Yield: about 96 pieces
1 bag (14-16 oz) chopped walnuts
1 ½ cup sugar, divided
2 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted
1 pound frozen phyllo pastry sheets, thawed
1 cup water
1 lemon (zested and juiced), or 2 Tbs lemon juice
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp cardamom seeds (optional)
1 cup HONEY
½ tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 375 °F. Lightly butter the bottom of two 9" x 13" rimmed cookie sheets.
In the bowl of a food processor, add walnuts, ½ cup sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Pulse to combine until the walnuts are finely chopped and crumbly. Set aside.
Unfold pastry sheets and cover with a damp towel to prevent drying out (see cook’s notes). Carefully place one sheet into the bottom of a pan. Brush with butter and cover with another sheet of pastry, repeating until you have used ten sheets of pastry. Brush the top layer with butter and then spread half of the walnut mixture over the top, pressing gently and covering evenly out to the sides and corners. Place another sheet of pastry on top of the walnut mixture. Carefully brush with butter (this layer may slide around a bit) and then cover with another sheet of pastry. Continue layering pastry and butter until you have used another ten sheets (20 sheets total). Brush top layer with butter. Trim edges if necessary to fit inside the pan. Repeat with remaining ingredients for the second tray.
With a sharp knife, cut completely through the layers lengthwise (into five strips along the long edge of the pan) and then diagonally to form diamonds. Aim for pieces about 1-2 inches across. The smaller pieces at the ends will end up as triangles rather than diamonds.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and flaky.
While the baklava bakes, prepare the syrup. In a small saucepan, combine the remaining 1 cup sugar with the water, lemon zest, lemon juice, cinnamon sticks, and cardamom. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Cook for 10-15 minutes or until slightly thickened. Remove from heat. Allow to cool slightly (to about 115 degrees) then stir in honey and vanilla.
Remove baklava from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Pour honey syrup evenly over the baklava. Cool completely before serving. If not serving immediately, tightly cover and store in a cool place.
Phyllo leaves will dry out quickly and will become brittle. Work quickly and use a damp towel to cover the leaves between additions, folding back and re-covering while assembling the baklava. The phyllo we purchased is ~40 sheets per pound (9” x 13” sheets). If you can only find larger dough, cut in half before using. Alternatively, feel free to use a larger pan and trim off the excess before baking.
Resist the urge to combine the honey with the sugar syrup before boiling or while it's too warm. If you can avoid overheating the honey, more of the pure honey taste will stay intact.
If you’re feeling adventurous, feel free to swap out some of the walnuts for almonds or pistachios.