and place in a zip-top freezer bag. Thaw by placing in the refrigerator for 4-6 hours or overnight.

Let’s make it!

This is my go-to for holidays and special occasions since it has extra fancy flavors like cardamom and citrus.

Gourmet Traditional Baklava Recipe


  • One 16-ounce box of phyllo dough
  • ¾ lb (12 ounces) walnuts
  • ½ lb (8 ounces) shelled pistachios
  • Zest of one lemon
  • Zest of one orange
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, melted

For the syrup:

  • Juice from the zested lemon
  • Juice from the zested orange
  • Water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ cup honey

Step 1

Get that phyllo dough ready to play — it needs to defrost a few hours in the fridge, then hang out at room temperature for an hour before unwrapping and using. Once that's done, preheat your oven to 350 F.

Step 2

Using a food processor, pulse the nuts about a dozen times to process to desired size. You can also use a knife to chop them up, though it'll take a little longer. I like the nut mixture on the finer side, but if you want the crunch of larger pieces, go right ahead!

Step 3

In a large bowl, zest the lemon and orange. Then stir together nuts, zests, brown sugar, cinnamon and cardamon.

Step 4

Since phyllo dough usually comes in 14" x 18" sheets, use a knife to cut those sheets in half and trim them fit a 9" x 13" pan. After cutting, you should have about forty 9" x 13" sheets. Cover the stack of phyllo sheets with a kitchen towel so it doesn’t dry out.

Step 5

Using a pastry brush, butter the bottom and sides of your pan. If you’re freezing the baklava before baking it, don’t forget to line your pan with foil or parchment before buttering.

Count out 10 phyllo sheets, and place your towel back over the remaining sheets. Put a sheet into the pan, then brush butter overtop. Repeat with all 10 sheets.

Step 6

Spread a heaping cup of nut mixture over the stack of phyllo dough. Repeat the phyllo stacking and buttering process with five more sheets. Spread another cup of nut mixture over the top. Repeat twice more, and finish off with a layer of 10 buttered phyllo sheets

Your layering should look like this:

  • 10 buttered sheets
  • 1 cup nuts
  • 5 buttered sheets
  • 1 cup nuts
  • 5 buttered sheets
  • 1 cup nuts
  • 5 buttered sheets
  • 1 cup nuts
  • 10 buttered sheets

Step 7

Once you’ve assembled all your layers, brush the top with butter and cut the baklava to your desired serving size. I like to make three cuts lengthwise and then cut at a diagonal.

Place in the oven and bake for 1 hour. 

Step 8

Now we make the syrup! Make sure to start on the syrup as soon as you place the baklava into the oven so it has enough time to cool.

Juice the lemon and orange used earlier into a measuring cup, then pour water in with the juices until you have ½ cup of liquid.

Step 9

Pour water, juices and sugar into a saucepan and place over medium heat. Resist the urge to stir. Instead, wait for it to simmer and for the the sugar to dissolve. Then add the honey.

Continue to simmer for 15 minutes, then remove from the heat and let cool completely. I like to pour the syrup in a really wide bowl and place it in the fridge to speed up the cooling process.

Step 10

Once the baklava is done, remove it from the oven and ladle the syrup over it right away. It should sizzle as you pour. It might seem like a lot, but the baklava will absorb all of the syrup. Let it sit for several hours so the baklava can cool completely and the flavors meld together.

September 26, 2018
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The Complete Guide to Homemade Baklava