This is a veganized version of the baklava my grandmother, who was an amazing cook, always used to make for us in Greece. I had been under the wrong assumption that phyllo pastry was made with butter, and therefore not vegan. Once I realized that phyllo is actually made with oil and is actually 100% vegan, the rest of the recipe was easy.
Traditionally baklava is made with lots of butter and honey, neither of which is vegan. The butter is easy to swap with a plant-based butter. The honey, I simply swapped with my favorite sweetener – dark, rich, and flavorful, local maple syrup.
Baklava Recipe Tips:
The dairy butter in the baklava was simply swapped out for a plant-based version. I used Trader Joe’s butter, which is my favorite vegan butter. Unfortunately, they only sell a salted version, but since there was no additional salt in the recipe it worked out perfectly. You can use any vegan butter you like the taste of.
Honey is a main ingredient in baklava, but honey is not vegan. Many commercial baklavas are sweetened with a simple syrup made with only sugar and water, but the flavor is not going to be as deep and rich. There are many other substitutes for the honey, such as agave, date syrup, coconut nectar, and more, but I wanted to choose a honey replacement that I absolutely love the taste of…and the winner without a doubt is maple syrup.
Maple Syrup Grades
Living in New England, we can get some really incredible maple syrup. I always choose the darkest grade I can find, which has the most robust, richest maple flavor.
Maple syrup used to be graded A (the lightest), B or C (very dark). A couple of years ago the grading system changed, so now all maple syrup is Grade A with an additional description.
- Grade A / Golden Color and Delicate Taste
- Grade A / Medium Amber or Grade A Dark Amber
- Grade A / Dark Color and Robust Flavor – this used to be grade B
- Grade A / Very Dark and Strong Flavor – used to be grade C
In Greece, the most common type of nuts used in baklava are walnuts, but you’ll find many different variations. I used a combination of walnuts, pistachios and almonds in this recipe. You don’t have to use all three types of nuts, though. Use any combination, or even just one type, as long as it adds up to a total of 16 oz (4 cups) of nuts.
Toasting the nuts
Toasting nuts heats up their natural oils, intensifying their flavor, making them fragrant, and drastically improving their crunchy texture. No matter what recipe I am making, if it involve nuts, I always make sure I toast them first.
Simply spread the nuts on a baking sheet and toast at 350° F for about 10 minutes until fragrant.
Avoiding Soggy Layers
The one thing that can ruin a good baklava is soggy phyllo layers. Even the most syrupy, bottom layers should be crisp. My grandmother taught me a very simple trick to avoid this from happening. Either the baklava should be hot and the syrup cold, or the syrup should be hot and the baklava cold. Don’t add hot to hot, or cold to cold or the syrup will not absorb properly and make the phyllo soggy.
Scoring the phyllo
You want to score the top phyllo layers before you bake the baklava. The reason for this is because once the layers are baked, flaky and crisp, it’s hard to cut clean slices. The scoring also allows the syrup to seep throughout all the phyllo layers.
Baklava – Vegan
- 9 inch baking pan – the shape doesn't matter, it can be round or square
- Food processor
- pastry brush
For the Baklava
- 2 cups walnuts toasted
- 1 cup almonds toasted
- 1 cup pistachios
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
- 4 oz vegan butter melted
- 1 lb phyllo pastry sheets
For the syrup:
- 1½ cups water
- 1½ cups organic sugar
- ¾ cup dark maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- a large strip orange peel
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 5-6 whole cloves
For the Baklava:
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Finely chop the nuts in a food processor. Transfer nuts to a bowl and mix in the brown sugar, ground cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.
- Brush some melted butter in the bottom of a 9 inch pan.
- Unroll the phyllo dough and lay the sheets flat on a work surface. If the phyllo is frozen make sure you defrost it before you try to unroll it or it will tear.The phyllo tries out very quickly, so cover it will a slightly damp (not wet) kitchen towel.
- Place one phyllo sheet on the bottom of the pan, allowing excess to drape over the edges.Brush with some melted butter.Repeat this process for a total of 8 phyllo sheets.
- Spread one cup of the nut mixture over the phyllo and smooth out. Place 4 more phyllo sheets over the first layer of nuts. Brush each layer with butter before placing the next sheet down.You will repeat this process three more times. Spreading one cup of nuts over the phyllo, and topping with four more sheets – always brushing each one with more butter.
- Once you have four layers of nuts, begin to fold the excess phyllo that's draped over the edges of the pan.
- Layer another 8 layers, brushing each one with butter, and folding over so they fit your pan.If you have any butter left over you can drizzle it over the top layer of phyllo.
- With a sharp knife carefully score the top phyllo layers into the size you want your pieces to be.
- Bake the baklava for one hour until golden.
For the syrup:
- Combine the water, sugar, maple syrup, lemon juice, orange rind (make sure there is no pith), cinnamon stick, and whole cloves in a sauce pan and bring to a boil.Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes until the syrup is slightly thickened.Remove the orange peel, cinnamon stick and whole cloves.
- Once the baklava is baked you can pour the syrup over it. To avoid the phyllo becoming soggy make sure that either the baklava is warm and the syrup is cold, or let the baklava cool and then drizzle with the hot syrup.
- Allow the baklava to sit overnight so that the syrup is absorbed into all the layers.