Let’s Get Ready for EPCOT Food & Wine Festival by Making Walnut and Honey Baklava!

Throughout my life, on countless occasions at restaurants, assorted mall food courts and everything else in between, my mom has chosen baklava as her dessert option over all others. I didn’t know what it was about the then-mysterious dessert that drew my mom like a moth to its flame, but nonetheless, it was her dessert of choice. As a 10-year-old, I had no understanding as to why she would ever pick anything over an option that was slathered or smothered in chocolate and ice cream. And now I must go on record as stating that I was this many years old when I discovered that baklava is SIMPLY AMAZING. A sweet, decadent nut-filled amazing treat. I must also go on record as stating that my mom was right. Don’t worry, she knows; I called her the other night and admitted to her that she was so right to have chosen baklava all along.

Since I pretty much let EPCOT dictate which season it actually is, I’ve got my mind tuned in on the upcoming return of the EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival season. This year’s festival, which drops the “Taste of…” prefix, begins on July 15th, and I for one can’t wait. The first day of an EPCOT festival is always a flurry of activity; from double checking menu item prices to savoring new and returning favorites to filming with the team, it’s a whirlwind. And it’s so much fun. One thing I have never sampled at the Food and Wine Festival, however, is the baklava. When I say that as a kid I believed the treat to be rather mysterious, I mean as of yesterday I felt this way. I never fully understood what was going on with that dessert to make people love it so, but now, after making EPCOT’s festival version, I know.

We turn back to the EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival: Recipes & Stories Celebrating 20 Years for today’s Saturday Snacks recipe, and find in the explanatory paragraph that not only has this baklava recipe been served at the festival for years, it’s also been served at Restaurant Marrakesh. While I normally associate baklava with Greek restaurants, EPCOT has chosen over the years to have their baklava recipe served in the Morocco pavilion. It turns out that baklava is a Middle Eastern recipe rather than one that is exclusive to Greece or Turkey or Morocco. It is a shared recipe, and I’m glad for it. I mean with something this delicious, let’s share the wealth, right?

The main ingredient in today’s recipe is a box of phyllo dough. There are approximately 40 sheets in each box, and you’ll need roughly half of that for the recipe. Even though you may only need half of a box, I’d recommend having an entire fresh box on hand. Phyllo dough is notoriously finicky to work with, and I’d hate for you to be shorthanded if some of the sheets decide to dry out on you. The recipe calls for the dough to be thawed in the refrigerator overnight and then on the counter for approximately an hour before attempting to use it. What the recipe does not mention is the fact that you should also have a damp kitchen towel on hand. Once you open the package of phyllo dough and spread out the sheets, lay the dampened towel on top of the dough to keep it moist. Just a few minutes in the open air will cause your sheets of dough to turn into fragile and crumbling sheets of Colonial-era parchment, and there’s nothing more frustrating.

An 8 x 8-inch glass baking dish is also called for in this recipe, and depending on the size of the sheets of your phyllo dough, you’ll be able to get two 8 x 8 sheets of phyllo out of every one phyllo sheet. I hope that makes sense. Essentially, you should be able to get two layers of baklava dough from each sheet.

The recipe says that our first step should be heating the oven to 350°F, but I beg to differ. Our first step really should be to chop the nuts and create the filling required for the dessert.

While the bags of walnuts and almonds that I bought claimed that they were chopped, they definitely didn’t fall into the “finely chopped” category. I tried to crush up the nuts in a quart-sized baggie, but that only got me so far. I then attempted to chop them with a knife, but I quickly found that chopping them would take me literally forever. So I just tossed the semi-crushed, somewhat-chopped nuts (1 cup each of almonds and walnuts) into the bowl and deemed they’d have to do.

I tossed in the required teaspoon of cinnamon and half cup of sugar and gave everything a good stir. I surveyed the bowl’s contents and had a sinking feeling that the nuts would not do in their current state. They needed to be much smaller than they were. Rats.

I began to think through what I had stashed in the recesses of my kitchen cabinets that could possibly help me get those nuts to the point of being finely chopped.

And then it hit me: I had a Pampered Chef hand chopper that I could never get to work right in the cabinet. I hoped against all hope that the chopper would finally do what I was told it would when I decided to purchase it at a friend’s Pampered Chef party ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO. Sigh. I certainly had nothing to lose.

I began scooping the nut filling into the chopper and hitting the handle to cause the blades to chop the nuts. Friends, it worked. One scoop at a time, I chopped those nuts, and when the whole bowl was done, I knew the end result would be better because of the extra effort. Hallelujah!

Once you have the nuts chopped, and the filling combined, set the bowl aside.

It’s now time to construct the baklava itself. You and I will be tapping into the painting skills we learned back in Kindergarten for the large majority of the recipe. Everything we need to know we learned in Kindergarten, right?!

After allowing your phyllo dough to rest on the counter and come up to room temperature for an hour, grab a stick of butter out of the fridge and pop it into the microwave to melt. Grab a kitchen pastry brush, and get ready to paint. We need to give the entire inside surface of our 8 x 8-inch glass baking dish a nice coating of that melted butter.

We next need to cut down one of the pieces of phyllo dough to fit the 8 x 8-inch pan. I began by tracing the bottom of the pan onto parchment paper. I was impressed with my supposed wisdom in doing this step, but please let me tell you that using that parchment paper pattern quickly went out the window. Again, phyllo dough is finicky, and fiddling with the parchment paper just made it more so. Ain’t nobody got time for extra steps when it comes to phyllo dough.

After placing the first sheet of phyllo dough in the bottom of the baking pan and coating it in melted butter (and jettisoning the parchment paper tracing process), I adopted the “just get a sheet of dough close enough to the size of the pan” technique. After the first sheet is in the pan and buttered, we now need to place an additional seven layers of phyllo dough and melted butter on top of that first sheet, and fortune favors the fast.

Keep trimming those sheets of dough and painting each new layer of dough with the melted butter until you have 8 sheets total. On top of the first layer of 8 sheets, spread 1/3 of the nut filling.

Our next step is to lay down another 8 sheets of phyllo dough, being sure to coat each sheet with the melted butter. Again, once you reach the point of having another 8 sheets of dough in the pan, spread another third of the filling on top. Repeat that step again, and top the last third of filling with an additional 8 layers of dough. You’ll want 32 8 x 8-inch sheets of phyllo dough total (four layers of dough and three layers of nut filling).

Now’s the time to preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush the top layer of phyllo with melted butter (I ended up needing an extra 2 tablespoons of melted butter along the way), and cut through the baklava (make sure to cut through all of the layers) to create 16 squares.

If you’d rather cut the pieces of baklava into diamond shapes, begin by cutting 1-inch strips horizontally and then, beginning at one of the corners, cut diagonally across the pan. Keep cutting diagonally until the entire pan is cut. I found out how to cut the baklava into the traditional diamond shapes via a quick search of the internet. You can learn how to do anything on the internet, can’t you?

I know that it might feel weird to cut the baklava before actually baking it, but this is how it’s made. We’ll trust the recipe in this regard and throw it in the oven for 40 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown.

While the baklava is in the oven, you and I need to prepare the sweet syrup that will impart pure magic into the snack. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine 1 cup each of honey, sugar, and water. Add in 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and bring the mixture to a boil.

Once the sugar dissolves, turn the heat up a bit and allow the liquid to boil for 5 minutes. As it boils, the syrup will begin to thicken just slightly. Once it gets to that point, pull it off of the heat.

Since I was going to need to pour the syrup into the cuts and around the edges of the baklava once it emerged from the oven, I transferred the syrup into a measuring cup with a small pour spout. I knew that I was going to need all the help I could get.

After 40 minutes, the most beautiful treat emerged from the oven. It smelled incredibly good. I poured the syrup into the cuts that I had made in the baklava before it went into the oven, as well as around the edges. You might wonder if it’s too much syrup to be pouring into and onto your baklava. No, it is not. You tell that voice in your head to pipe down. Silenzio, Bruno. Your baklava will soak up that sweet syrup and you will do a happy dance in your kitchen. Trust me; pour all of that syrup on.

I placed my syrup-soaked baklava in a spot where it could cool to room temp just like the recipe recommended.

Here’s the tough part, friends. Warning: a bit of patience is required for the next step. And by a “bit,” I mean a lot. Once the baklava reaches room temperature, we are to cover that pan and walk away. For at least 8 hours. I know, I know. I’m sorry. You know that I don’t like to wait, so I feel your pain. It’s a long time. It was late afternoon by the time I reached this point, so I covered my baklava with foil and wished it a good night. I would have to wait until morning to sample it. Patience is a virtue, right?

The next morning, I uncovered the baklava and oh-so carefully pulled out a diamond-shaped slice. Layers upon layers of nuts nestled between layers of flaky dough, all covered in sweet, honey-filled syrup? I was so hoping that my mom had been right all along.

One bite confirmed it for me: Mom was right. Very much so. Holy. Cow. The treat had soaked up the syrup and had created the most lovely sweet and buttery snack.

Those nuts? If you’ve been reading Saturday Snacks for any amount of time, you know that I don’t like nuts in my baked goods. The nuts in the baklava were delightful, and I’m so glad that I got them small enough to enjoy. I LOVED this snack, nuts and all.

If you need an impressive snack/dessert/baked good for an upcoming gathering, let EPCOT’s baklava be your new go-to. You can make it the day before and roll right out of the door when the time comes knowing that you’re bringing a absolute showstopper to the party. Everyone will love you. I guarantee it.

Friends, may your Saturday be as amazing as today’s snack. And may you savor every single moment. Thanks so much for reading. I am so thankful for you.

Ready to invite a taste of EPCOT’s Food & Wine Festival into your kitchen? The recipe is below. Happy baking!

Walnut and Honey Baklava

Morocco has been a part of the festival for 20 years, but this rich, classic dessert has been on the menu at Restaurant Marrakesh since Epcot opened in 1982. Homemade baklava is a real treat, with a wonderful baking aroma of honey, nuts, butter and phyllo pastry. Thaw the phyllo overnight in the refrigerator, then let it warm on the counter for about one hour before starting.

Filling

  • 1 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup finally chopped almonds
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Dough

  • 32 sheets phyllo dough
  • 1 stick ( 8 ounces) butter, melted

Syrup

  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Combine walnuts, almonds, cinnamon and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
  3. Brush bottom and sides of 8 x 8-inch pan with butter.
  4. Trim sheets of phyllo to set the bottom of the pan. Lay down a sheet of phyllo and brush with butter. Repeat the steps seven more times for a total of eight sheets of phyllo. Sprinkle 1/3 of the nut mixture over the dough, then repeat the layering process with another eight sheets, butter and nothing extra, making a total of three layers of nuts and four layers of dough (with butter between each sheet).
  5. Brush top generously with butter and cut through all the layers to make 16 diamond or square shapes with a sharp knife.
  6. Bake for about 40 to 45 minutes or until golden brown.
  7. Meanwhile, combine honey, sugar, water and lemon juice in a medium sauce pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. When sugar has dissolved, increase heat and boil for five minutes or until slightly thickened.
  8. Remove baklava from oven and pour syrup into the cuts of each piece and around edges of the pan. Allowed to sit, uncovered, and talk completely cool. Cover and store room temperature for at least eight hours before serving.