Bunnies, baklava – it’s all good for Easter

Published 12:11 am Saturday, April 16, 2011

Making baklava is something I do at Easter (and Christmas), and this past week, I made some for the coffee hour at my church. Baklava makes me think of Greece, and many magazines this time of year often do whole sections on a Greek Easter. I decided to find out a little more about the Greek Orthodox Easter festivities.

Easter (Pascha) is the most celebrated feast in Greek culture. An Orthodox Easter is based on the Julian calendar, so it falls at a different time each year and usually does not fall on the time period recognized by other Christian churches. However, this year it is on April 24, the same day western churches will celebrate Easter.

In Holy Week (Megali Evdomatha) evening church services focus on specific themes: charity (Holy Monday), forgiveness and repentance (Holy Tuesday), compassion and mercy (Holy Wednesday). On Holy Thursday, a special morning church service commemorates the Last Supper. The evening church service commemorates Christ’s final hours before the Crucifixion. Red Easter eggs are dyed on Holy Thursday. They are used at midnight on Holy Saturday and for Easter Sunday celebrations.

Good Friday (Megali Paraskevi) is the most solemn day of the year and is a time of strict mourning and fasting. The church holds morning, afternoon and evening services, and most Greeks attend at least one. In Greece, Good Friday is a public holiday. You may have seen candle-lit processions following a funeral bier in the streets around local Greek Orthodox churches.

Many people take communion at the Holy Saturday morning service. Often a long queue forms outside the church. Holy Saturday is spent preparing meals to be shared after midnight mass. Many people deliver gifts to godchildren—clothing, or the traditional long white candle and dyed eggs.

The midnight service (the Anastasi or resurrection service) is the climax of the Orthodox year. People arrive at their church before midnight. Nearly all Greeks, religious and non-religious, attend this service. Inside the church participants hold candles. A few minutes before midnight all lights are switched off, the priest appears at the altar holding a lit candle, and he invites everyone to receive the light to glorify Christ, who has risen from the dead.

Easter Sunday (Pascha or Lambri) is a day of feasting. Lamb is traditionally cooked on a spit and a variety of other Greek dishes are eaten. This is where the Greek sweet of baklava comes in. It is usually one of the main desserts of the meal. Greek women spend days getting the baklava ready for the feast. In reality it does not take that long to make baklava; you just need to have all ingredients ready so you can use the phyllo dough before it can dry out. This new recipe from ‘Bon Appétit’, toasts the walnuts and pistachios before using. This is a good idea and one that I had never done. Toasting brings out the flavor of the nuts.

Whether you are Greek or not, baklava is really easy to do and will impress your friends this Easter.

Taken from Bon Appétit April 2011.

Walnut and Pistachio Baklava

Prep: 1 hour Total: 4 hours

(includes cooling time)

Makes 32 pieces


2 cups sugar

2/3 cups honey (preferably Greek)

2 sticks cinnamon

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice


3 cups walnuts (10-11 ounces)

3 cups natural raw unsalted pistachios (13-14 ounces)

¾ cup sugar

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel

1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

½ cup finely diced dried apple rings (1 ½ ounces)

20 17×12-inch sheets fresh phyllo pastry or frozen, thawed (found in the frozen section of food stores)

1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

Syrup: Combine all ingredients and 1 cup water in heavy medium saucepan. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium and boil until syrup is reduced to generous 2 cups, about 15 minutes. Transfer to bowl and cool completely. Do ahead: Can be made one day ahead. Cover and chill.

Baklava: Position one rack on top third and one rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Spread walnuts on large rimmed baking sheet. Spread pistachios on another large rimmed baking sheet. Place nuts in oven and toast five minutes. Cool nuts. Transfer nuts to processor. Add ¾ cups sugar, lemon peel, and ground cinnamon. Using on/off turns, blend until nuts are ground to medium-fine texture. Transfer nut mixture to bowl; mix in dried apples.

Place phyllo sheet stack on work surface; cover with sheets of plastic wrap, then damp kitchen towel. Brush 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan with some melted butter. Arrange one phyllo sheet in pan with half of phyllo sheet hanging over 1 inch on side.

Brush phyllo in pan with some melted butter. Fold overhang over to make two 12×8 ½ -inch layers. Brush with some melted butter. Repeat stacking and buttering with four more phyllo sheets, making 10 layers total.

Spread 1/3 of nut mixture (generous 2 cups) over phyllo in pan to within ½ inch of edge. Repeat layering two more times with 5 phyllo sheets and 1/3 of remaining nut mixture each time. Top with five more folded phyllo sheets.

Using sharp knife, cut through top phyllo layers lengthwise (do not cut through to bottom of pan) to make four strips, then cut phyllo crosswise to make 16 rectangles. Bake until phyllo is golden, for about 45 minutes.

Gradually spoon cold syrup over hot baklava. Cool to room temperature.

Do ahead: Can be made one day ahead. Cover, let stand at room temperature.

Cut each baklava rectangle crosswise in half for total of 32 pieces. Transfer baklava to platter and serve.

Christos Anesti (Christ is risen. Happy Easter)