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BAKLAVA (a la Muriel)
1 package phyllo dough, defrosted
12 oz or more walnuts and/or
pine nuts, pecans, hazelnuts
pistachios (optional)
½ cup sunflower seeds (optional)
1 heaping Tbsp ground cinnamon
1½ stick butter (melted)
2 cups quality honey
½ lemon, squeezed

Prep: Defrost frozen phyllo dough in refrigerator overnight. Melt a stick of butter. Preheat oven to between 325-350 degrees. Place a pan of water on the bottom as this keeps baklava from drying out.

Chop nuts to medium-fine. I prefer mostly walnuts and you can also use pine nuts, hazelnuts, pecan meal and/or mix in some finely chopped sunflower seeds. Mix the chopped nuts, seeds and cinnamon together ahead of the layering to save time. Reserve some chopped pistachios or chopped hazelnuts for the upper layers and to sprinkle on top.

Prepare to layer in a medium size casserole pan. A 9×13 pan produces more pieces than a 9×9 or 8×8 pan, but the smaller pans produce thicker pieces (main photo). Unroll phyllo dough and cut entire stack to length of pan using a knife or scissors. Use the phyllo trimmings for the middle layers. To keep phyllo pliable, keep the unused portion in a plastic bag or covered with a very slightly damp cloth.

Spread a thin layer of melted butter on bottom of pan. Then place a single layer of phyllo across the pan and using a pastry brush, spread a little butter evenly on top. Repeat 5 times. Add layer of nut/cinnamon mixture, then phyllo, melted butter, phyllo. (Top and bottom will have more layers of phyllo than in the middle, just 2 or 3 layers of phyllo and butter between layers of nuts and cinnamon.) Continue with several layers of nuts & cinnamon, phyllo, butter, and phyllo again. Near the top, I like to use chopped pistachios or hazelnuts instead of walnuts. Then put another 4 or 5 layers of phyllo and butter on top. When the layers are complete and before baking, cut the entire stack diagonally with a large knife to form diamond or triangle shaped pieces.

Cooking: Bake about 30 min between 325-350 degrees until golden brown, but check after 20 or 25 minutes.

While the baklava is baking, heat the honey and lemon juice gently until runny. Remove baklava from the oven and pour the honey mixture evenly over it. If desired, sprinkle coarsely chopped pistachios or hazelnuts on top. If you can, wait a little while for it to cool and for the honey to soak in. Remove pieces with a spatula. If there is any left over (a rare occurrence indeed) it keeps well and also freezes well.

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