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!