Here’s how to make a traditional Greek baklava + photos

Baklava has always been an important part of my family’s history.

This baklava recipe has been passed down for generations in my family.

Anita Constantinides / Inside

My babo—Greek to my grandfather—was a tortilla maker, and my father grew up watching him make baklava and kifi in his shop, Φύλλο κρούστα ΚΩΝΣΤΑΝΤΙΝΙΔΗΣ, in Thessaloniki.

According to family tradition, my babu actually helped create frozen chips. I don’t know why I’m not a phyllo heiress frozen with Paris Hilton on a yacht in Mykonos, but I’m still proud.

My Babu even had a post he gave customers with a funny short baklava recipe.

Baklava flyer for Anita's grandparents

The leaflet my grandfather used to give to customers in his shop in Philo.

Anita Constantinides / Inside

My dad told me that my babo started giving people flyers – which also include recipes for Greek delicacies like trigona and galaktoboureko – because they were constantly asking how they were made.

His baklava recipe consists of less than 70 words and basically translates to: “We add breadcrumbs and a little sugar into the mixture. We put the wafer in two layers. We add the mixture in multiple layers, not just the middle.”

Since baklava is such an important family dish at Christmas, I recently asked my dad if he would teach me how to make it.

Anita's father with a celebration cake

My dad taught me to cook family recipes all year round.

Anita Constantinides / Inside

During the festive season, my dad was always helping me out at the store. He started selling baklava when he was twelve years old. But he didn’t start making candy himself until he moved to the United States, wanting to continue the tradition more than 6000 miles away from his entire family.

Like my dad, every Christmas memory I have contains baklava. The holidays don’t feel like for me without them. And since my dad recently taught me how to make his famous pies and “celebration cake” for our family, baklava was naturally next on the list.

And luckily for you, he’s been more than happy to share the family’s recipe—and proof that making baklava is a lot easier than it sounds.

Then it’s time to prepare the baklava mixture.

Chopped walnuts and sugar for Abi Anita's baklava

Mix the walnuts with sugar, cinnamon and breadcrumbs.

Anita Constantinides / Inside

We added the walnuts to a large bowl along with the 2 tablespoons sugar, as well as the cinnamon and breadcrumbs.

My dad told me that the breadcrumbs help the baklava absorb the syrup better, a useful trick discovered by chance.

“Walnuts in Greece were very expensive, and people would coat them with breadcrumbs,” he said. “But they found that the breadcrumbs really help with absorption.”

Just make sure the breadcrumbs are easy – no Italian seasoning!

It is also important to cut the boards before building the baklava.

Filo pieces baklava Abi Anita

Cut the foil to size on top of the pan you will be using to prepare the baklava.

Anita Constantinides / Inside

My dad’s professional advice is to take your frying pan (he recommends using a medium-sized, rectangular one) and place it on the sheets. Then, using a sharp knife, cut the foil to roughly the size of the tray.

My dad said, “It’s okay to fold a few chips on the side, so give yourself some extra dough.” “But you don’t want a huge amount.”

Then start by placing two layers of grapefruit in the pan.

We put filo on a frying pan for Abi Anita's baklava

You will always add two sheets of phyllo paper to the pan at a time.

Anita Constantinides / Inside

As you build the baklava, you will always add two sheets of phyllo paper at a time. And you’ll always brush the second layer with a little butter.

“Not much,” my dad said. “It should not be soaked or else the baklava will become very greasy.”

After six full layers of phyllo, add a little more of the nut mixture after adding the butter.

Adding walnuts to baklava pie for Abi Anita

Make sure to spray the entire pan with a thin layer of the mixture.

Anita Constantinides / Inside

“Sprinkle the entire pan with a thin layer of your mixture,” my dad said. “Put a little bit of the mixture around the middle of your chips.”

“But you don’t want areas where there is no filling,” he added. “You want some in every bite.”

The middle is also where you want to put more of the nut mixture.

Adding walnuts to baklava pie for Abi Anita

Add more nut mixture in the middle of the pan as well.

Anita Constantinides / Inside

And if you end up missing it and accidentally put three layers of chips instead of two, or walnuts on top of the seventh instead of six, my dad said, “It’s not the end of the world.”

“The key is you just want to make layers that are coated with the filler,” he added. “Don’t panic and do your best.”

Before throwing the pan into the oven, the baklava must be sliced.

Anita's father cuts phyllo for baklava

My dad said slicing the baklava helps her cook.

Anita Constantinides / Inside

Use a sharp knife to cut the baklava into small triangles or squares before baking.

My father told me, “If you don’t cut it, you won’t cook baklava.” “Raw baklava is not good. Plus, it’s very hard to slice after it’s been cooked because baklava is very flaky.”

Then add a little lemon juice to the mixture.

Making the glaze for Abi Anita's baklava

Add some lemon to help prevent the syrup from crystallizing.

Anita Constantinides / Inside

My dad told me that the lemon juice helps prevent the syrup from crystallizing, which helps the baklava stay longer.

Then mix the syrup while you wait for the first boil.

My dad said, “Wait a few seconds after it starts to boil, and then take it off the heat.” “Don’t let it boil for more than a minute.”

While the syrup is still hot, pour it all over the cold baklava.

Adding the glaze to Abi Anita's baklava

Use a ladle to pour the syrup over the baklava.

Anita Constantinides / Inside

My dad recommends using a ladle for this step, and says it’s important to make sure you pour the syrup evenly over the baklava.

It is also important to note that the baklava needs to cool completely before adding the syrup. My dad usually lets the baklava sit all night, but he said you can only wait a few hours if you’ve been in a crunch for a while.

The baklava is ready to serve as soon as it cools.

baklava Abi Anita

This baklava recipe has been in my family for generations. Here’s how to do it for the holidays.

Anita Constantinides / Inside

To make sure the syrup doesn’t crystallize, my dad says it’s always important to use a clean knife when cutting new pieces and to always avoid using a wet knife or wet utensils.

Also, there is no need for refrigeration. You can leave the pan in the kitchen for several days (if it hasn’t been eaten before!).

And if your baklava tastes anything like daddy, it’s going to be absolutely delicious.

Anita's father with baklava

Friends have praised my father’s baklava for years.

Anita Constantinides / Inside

There are so many great textures and flavors that dance together as you bite off a piece of baklava. You have the flakes of phyllo crust, mixed with this sweet, sticky syrup. Then there’s the satisfying nutty crunch in the middle, holding everything together as it melts in your mouth.

I brought some of my dad’s baklava on a road trip with friends seven years ago, and they still talk about it to this day. My friend and roommates, who first tried it last month, said it was so good it gave them chills. This recipe won my dad’s baking contests in his office, and was the talk of every Greek holiday party we’ve ever attended. I’m telling you, this is the real deal.

This baklava may be my family’s recipe, but I know it will bring you happiness for years to come.

Anita's father with baklava

My father’s recipe is proof that anyone can make great baklava.

Anita Constantinides / Inside

The most special thing about food to me has always been the stories it can come up with. Babu passed away when I was 4 years old, but I was able to maintain a connection with his soul through the baklava my father made every birthday. And now that I’ve been able to do that too, it’s a tradition I know I will always respect.

And while I know it might sound intimidating, my dad’s recipe is proof that you don’t have to be a Greek wafer maker (or of one lineage) to make some great baklava for your family and friends.

So, whether you’re making this baklava only once or making a permanent place on your family’s holiday list, I hope you feel the love in this recipe.

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