Special Occasion Baklava Recipe

You will need:

  • 13X9” non-stick pan (I have a pan I use only for baklava)
  • Pastry brush
  • Food processor or plastic bag and hammer or rolling pin
  • Sharp knife
  • Cupcake papers
  • 1 box – 16 oz phyllo dough thawed (in fridge for 1-2 days) 

Ingredients:

  • 2+ cups butter, melted
  • 1 lb mix of walnuts and pecans, finely chopped (1 lb = 4 cups, I tend to use more)
  • 1 TBL Saigon cinnamon 
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 TBL fresh squeezed lemon (I use one large lemon)
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 cup honey (better quality makes a difference)
  • 1 hefty teaspoon real vanilla extract

Prep:

  • Thaw phyllo in fridge at least overnight, then put box on counter for 1 hour before starting to bring it to room temperature. Each box should have two separate rolls with a total of about 40 sheets. These will be wrapped in wax paper inside the box.
  • Crush your walnuts and pecans. You can use a food processor, or if you are like me, I don’t have one of those so I put them 1 cup at a time in a plastic or paper bag, then I hit it on the counter using a rolling pin or a hammer until they are mostly fine ground. The plastic bag will rip so you can put it in between layers of newspaper to keep that from happening if you want. Put crushed nuts into a bowl and mix with the Saigon cinnamon. 
  • Put butter into a medium pan on low heat to melt slowly.
  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Start With Honey Sauce:

  • In medium saucepan combine sugar, honey, water, lemon juice and vanilla. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, on medium-high heat. Once it is boiling, keep stirring until the sugar is melted. Then reduce heat to medium-low and gently boil an additional 4 minutes *without stirring*. Remove from heat and let it cool without touching it. 

Baklava:

  • Wet a kitchen towel and lay on the counter. Unroll the first roll of phyllo and trim to fit your pan. (You do not have to trim this, I just fold over the ends that are too long for the pan, but some people prefer it to be neat and tidy. If you trim, you can use the excess in places where the phyllo might rip).
  • Cover the stack of phyllo with the damp towel or it will dry out right away. Best to leave the wax paper between the towel and the phyllo in case the towel is too damp. Each time you use a sheet of the phyllo, you will cover the rest with the towel while you are working with the other sheet.
  • Brush the bottom and sides of your 13X9” pan with some melted butter.
  • Lay one piece of phyllo on bottom of the pan (be sure you cover the stack with the wet towel while working). Brush the first sheet with butter before adding the next. You will butter each piece of phyllo individually. (Place phyllo sheet into pan, cover the stack with damp towel, brush the sheet in the pan with butter, and repeat until you have ten sheets layered).  Don’t worry if a piece breaks or ends up crooked in the pan. Any that clings to the side of the pan you can just fold over onto the top – phyllo is tricky but in the end it doesn’t matter if it is perfectly laid out.   
  • After you have ten sheets buttered in the pan, spread about 1/5 the nut mixture on top of these layers. Scatter about. It won’t cover the entire pan fully. 
  • Add five more sheets of phyllo, buttering each one before adding the next, then add another layer of the nut/cinnamon mixture. 
  • Do this a total of 4 times and the nut mixture will be gone. 
  • Finish layering and buttering the last 10 sheets of phyllo. Brush the top generously with butter. (I always end up using a lot more butter than the recipe calls for but that is a personal preference).
  • With a very sharp knife, cut through the pastry to the bottom of the pan in 1 1/2” strips. You’ll need to hold the phyllo down as you cut so this process is a little slow, but take your time. After cutting into strips, then cut diagonally across the pan to form diamond shapes. 
  • Bake on middle rack in oven at 325 for about 1 hour 15 minutes. I always have ovens that aren’t perfect so I start checking at about 45 minutes. You want the top to be a nice golden brown. Too pale and it will be chewy. 
  • Remove from the oven and immediately spoon the cooled honey mixture evenly over the hot baklava. You will hear it sizzle – this ensures it stays crisp rather than soggy. Be sure you let some drizzle down into the cut lines.
  • Let the baklava cool completely uncovered at room temperature so the syrup can penetrate and soften the layers – 6 hours or overnight. 
  • Once completely cool, run your knife through where you already cut in between each piece to be sure they are severed from each other. Lift out gently and place into cupcake papers, OR leave in the pan at room temperature covered with a dry tea towel for up to two weeks. 

When I know I am going to freeze the baklava, I use extra honey-liquor because freezing dries it out a little. 

Layers:

  • 10 sheets buttered individually then 3/4 cup (ish) nut/cinnamon mixture
  • 5 sheets buttered individually then 3/4 cup (ish) nut/cinnamon mixture
  • 5 sheets buttered individually then 3/4 cup (ish) nut/cinnamon mixture
  • 5 sheets buttered individually then 3/4 cup (ish) nut/cinnamon mixture
  • 5 sheets buttered individually then 3/4 cup (ish) nut/cinnamon mixture
  • 10 buttered sheets and butter the top

Class at the Writing Barn

I will be teaching an online class through the Writing Barn, called “Making it Through the Middle: Getting Your Story Unstuck.” I can help you tackle those pages and pages in the middle of your novel where you lose readers because the energy dropped out of your story.

Learn more about the class and register here!

Horses I Have Loved

Before I was an author, before almost anything else in my life, I was a horse-girl. Still am. My kitchen has halters on the counter, my shirts have horses on them, my boots are dusty from the paddock, and I probably have a bit of hay in my hair. These are a few of the horses I have loved. Send me an email and tell me about yours!

LoreLei

My dad bought LoreLei for me when we first moved to Texas. I was thirteen and she was three. This horse and I cantered down the streets of Houston in the dark of night and I never once questioned her ability to take care of me. I had her for seventeen years until she passed away from one of the first cases of Potomac Horse Fever in Texas.

Tugboat

This rascal was one of the most beloved ponies I have ever had the honor of knowing. He came to be a school pony at a horse farm I managed in Maryland, but he was fresh and untrained and when the back of the trailer opened, he bolted from within and ran for the woods. Fortunately, he ended up in a paddock near the edge of the woods where he lived for three weeks before I could get my hands on him. Tugboat was the inspiration for Fire in Lizzie Flying Solo. He will always be the pony of my heart.

Dallas

In the early 1980’s I managed an Arabian horse breeding farm in TX. Twenty-two years later, a granddaughter of the horses I handled was born in New Jersey. Two years after that, I came across this filly on an equine for sale site on the internet and knew I had to go see her. She was too young for the type of horse I wanted at the time, but when she turned around in the stall and looked at me, I knew I wasn’t going to leave that farm without her. We have been partners ever since. Our favorite ride is up this mountain where she is standing in the photo, full of aspen groves, lodgepole forests, and miles of a mountainside heavy with fragrant sage. I am so lucky to have both my beloved Dallas and this beautiful place I call home.

Sonnet

Sonnet lived in the wild outside Burns, Oregon until she was close to seven years old when she was “gathered” and brought to live in pens at the BLM facility. The first time I saw her photo, I fell in love with that face and drove fourteen hours to Oregon to get her, to let her come live a quiet life in my fields.

My Love for Animals

When my mother gave me a doll for Christmas one year, I cut off its blond hair and glued it to the neck of my plastic horse so it would be warm over the chilly winter. I was an animal lover from birth and have had literally thousands of different pets over the years – horses, ponies, dogs, cats, bunnies, fish, birds, you name it. Right now my horse, Dallas, an Arabian I have had fifteen years since she was a baby, lives in the barn at my house. I am ruled by a fluffy white Akbash dog named Sufi, and a cat I adore. Strangely, cats are the one animal I have never been extremely fond of until Kitty came into my life two years ago. I also have a mountainside full of birds, raptors, elk, moose, bear, coyotes, foxes (both a red fox and a silver fox), bald eagles, Great Grey Owls, mountain lions, and wolves out the back door.

My Inspirations

Robert Frost said, “A poem begins with a lump in the throat; a homesickness or a love sickness. It is a reaching-out toward expression; an effort to find fulfillment.” This is exactly how I feel and where I find inspiration — a memory that keeps rising up in my heart; a place that offered me a wonderful sensory experience; words overheard that resonated with me; a facial expression; a beautiful moment, a sad moment, an exhilarating moment. I am very inspired by nature and often by characters in other books who I love.

Turning Points of My Life

  • When I was three I went on vacation to Donegal, Ireland where I rode a pony for the first time. Ask me anything about that experience, I remember every detail and have been a horse-girl ever since.
  • At age nine, I read Black Beauty. When I closed the book I knew I would become an author, and I would write books for kids. It took me longer than I planned, but here I am! I still have my worn copy of that book.
  • I was twenty-four years old when my first son, Parker, was born. My second son, James, was born when I was twenty-nine. Being a mother is the best and most important job I have ever had. Writing books for children is a close second.
  • In 2009 my family experienced a life-altering event when one of my son’s had a critical illness that required life support. After he was out of the hospital six months later, I was so grateful for his life that I started the Literacy for Hope Project which is dedicated to getting books into the hands of homeless people.
  • Even though people told me I was crazy, I was fifty-five years young when the mountains in western Wyoming called to me. I moved across the country by myself to live near them. It was only after I moved that I realized this was truly home and I probably should have been living near these mountains my whole life.
  • I signed my first publishing contract with HarperCollins when I was fifty-six years old. My first book, Swing Sideways, was published two years later at the ripe age of fifty-eight. So don’t ever let anyone say it is too late to do what you always dreamed of doing. It just isn’t true.