Recipe: Vegan Sugar-Free Baklava

April 8th, 2009 - filed under: The Food » Recipes



At the end of 2008, I began a massive and comprehensive overhaul that affected every aspect of my life.  It’s been really awesome.   One small prong in this multi-pronged approach was an attempt to curb my raging sweet tooth. I decided to kick off the new year by going an entire month without any refined sugar.  Proudly, I declared that in January, I would be sugar free.

A few days later, the realization of my mistake came crashing down on me.  My birthday is at the end of January!  So . . . no birthday [cup]cake?!  Initially I was horrified at the thought, but quickly I realized that this dark error had a bright side. This would be the perfect opportunity to try out a new recipe idea I’d been rattling around in my brain!

Like most veg*ns, here at HQ we rely on a lot of Greek and Middle Eastern food.  We heap on the hummus, we get freaky with falafel, and we’re passionate about pita!  But the one thing we’re missing from this Mediterranean masterpiece, is the dessert.  Baklava, the traditional regional sweet, is based around layering butter and honey – two decidedly un-vegan ingredients.

Not that I’d let something as trivial as that stop me! And so I devised this veganized version, especially for me on my sugar-free birthday.  And wow, let me just say, “Deeeeelicious!” 



So here you go: a Baklava that’s healthier, cruelty-free, and equally as palate pleasing, to compliment and complete your next Mediterranean feast.


6 tablespoons Earthbalance™, more for greasing the dish

8 oz. phyllo dough (Athens brand is vegan, as are most others) 


20 oz. (about 2 1/4 cups) raw chopped walnuts 


1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cardamom

1/8 teaspoon cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon almond extract


1/2 cup water

1 cup agave sweetener

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon orange zest

1 cinnamon stick



Remove phyllo dough from freezer and allow to defrost – about 4 hours.

Preheat oven to 325º. 

Chop the walnuts and then spread them out on a baking sheet, roasting them in the oven until they are lightly browned (about 10 minutes).

Place toasted walnuts in a mixing bowl and add the cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, salt, and almond extract.  Toss to coat.

Raise oven temperature to 350º.

Put the Earthbalance™ in a bowl and melt it in the microwave (a few seconds should do it).

Carefully unfold the defrosted phyllo dough on the countertop. It will dry out really quickly, so keep it covered with a damp dish cloth.

Using a bit of cold Earthbalance™, grease a square glass baking dish. 

Place one piece of phyllo dough in the bottom of the dish – it may not fit perfectly, which is fine.  Using a pastry brush, lightly paint the phyllo with the melted Earthbalance™. Add another piece of phyllo, rotating it if you need, to evenly distribute around the dish. Brush it with Earthbalance™.  Remember to replace the damp towel each time you pull from the stack of phyllo dough – it will dry out fast!  Continue this process until you’ve got 8 sheets of phyllo and 8 layers of Earthbalance™ in the bottom of your dish.

Add a third of the spiced walnuts evenly over the phyllo. 

Repeat these steps with 8 more sheets of phyllo and Earthbalance™, and another third of the spiced walnuts. Then do it once more, finishing off the spiced walnuts. Top this off with 8 more sheets of phyllo, buttering between each one. 

***  you will not finish the package of phyllo dough, but it re-freezes just fine

You need to cut your Baklava before you bake it, because it will be too flaky once it’s done.  Use a very sharp knife and make sure that you cut all the way through the bottom layer!

Place it in the oven to bake for 30 minutes, until golden.

While the Baklava is baking, you can cook up the syrup.  In a small saucepan, combine the water, agave, lemon juice, orange zest, and cinnamon stick.  Simmer over low heat and stir to avoid burning.  The sauce will thicken up in about 10 minutes.  When it is done, fish out the zest and cinnamon stick.

When the Bakalava comes out of the oven, let it cool for about 5 minutes before adding the syrup.  Pour the syrup evenly over the  pastry, making sure it gets in all the cracks and thoroughly soaks through.  Allow the Baklava to cool completely before digging in.  Dig in!




  • Joyce Holsten

    Hi Sayward, I’m so glad I found your blog. Wow, what a great find. I’ve enjoyed reading your posts so much and can relate to your transition to the vegan world. I’m now a raw, vegan with a speckled vegetarian past :-) The Backlava looks delicious. I’ve had my eye on a raw version in the new book, Sweet Gratitude.

    Again, it’s great to discover you’re blog.

    Cheers from the Burlignton area of Vermont!

  • Sayward

    @ Joyce – Oh, Vermont is just beautiful! I was lucky enough to pass through right as the trees were changing in Autumn, and I remember being in utter awe of the gorgeousness all around. You’re lucky!

    And I’m glad you like the blog! I’m working on some more RAW desserts, so I hope you’ll check back. =)

  • Charley

    Looks and sound delish, I wonder if it would work without the Almond essence. Stupid allergies are a pain when it comes to vegan cooking, nuts abound.

  • my year without

    Wow, sugar free baklava!! I love this dessert but figured I would not be able to eat it again, as it is so sweet and sugary and I have given up refined sugars. Good for you, too!
    How was/is it to go without sugar?

  • Sayward

    @ Charley – I’m sure you could sub vanilla extract for the almond. Might change the flavor a bit, but I’m quite confident it would remain delish!

    @ my year without – Are you familiar with agave syrup? If you are living without refined sugar, you MUST get your hands on some agave. it’s incredible, pretty much tastes like cheating. You won’t miss sugar if you have agave, and you can use it in anything like coffee/tea, baking, in sweet salad dressings/marinades, on oatmeal/cereal/pancakes instead of syrup. Pretty much anywhere that calls for sugar or honey. And it’s low-glycemic, it’s just cactus sap. You can tell I’m a fan. =)

    Going without sugar isn’t hard if you cook from scratch at home. Going out is harder because it hides in things like sauces and dressings. But it’s definitely doable. Find agave!

  • Kate

    Ack. The ingredients list didn’t list walnuts. How much?

  • Sayward

    @ Kate – Gah! Great catch – updated now!

  • AndrewBoldman

    Great post! Just wanted to let you know you have a new subscriber- me!

  • Sayward

    @ Andrew – Yay, thanks!

  • Kim

    Thank you thank you thank you for this recipe. I have also cut out refined sugar and baklava is my favorite dessert. I’m so happy to have found this.

  • Sayward

    @ Kim – Oh yay, you’re welcome! And thanks for commenting here and reminding *me* of this desert . . . I think I need some baklava soon. Muahaha.

  • sj

    I’m SO EXCITED to try this! I’m moving and I think this shall be the first desert I make in the new, muuuuch roomier kitchen!

  • Ectogwarb

    Agave is just as bad for you as honey or sugar.

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  • Sugar free for real

    Agave tastes like cheating because it is! Just because it’s not called “sugar” doesn’t mean it’s not treated exactly the same by your body. It’s easy to go without sugar if you’re just substituting with something with a different name, but the same nutritional info. A rose by any other name…

  • George Butel

    Who started spreading the hallucination that agave is sugar-free? Depending on the plant source, the sugar content of agave syrup is somewhere between 60 and 80 percent, and the sugars are mostly fructose, with some glucose. The fructose:glucose ratio is somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 to 1 or 4 to 1, depending on source. I hope some diabetic doesn’t become seriously sick if he or she takes the “sugar-free” literally and decides to consume an agave-sweetened product.

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