Pecan Pie Baklava

Pecan Pie Baklava. This is my own personal creation for the “pie” unit for Christina Tosi’s Creative Baking Class. Tosi is brilliant in that her pies are not traditional. Her classic “Milk Bar Pie” has a crust of a crushed up, homemade oatmeal cookie that’s delicious and addictive. For her class, we need to create our own version of pie–not the traditional pie crust and filling. Rethinking what a “crust” and even what a “pie” is is inspiring in itself, so I decided for my second project to make Pecan Pie Filling as a layer of a whole baklava pie–the crust is the baklava and it’s the filling (between the layers, I retain the nature of baklava by still putting nuts in between each layer). When I usually make baklava, it’s pistachios, but because I am channeling the South, I decided to use pecans all the way through. Sorry, Dad!

As a former North Carolina resident, I learned to love Pecan Pie (as well as the classic Banana Cream Pie, but that will come, I think, for the cake upcoming). While living down there, I also liked to channel my Lebanese background and would make all sorts of appetizers and desserts with Phyllo dough. So while this pie isn’t Tosi-esque because I didn’t crumble a cookie, use cereal, or add something cloyingly sweet but unusual, it’s definitely me. When I think of pie, I think of a flakey, buttery crust, and I think the best form of a pie is either with Phyllo or Puff Pastry, hence my choice of crust.

I used a 6-inch springform pan and layered in Phyllo dough and buttered alternate sheets. I tossed chopped pecans, sugar, cinnamon, and fresh orange zest in between 3 layers. When I was halfway done, I put traditional pecan pie filling in the middle so it’s a true hybrid. The last few layers of Phyllo are circles to make a smooth top, and cutting this diamond pattern was very tedious. If it wasn’t for my best friend, I don’t think I could have done it. We worked on the design as a team!

The key to good baklava is to make sure the syrup is cooled and then it is slowly spooned on top of the hot baklava so that it seeps deeply and evenly.

Be warned: This is a bit tedious between the layering and the cutting, but it’s worth it if you have the patience. Enjoy!

Here’s my recipe!

1 egg
7 tablespoons of light corn syrup
7 tablespoons of light brown sugar
2 tablespoons of butter melted (salted)
1 cup of pecans
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
a little orange zest

1/3 cup honey
1 (3″) cinnamon stick
3/4 cups sugar, divided
1.5 tablespoons bourbon
2 cups raw pecans
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest, plus 1 teaspoon orange curls
20 (17×12″) sheets fresh phyllo pastry or frozen, thawed (you will likely not use the whole box, but it’s better to have more than less)
1 cup (2 stick) unsalted butter, melted (European, like Kerrygold, is preferred)

Special Equipment
A 6-inch springform pan

1.) First, make your pecan pie filling. In a bowl, mix together egg, corn syrup, brown sugar, butter, pecans, cinnamon, and orange zest. Set aside.

2.) Preheat oven to 350°F.

3.) Next, make your baklava syrup. Bring honey, cinnamon sticks, 1/2 cup of sugar, and 1/2 cup water to a boil in a medium heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium and continue to boil until syrup is reduced. Transfer to a medium bowl, stir in bourbon and let cool.

4.) Meanwhile, spread pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until golden brown, 13–15 minutes. Let cool. Transfer nuts to a food processor. Add ground cinnamon, 1 tsp. orange zest, and remaining sugar (about 3 tablespoons) and pulse until coarsely chopped.

5.) Place a stack of phyllo sheets on a work surface. Keep any phyllo you’re not currently working with covered under a layer of plastic wrap topped with a slightly damp kitchen towel. Using a base of the springform pan as a guide, and starting at edge of phyllo, carefully cut out 20 (9″) circles, leaving as much phyllo remaining as possible. Cover phyllo circles. Using base of pan as a guide, cut remaining phyllo into 20 (4 1/2″) half-circles.

6.) Insert base into pan and secure the latch. Brush base with butter. Place 1 phyllo circle in pan and brush generously with butter. To save dough, cut dough into rectangular strips, cut into two square, and then cut each square into a diagonal triangle and to layer your pan. Each time you double up on a layer, brush with butter, and try to use your pastry brush to smooth and fit the sheets to be rounded off into the pan.

7.) Once you are a quarter of the way up, layer with seasoned pecans and shake the pan back and forth to make sure there’s an even distribution. Continue to layer and butter as you see fit.

8.) Repeat the previous steps for when you’re halfway through. Once halfway, add pecan pie filling. Put extra layers of phyllo to support the weight of the filling.

9.) I used triangles layered on top of one another and then the “springform traced circles for the top as that layer is very delicate and needs to be cut through. Be sure to save your circles for the top and fill your springform pan about 75% of the way.

10.) Repeat the previous steps and fill the other layers with the seasoned nut filling as you did before. You should have nuts on the first quarter, third quarter, and almost at the very top.

11.) OPTIONAL (if you want the pattern I did): Using a sharp knife, score the top layer (do not cut through to the bottom of the pan) to divide into 4 quadrants. Working with 1 quadrant at a time, make 1 straight cut to divide the quadrant into 2 even wedges. Make 4 more straight cuts (2 each on either side of, and parallel to the quadrant division line), spacing evenly apart. Now working within each wedge, make 2 evenly-spaced cuts parallel to the outside edge of the quadrant, connecting at points with the previous cuts to form a diamond pattern. Repeat with the remaining quadrants to create a starburst pattern.

ALTERNATIVE CUTTING METHOD: In the past, I’ve made diamond cuts by carefully slice the baklava into 4 long even strips lengthwise, then slice diagonally to create diamond-shaped baklava.

12.) Transfer pan to a rimmed baking sheet and bake until phyllo is golden brown, about 45 minutes.
Spoon cooled syrup over hot baklava in 4 additions. Place orange curls on top. Let cool completely in pan. Remove springform ring and cut baklava along the scored lines.

Croissant Honey Dijon Chicken Salad with Split Red Grapes and Roasted Pecans


Happy Monday!

As I am writing this post, it is actually Sunday. Tomorrow is the last day of school for my students (I have block scheduling in the school I teach), and so, I will have 89 students handing in their final research paper (which are at a minimum of 4 pages each.) The math is not very comforting; I will be spending approximately 30 hours this week grading papers on top of proctoring the state examinations. I am dreading this week, but I want to take the stress off of myself by spending my weekend balancing…



Relaxing (believe it or not!)

I am writing my blog in advance because I want to talk about planning your meals in advance. Often times, people think of meal planning as only important if one is dieting, or if someone is planning to entertain guests. Plan your meals and you will save money, time, and your health.

If your life is anything like mine, you are so busy during the work week and rarely have time to make lunch or dinner. So what happens? We fall to temptation; we go to fast food havens and order take out. We grab packaged candy bars and chips and hope for the best.

Now I know my last two posts were not the healthiest, but generally speaking, I like to eat a balanced, healthy meal at least 5 out of the 7 days of the week. But often times my goals combat the realities of the work place, and I, too, fall short. I’ll incessantly spend money going out to eat for convenience. There is just not enough time in the day…

Except, of course, there is time often the day before. We make time for the things we love like our friends, family and binge watching television shows on Netflix. And so, you should love yourself enough and prioritize food. If you plan your meals in advance, it will take a load off your shoulders for the week, and you can feel satisfied because you’ll have tasty home cooked meals that are affordable and easy to manipulate.

Another personal challenge I have is that I live alone; although, I often host parties and have friends over. During the work week, it just me, myself, and I which makes me even less motivated to cook. Luckily, I enjoy cooking and sharing what I make with the world. I hope that my blog can help you reconsider the way you prioritize your dinners, and hopefully, inspire you to do some meals ahead of time to relieve the stresses of our every day lives.

For today’s recipe, I knew I wanted to use chicken because it is very cost effective, tasty, and is versatile. My secret weapon for today is to either…

1.) Make a large roasted chicken

2.) Buy a rotisserie chicken already cooked

I will not judge you if you do the latter. I shred rotisserie chickens often times to make White Chicken Enchiladas with Green Chiles. It’s so good that it should be illegal. I use it in a pinch, but today, I wanted to make my own roasted chicken so I can control the seasonings.

My plan for today is to make my breakfast, lunch, and dinners ahead. I made snickerdoodle muffins so I can have a healthier* grab and go in the morning (healthier, yes, it’s not chia seed pudding or a kale shake). For lunch and dinner interchangeably, I made several spinach salads, and I cook the chicken to make some roasted chicken for dinner (duh), chicken enchiladas, and today’s blog post, Croissant Honey Dijon Chicken Salad with Split Red Grapes and Roasted Pecans. From one chicken, I am making three different types of meals and I am eating for the whole week. Winner, winner, chicken dinner! 😉

I don’t like chicken salad generally speaking, or any kind of “salad” that is ironically titled as such; there are usually no greens in sight, but mayonnaise reigns supreme.

I don’t like mayo. Go ahead and sue me, but I do use it as a binder for ingredients (like a crab cake). I will never use it as a condiment. Do not try to change my opinion on it–it’s nasty. But because there will be people who rally a petition against me if I say don’t use mayo when you prepare this recipe, I will allow it.

Instead of mayo, I used a healthy alternative by mixing Greek yogurt and sour cream. I totally left the mayo out because I’m a health nut, and it has nothing to do with my disgust for it–nope not at all. 🙂 If you are team mayo, feel free to replace my Greek yogurt for mayo, and the results should be the same.

I think what makes this chicken salad delicious (in addition to not having any mayonnaise in sight) is that it has elements of sophistication. I believe the chives and celery give a great flavor base; the honey and dijon mustard adds a classic French dimension; but most uniquely, it is on a buttery, flaky croissant, red grapes, and crushed roasted Pecans. I think the acidity of the fruit with the cool chicken is wonderful. It reminds me of an actual salad; in my opinion, the best salads have a balance of textures and taste. My favorite go to salad is grilled chicken, spinach, bleu cheese crumbles, dried cranberries, and pecans. The nuts, fruits, and cheese harmoniously balance each other out. I think that most sophisticated dishes incorporate more than one type of food group which is what brings it to that next level.

Similarly, this chicken salad has many different layers of flavor and textures. The best part? It’s super easy.

Make this chicken salad–you won’t regret it.

Step One: Roast Your Host (Please let it not be you as the cook–I meant the star of the show, your chicken…)

Roasted Chicken* 

1 whole chicken (about 4-5 pounds)

3 tablespoons of fresh thyme

1 tablespoon of salt (add more for the rub!)

1 tablespoon of pepper (add more!)

1 teaspoon of paprika** (optional)

1 lemon cut in quarters

3 tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

12 cloves of garlic

Julienned vegetables (carrots and celery)***

***-optional–only if you plan on making a chicken soup from the drippings.

*-Skip this step if you are purchasing a ready made rotisserie chicken. If you are not making your chicken, make sure it is as plainly seasoned; don’t get something too strong of one flavor as it would not be as versatile for other dishes for the week.

  1.  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Get a deep covered baker, or a roasting pan (just make sure you can cover your chicken for the first part) and spray with cooking spray or brush on olive oil.
  2. Remove giblets and excessive fat from the chicken (you know, that creepy bag with your chicken’s organs; please don’t cook it!) Dry your chicken with a paper towel. If you have time, let your chicken “dry out” in the refrigerator to get extra crispy skin (my favorite part of the chicken.)
  3. Pour about two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil on chicken. You may use butter, if you prefer. Rub all on chicken and make sure it is evenly distributed.
  4. Grab a handful of thyme sprigs. Please use fresh thyme as dried thyme does not have the same “oomph.” Pick out the leaves and generously spread all over the chicken.
  5. Salt and pepper the chicken generously to create a light rub. If you like, you may add paprika as well.
  6. Quarter a lemon and shove inside the cavity of the chicken. Squeeze one quarter over the chicken, or more to your taste. Throw in some thyme sprigs into the cavity as well.
  7. Smash six cloves of garlic and throw whole cloves inside the chicken.
  8. Smash six more cloves and put around the chicken in the baker. **If you have carrots and celery, julienne these and put around the chicken as this would be a good base for chicken soup.**
  9. Roast your chicken in the oven for an hour covered.
  10. After an hour has passed, take off the lid and cook for about 35-45 minutes until chicken meat is white and skin is lightly browned and crispy. Once finished cooking, let cool before carving; do not carve immediately as you’ll lose all the juices and likely burn your fingers!

Step Two: The Cool Factor

2.5-3 cups cooked, shredded chicken

1 1/2 cups chopped celery (diced finely)

1 1/2 cups red grapes, halved

1/2 cup of roasted pecans (you can use sweetened ones like I did!)

3 tablespoons of diced chives, or alternatively, 2 green onions, thinly sliced*

1 cup Greek yogurt (I used Fage–and please get plain!)

1/4 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon black pepper *

1 teaspoon salt *

Two tablespoons of honey*

Two tablespoons of Dijon mustard*

*-start with this amount and add to taste

juice of 1 small lemon

4-5 croissants

  1. If you recently cooked the chicken, let it cool until it isn’t too hot to handle. Once chicken is cool, shred with a fork, hands, or combination if you’re like me. Be sure to sort through bones and be careful!
  2. Slice and dice thinly celery, chives (or green onions) and throw into a large mixing bowl. Also, slice red grapes in half and throw into the bowl.
  3. Scoop out the Greek yogurt and sour cream and place in mixing bowl.
  4. Throw shredded chicken into mixing bowl and squeeze lemon on top of the meat.  Stir to combine.
  5. Once throughly mixed, add salt, pepper, Dijon mustard, and honey. Mix again, and season to your liking. Tip: Rip a small piece of croissant and taste mixture to be accurate assess how it will taste “all together.”
  6. Ideally, you should let the mixture stay in the refrigerator overnight to let the flavors set. If you don’t have the time, a few hours chilled will do too.
  7. When ready to make the sandwich, split a croissant in half. Put approximately half a cup on the bottom half of the sandwich. Roughly chop some roasted pecans and place on top of the chicken salad. Put the top of the croissant and admire its beauty.
  8. Eat it for the rest of your work week and be happy!

Enjoy the salad! Make sure you use all of your roasted chicken for multiple purposes in addition to this sandwich. Some recommendations: Chicken Noodle Soup, Chicken Enchiladas, and Pulled BBQ Chicken.

See you on Friday! Hopefully, my papers won’t completely deprive me of a life!