This is the classic baklava recipe, but with olive oil instead of butter and in a different shape.
Many traditional pastry chefs and cooks will be pretty angry if they happen to see this recipe. Why? Because the general rule is that baklava is made with good quality butter. ONLY. They may forgive you or pretend to look the other way when you use walnuts or almonds instead of pistachios for the filling, but you will not be able to avoid their wrath once they see you using anything else except pure butter. So what does this make me? Should I be considered a rebel or the black sheep of the culinary family because I make my baklava with olive oil?
Actually, using olive oil in dessert recipes is a very common thing in Cretan tradition. Almost always, olive oil is combined with warm spices and lemon or orange zest, in order to produce great flavor and aroma, like these chocolate covered honey cookies or this vegan and no-bake oriental semolina cake (Halva). Another good thing is that you don’t need to melt it or clarify it (like you need to do with butter if you want to achieve extra crispy results), so it’s a bit easier to use.
And yes, butter can have great flavor and aroma, but so does olive oil! In this recipe, all of the spices and flavors from the nuts and the baked, caramelized sheets contribute to such great taste that you won’t even miss the butter flavor! And as far as I’m concerned, I feel less guilty eating these baklava fingers because I know olive oil is full of monounsaturated fat, which is the good kind of fat 🙂
Working with phyllo can be a little frustrating sometimes, especially for someone who hasn’t used it before. Since phyllo consists of very thin sheets of dough, when unpacked, it dries out very quickly and has the tendency to break, thus challenging the boundaries of your patience! The trick is to always have it covered with a slightly damp towel, to keep it from drying out. I like to wet my hands a few times and dry them with a clean towel, just to get it dampened but not wet. If the towel is wet, it will cause the phyllo to gum up and you won’t be able to use it. Keep in mind that it’s OK if a sheet breaks or tears up a little. Every tear or other imperfection won’t be visible once baklava fingers are formed. Other than that, everything else is pretty easy. You just brush each sheet with olive oil, sprinkle some of the nut mixture and roll into a big cigar.
If you use frozen phyllo, make sure to defrost it according to packaging directions.
Always have the phyllo sheets covered with a slightly dampened towel (not wet, since it will gum up the dough sheets).
For the filling, you can make your own mix of nuts. Walnuts, almonds, and pistachios are the most popular options.
If you are vegan and don’t eat honey, use maple syrup instead or 2 tablespoons brown sugar and 1 tablespoon water.
When adding the syrup, both baklava and syrup should be hot (makes a crunchier dessert).
You can easily halve the recipe and use the rest of the phyllo for something else (maybe a savory pie or tart?)
For the syrup to be easily absorbed, make sure baklava fingers fit perfectly in the pan and you don’t have any empty spaces.
Put the baklava fingers on a stick only if you want to get all-covered in syrup! (like my hand in the picture above)
- 1 package phyllo (about 1 pound / 10-14 sheets)
- 2/3 cups e.v. olive oil
- 2 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped (pulse a few times in a food processor)
- 2 cups almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped (pulse a few times in a food processor)
- 1/2 cup sesame, lightly toasted (pulse a few times in a food processor)
- 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
- 3 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon cloves
- For the syrup:
- 3 cups sugar
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 tablespoon glucose syrup or corn syrup
- 4 tablespoons thyme honey or maple syrup for a vegan option
- 2-3 cinnamon sticks
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- Optional: lemon or orange peel and 2-3 bitter orange leaves
- 2 rectangular pans or casseroles approximately 8x11 inches (20x28 cm)
- Or 1 larger about 16x22 inches (40x56 cm)
Transfer the nuts, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon to a bowl. Mix well to combine.
Unwrap the phyllo sheets, carefully unroll onto your working surface, and cover with a damp towel.
Brush your pan lightly with olive oil and preheat oven to 350°F (175°C)
Take one phyllo sheet (the short side in front of you), lightly brush it with olive oil, and sprinkle about 3 tablespoons of nuts all over it.
Roll into a cigar and cut it in half. Place fingers inside the pan, brush their surface with some more olive oil and repeat with the rest of the phyllo.
Bake for 30-40 minutes until browned.
Make the syrup: Combine all of the ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes.
Remove the baklava from the oven and pour the hot syrup over it. Let it rest for 2-3 hours to absorb all of the syrup.
You can easily halve the recipe and use the rest of the phyllo in another recipe like a savory pie or tart.
Keeps well for up to 4-5 days at room temperature and more than 10 days in the fridge.
If you choose to use lemon slices in the syrup, they may cause it to have a slightly tangy aftertaste. Some people like this, but others don't.
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