A few years back, for Christmas my sister gave me a wonderful cookbook – a first for Ree Drummond (aka The Pioneer Woman). I loved it – the recipes were wonderful, the photographs heartwarming, and the little stories woven along the way were charming. Reading it was a lot like sitting down with a big cup of coffee in a friend’s cozy kitchen and talking about our two favorite things in life – family and cooking.
That same year, I decided to “bake” my way through the Holiday Gift-Giving. Naturally, I called upon my old “friend” Ree for some new inspiration. Fudge was something I felt comfortable making, having done so for as long as I could remember. Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white fudge swirls – some with nuts, some without. Peanut clusters and raisin clusters were some of my favorite “holiday” treats. And cookies – you haven’t seen cookies mass-produced in a home kitchen until you spent a weekend with my Dad. Back in his baking days, he started in November, baking racks and racks of cookies – swirl cookies, peanut butter cookies, sugar cookies galore. I swear, that man made dozens and dozens of cookies. Dad even had a six-foot baker’s rack in the garage where his awesome cookies cooled before being bagged up and stored in the freezer for Christmas. By the time Christmas arrived, we had cookies coming out our ears! That is except one year, when Dad had placed several dozen peanut butter cookies on the racks to cool. Our family pet, a Great Dane named Tina, who was the size of a small horse, somehow managed to break into the garage and ate all the cookies. Dad chased that dog from one end of our ranch house to the other, over and under tables, chairs and whatever else happened to be in the room. All the while Tina barked with that low, deep bark of hers. Dad never did manage to catch her, and finally they both collapsed in complete exhaustion. It was then that Tina approached, with those big eyes that said “I’m sorry” and lay her head in his lap. The next morning Dad was up early, baking yet again. Only this time he made sure Tina couldn’t break into the garage for round two.
Anyway, I wanted to treat my Dad to holiday “treats” with the same love he had shown his children over the years. With Kiddo and Hubby at my side, we spend days baking and decorating all sorts of wonderful things. I included the chocolate clusters I had loved as a child, and Dad’s favorite Walnut-Chocolate fudge. Kiddo did an awesome job hand painting snowflake sugar cookies – and just like real snow flakes, no two were alike. The end results of our efforts was a well-received giant tray of yummy goodness. I also wanted to venture outside my comfort zone and try something new – Greek Baklava. And thanks to The Pioneer Woman – my first attempt was a huge success.
It’s been a while since I last made Baklava for Christmas. Christmas Baklava is making an appearance again this year. All I can say is “welcome back”. This yummy recipe is completely Ree’s – no tweaking involved. Why mess with perfection?
1 package Phyllo Dough
4 cups Chopped Walnuts Or Pecans
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1-1/2 stick Butter, Melted
2 cups Honey
1/2 cup Water
1/2 cup Sugar
3 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
Remove phyllo dough package from freezer and place in the fridge for 24 hours to thaw. Remove from fridge 1 hour before using.
When working with the phyllo dough, only remove the sheets you immediately need, keeping the other sheets covered in plastic wrap, then a damp cloth.
Toss together the chopped walnuts and cinnamon. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Thoroughly butter a rectangular baking pan. Make sure the sheets of phyllo will generally fit the pan (if they’re a little bigger, that’s okay.) If they’re much bigger, just trim them with a sharp knife.
Butter the top sheet of phyllo with melted butter, then grab it and the unbuttered sheet below it. Set the two sheets in the pan, buttered sheet face down. Press lightly into the pan. Repeat this twice more, so that you have six sheets of phyllo in the pan, three of the sheets buttered.
Sprinkle on enough walnuts to make a single layer. Butter two sheets of phyllo and place them on top of the walnuts. Add more walnuts, then two more buttered phyllo sheets. Repeat this a couple more times, or until you’re out of walnuts. Top with 4 more buttered phyllo sheets, ending with a buttered top. Cut a diagonal diamond pattern in the baklava using a very sharp knife.
Bake for 45 minutes, or until the baklava is very golden brown.
While the baklava is baking, combine 1 stick of the butter, honey, water, sugar, and vanilla in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low.
When you remove the baklava from the oven, drizzle half the saucepan evenly all over the top. Allow it to sit and absorb for a minute, then drizzle on a little more until you think it’s thoroughly moistened. You’ll likely have some of the honey mixture leftover.
Allow the baklava to cool, uncovered, for several hours. Once cool and sticky and divine, carefully remove them from the pan.
For some step by step directions; just follow the link below to visit The Pioneer Woman’s awesome site: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/baklava/