Pakhlava and two cups of Armenian coffee.

Pakhlava Bliss – A Journey into the Sweet Layers of Tradition

A diamond-shaped parcel filled with layers of thin pastry sheets, packed with a nut mixture and liberally soaked in honey syrup. This gem of Armenian patisserie might sound like a challenging task, but I’ll guide you through the process of creating pakhlava and provide tips so you can create your own stunning confection.

Close shot of pakhlava.

Chronicles of Tertanoush or Pakhlava

This intricate sweet nut filled pastry, referred to as tertanoush in Armenian tradition and recognized internationally as baklava or pakhlava, started its journey a long time ago.

Paklava is crafted by Armenians, Persians, Greeks, Arabs, at the crossroads where Europe, Asia, and Africa converge. As a culinary treasure, it’s influenced by and complements various traditions, reflecting a cultural tapestry in each layer. Each nation’s Paklava holds its unique flavor, aroma, and history where one can trace the culinary heritage that has evolved.

Atcharrian, a prominent scientist of linguistic, performed etymological research leading him to a 10th-century Ancient Armenian manuscript, where the term “tsagh” was mentioned; often synonymous with honeybread.  He uncovered other references such as tsal-tsol (fold by fold)  or tert-tert (sheet by sheet), indicative of dough layered with nuts, honey, and ghee across historical Armenian regions and dialects. This exploration pointed to the pastry’s origins as a honey-soaked delicacy.

The honey-infused paklava was a celebrated delicacy in Sebastia, Gamerek, Mush, Van, Tigranakert, Kesaria, Kars, Bayazet, and Erzrum; and was especially cherished during holidays and special events. Displaced, uprooted, and scattered all over the world, Armenians carry on the tradition of making, introducing, and sharing their beloved tertanoush.

From humble origins as a honey-soaked pastry to tertanoush, this dessert has become a cherished pastry, globally known as baklava.

What’s unique about this Recipe?

  • Makes an excellent gift for holidays
  • Easy to transport
  • Stays fresh for weeks
  • Festive

Grocery and Pantry List

Grocery Pantry items for pakhlava.
  • Phyllo dough: Phyllo dough is sold in the grocery stores. Using store-bought dough is a significant time saver.
  • Ghee/Clarified Butter: For the best results, use ghee or clarified butter. Melted butter is not the same as clarified butter (it does not have milk solids.)
  • Walnuts: Walnuts are used for the filling. Roughly chopped small pieces of walnuts are used for pakhlava. Other nuts can also be used for the filling.
  • Sugar: Granulated sugar is used for the filling and for making the syrup.
  • Spices: Cardamom, cloves, cinnamon are all acceptable options to use to spice the flavors up. My personal choice is to use only cardamom and a few cloves for the syrup.
  • Honey: Honey is used in the syrup. You won’t need to use the most expensive and exotic honey, but choose one that tastes good.
  • Lemon juice: Lemon juice is for the syrup and keeps sugar from crystalizing.

Time Required:

Bake in a 350°F(180°C) preheated oven.

  • 10 minutes: Clarifying the butter
  • 10 minutes: Making syrup
  • 15-20 minutes: Assembling and scoring
  • 40 minutes: Baking

Special Tools to Use:

  • Food Processor
  • Bowls
  • Pastry brush
  • Baking sheet

Recipe Steps at a Glance

This pakhlava recipe can be broken down into the following steps:

  • Preparing walnut filling – Can be done ahead of time
  • Clarifying butter -Can be done ahead of time
  • Making syrup
  • Assembling the sheets
  • Scoring the pakhlava
  • Baking pakhlava

Step-by-step: How to Make Pakhlava

Step 1: Preparing walnut filling

In a food processor, pulse the nuts to achieve fine to medium-sized pieces, avoiding powder. Be mindful not to let the food processor run continuously. Add the sugar and spices, then pulse 2-3 times until fully combined. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, ready for use.

Step 2: Clarifying butter (creating ghee)

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat, allowing it to gently simmer. Be attentive to prevent spillage. As the butter melts, it will foam up and rise. Sprinkle a tablespoon of flour; you’ll observe the foam clumping and settling. Reduce the heat, allowing it to cool a bit. Once cooled, you’ll see clarified butter on top and white milk solids at the bottom. Carefully pour through a fine mesh sieve into a glass jar, ensuring you don’t disturb the residue that’s on the bottom.

Step 3: Making syrup

Combine sugar with water and bring to a boil. Drop in the piece of lemon peel, and cloves if using. Cook for 10 minutes until syrup reaches 210 degrees F. Add the honey and lemon juice. Remove the lemon peel and cloves and set it aside to completely cool.

Step 4: Assembling the sheets

Open the phyllo dough package and lay it flat on a surface. Inspect the sheets, setting aside any broken ones. Reserve the best sheets for the top layer.

Begin layering the phyllo sheets immediately on the baking sheet. Using a pastry brush, apply a thin layer of clarified butter and place the second sheet on top.

Continue layering, applying butter between each sheet (pic 1). After the 4th layer, pleat 2-3 ‘not-so-perfect’ sheets into an accordion (pic 2) and lay them down. Brush with clarified butter and place the next sheet on top.

When halfway through the sheets (from your box), let the next two sheets overlap from the middle, overhanging on either side (pic 3).

Scatter the walnut mixture in an even single layer (pic 4). Fold the overhanging flaps over, creating an envelope (pic 5 & 6), and continue the process of applying clarified butter and layering new sheets with the rest of the phyllo dough.

Step 5: Scoring the pakhlava

When it comes to scoring the pakhlava, there are different schools of thought—cutting it into squares, triangles, or the iconic diamond shape, which happens to be my preferred choice.

To create a diamond pattern, the first cuts should be parallel to the sides of the sheet pan, while the cross cuts should be diagonal. The incisions should be about ⅔ deep, enough to cut through the walnut layer but not reach the bottom of the sheet.
Use a sharp knife with a vertical up-and-down cutting motion, as opposed to cut-and-drag technique.
First, score the edges all the way around. This will yield crisp looking edges for the final baked pakhlava.

Start by finding the center point of your sheet and make an incision all the way across. Then, divide each half into 3 and score those as well, resulting in 6 sections. Next, score one corner to make it into a triangle. Follow it up with another incision parallel to that one. This process creates a beautiful diamond pattern on your pakhlava.

Gently hold the phyllo sheet with your other hand to ensure they don’t lift.

Applying clarified butter over the cuts.
Pic 10: Applying clarified butter over the cuts.

After all the cuts are done, generously brush the seams with clarified butter (pic 10). Using the brush, iron out any layers that might have been shifted.

Your tray of pakhlava is ready for baking.

Step 6: Baking pakhlava and finishing

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

Position the baking tray in the middle rack and bake for 20 minutes. The pastry should visibly rise with a distinct diamond-shaped pattern.

Reduce the heat to 300°F (150°C) and continue baking for an additional 20 minutes.

Rotate the tray, increase the heat back to 350°F (180°C), and bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Remove the baked pakhlava from the oven (pic 11). With the sharp knife and go over the pre-cut groves and cut all the way through.

Pour the cool down syrup over the hot pastry, ensue that all the pieces get a generous application of the syrup (pic 12 & 13).

Loosely cover with foil and let it all soak for at least 6-hours or overnight.

Best Way to Serve

Pakhlava pieces on a glass tray.
  • Design the pieces on a serving plate in an attractive pattern (see picture).
  • Serve in individual colorful cupcake liners.

Tips and Wisdom from Cafe Osharak

  • Using clarified butter will yield a visually appealing pastry. Regular melted butter contains milk solids that can burn during baking, resulting in dark spots on the pakhlava. Score the pakhlava before baking.
  • Keep the nuts rather chunky; if using a food processor, try pulsing. Adding sugar will prevent the nuts from becoming a paste.
  • Thaw the phyllo dough a day in advance. Bring to room temperature beforehand and keep it in the package until ready to work with it. Unfold the phyllo dough and set aside any broken, cracked, or torn pieces for later use. You can use them in the bottom section.
  • Follow this golden rule: When pouring syrup over the baked paklava, one element should be hot, and the other cool. For example: cooled syrup over hot pakhlava.
    This ensures the most absorb-ability and less sogginess.
  • Partially cutting pakhlava into your desired shape provides a defined and clear definition for the final individual pastries. However, finish cutting through after the paklava is baked.
  • Apply clarified butter (ghee) to every layer. This creates pockets and ensures that the sheets stay separated during baking. Also, applying butter along the cuts makes the layers more pronounced after baking.
  • Allow the syrup several hours to absorb into the pastry. Leaving it overnight will yield the best results.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does paklava store in the fridge?

The uniqueness of paklava is that it can stay at room temperate for weeks. The use of clarified butter and honey syrup, makes the pastry naturally preserved so it can stay out of the fridge.

Can you freeze paklava?

It freezes well and doesn’t lose its appeal or taste. Defrost in refrigerator or at room temperature. To spruce it up, make a small amount of simple syrup and pour the hot syrup over it.

Does paklava have honey?

Authentic paklava recipes always call for honey. If the honey is not an option, use all sugar, or agave nectar can be used (in place of honey).

More Recipes to Try From Cafe Osharak

If you try out this recipe, I would love to hear from you. Let me know if you find it delicious and straightforward to prepare. I am here to answer any questions and provide any suggestions. Also, be sure to explore other recipes from Cafe Osharak, as I’m sure you’ll love them too!

Pakhlava Bliss – A Journey into the Sweet Layers of Tradition

A diamond-shaped parcel filled with layers of thin pastry sheets, packed with a nut mixture and liberally soaked in honey syrup. This gem of Armenian patisserie might sound like a challenging task, but I'll guide you through the process of creating pakhlava and provide tips so you can create your own stunning confection.
Print Recipe
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Pakhlava and two cups of Armenian coffee.
Prep Time:40 minutes
Cook Time:40 minutes
Course
Dessert
Cuisine
Armenian

Ingredients

  • 1 package phyllo dough 24-25 sheets
  • 4 cups walnuts
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom seeds ground
  • 2 cups ghee clarified butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1-2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Lemon peel

Instructions

Prepare the walnut filling

  • In a food processor, chop the nuts with a few pulses. You want to have fine to medium pieces but not powder. Add the sugar and spices and give 2-3 pulses until fully combined. Transfer to a bowl until ready to use.
    4 cups walnuts, ¼ cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cardamom

Clarify the butter

  • Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat, allowing it to gently simmer. Be attentive to prevent spillage. As the butter melts, it will foam and rise. Sprinkle a tablespoon of flour; you'll observe the foam clumping and settling.
    2 cups ghee
  • Reduce the heat, allowing it to cool a bit. Once cooled, you'll see clarified butter on top and white milk solids at the bottom.
  • Carefully pour through a fine mesh sieve into a glass jar, ensuring you don't disturb the residue that's on the bottom.

Start layering

  • Open the phyllo dough package and lay it flat on a surface. Inspect the sheets, setting aside any broken ones. Reserve the best sheets for the top layer.
    1 package phyllo dough
  • Begin layering the phyllo sheets immediately on the baking sheet. Using a pastry brush, apply a thin layer of clarified butter and place the second sheet on top.
  • Continue layering, applying butter between each sheet. Brush with clarified butter and place the next sheet on top. When halfway through the sheets, let the next two sheets overlap from the middle, overhanging on either side.
  • Scatter the walnut mixture in an even single layer. Fold the overhanging flaps over, creating an envelope, and continue the process of applying clarified butter and layering the sheets.

Scoring the paklava

  • When it comes to scoring the paklava, there are different schools of thought: cutting it into squares, triangles, or the iconic diamond shape, which happens to be my preferred choice.
  • To create a diamond pattern, the first cuts should be parallel to the sides of the sheet pan, while the cross cuts should be diagonal. The incisions should be about ⅔ deep, enough to cut through the walnut layer but not reach the bottom of the sheet.
  • Use a sharp knife with a vertical up-and-down cutting motion, as opposed to the cut-and-drag technique.
  • First, score the edges all the way around. This will give crisp looking edges to the final baked paklava.
  • Start by finding the center point of your sheet and make an incision all the way across. Then, divide each half into 3 and score those as well, resulting in 6 sections.
  • Next, score one corner to make it into a triangle. Follow it up with another incision parallel to that one. This process creates a beautiful diamond pattern on your paklava.
  • Gently hold the phyllo sheet with your other hand to ensure they don’t lift.
  • After all the cuts are done, generously brush the seams with clarified butter. Using the brush, iron out any layers that might have been shifted.

Baking pakhlava

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
  • Position the baking tray in the middle rack and bake for 20 minutes. The pastry should visibly rise with a distinct diamond-shaped pattern.
  • Reduce the heat to 300°F (150°C) and continue baking for an additional 20 minutes.
  • Rotate the tray, increase the heat back to 350°F (180°C), and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
  • Pull the baked pastry and finish by cutting the pieces through.

Making syrup

  • Combine sugar with water and bring it to a boil. Drop the piece of lemon peel, and cloves if using. Cook for 10 minutes until syrup reaches 210 degrees F. Add the honey and lemon juice. Remove the lemon peel and cloves and set it aside.
    1 1/2 cups sugar, 1 1/2 cups water, 1 cup honey, 1-2 tablespoon lemon juice, Lemon peel

Notes

Step-by-Step Photos: My blog post includes helpful step-by-step photos to help guide you through making this recipe.
  • Using clarified butter will yield a visually appealing pastry. Regular melted butter contains milk solids that can burn during baking, resulting in dark spots on the pakhlava. Score the pakhlava before baking.
  • Keep the nuts rather chunky; if using a food processor, try pulsing. Adding sugar will prevent the nuts from becoming a paste.
  • Thaw the phyllo dough a day in advance. Bring it to room temperature beforehand and keep it in the package until ready to work with it. Unfold the phyllo dough and set aside any broken, cracked, or torn pieces for later use. You can use them in the bottom section.
  • Follow the golden rule: when pouring syrup over the baked paklava, one element should be hot (paklava), and the other cool (syrup). This ensures the most absorb-ability and less sogginess.
  • Cutting it into your desired shape provides a defined and clear definition for the final individual pastries. However, finish cutting through after the paklava is baked.
  • Apply butter to every layer. This creates pockets and ensures that the sheets stay separated during baking. Also, applying butter along the cuts makes the layers more pronounced after baking.
  • Allow the syrup several hours to absorb into the pastry. Leaving it overnight will yield the best results.

Nutrition

Calories: 237kcal | Carbohydrates: 18g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 18g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 6g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 24mg | Sodium: 56mg | Potassium: 81mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 10g | Vitamin A: 39IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 14mg | Iron: 1mg
Servings: 40 pieces
Calories: 237kcal
Tried this recipe?Mention @osharak.cafe or tag #osharak.cafe!

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