Layered Phyllo Dough with Pistachios and Rose Water Syrup

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

One of the best known of Syrian pastries, ba’lawa (better known as baklava; the Syrian pronunciation omits the k sound) has suffered at the hands of many a poor baker. As a kid, my mother recalls skimming off the crunchy tops and leaving the nuts in the middle for the adults to eat. “You knew that was true love when my grandmother Esther let me get away with that!” When you taste the light, crisp dough and sweet pistachio filling, you’ll understand the fame that ba’lawa rightfully deserves. A pastry brush makes it much easier to put this pastry together. Because the Rose Water Syrup should be ice-cold when served over Syrian pastries, it must be prepared five to six hours ahead of time or the night before to allow enough time to chill in the refrigerator.

Serves20 to 25 (3½ to 4 dozen pastries)

Cooking Methodbaking


Total Timehalf-day

Make Ahead RecipeYes

Kid FriendlyYes

OccasionBuffet, Casual Dinner Party, Family Get-together

Recipe Coursedessert

Dietary Considerationegg-free, halal, kosher, peanut free, soy free, vegetarian

Equipmentbaking/gratin dish, food processor



Taste and Texturebuttery, chewy, crisp, crunchy, nutty, rich, spiced

Type of Dishdessert


  • 3 cups shelled pistachios (for a “poor man’s” version, you may replace the pistachios with walnuts, which are much cheaper), finely ground (use a food processor or blender)
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons rose water
  • 2¾ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 14 tablespoons (1¾ sticks) unsalted butter or margarine, melted
  • 1 pound phyllo dough, thawed according to package directions
  • 1 to 1½ cups cold Rose Water Syrup


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

  2. Combine the nuts, sugar, rose water, cinnamon, and 3 tablespoons of the melted butter in a medium-size bowl. Set aside.

  3. Unroll the phyllo dough onto a countertop and gently smooth out with dry hands. With a kitchen scissors or very sharp knife, cut the phyllo in half widthwise—along the short end-and separate the dough, leaving it in two equal parts.

  4. Take two sheets of phyllo dough and spread over the bottom of a well-greased 13 × 9 × 2-inch baking pan. Cover the remaining phyllo with a slightly damp towel (and keep it covered at all times or it will dry out and crack). Using a pastry brush, cover the entire surface of phyllo in the pan with melted butter, and continue to layer and butter every two sheets until half of the phyllo is used.

  5. Distribute the nut mixture evenly over the phyllo, pressing down gently by hand.

  6. Use the remaining phyllo to create the top layer of ba’lawa, working in the exact fashion as in step 4. (As you are working, reserve and set aside one perfect sheet, without holes or tears, for the top sheet.) Brush the top sheet generously with melted butter.

  7. Using a sharp knife, cut the pan of ba’lawa lengthwise at 1½-inch intervals into equal strips. Then, starting 1 inch from the upper left hand corner, cut diagonally through the entire pastry in 1-inch intervals to the lower right hand corner.

  8. Bake until the top of the phyllo is golden brown and crispy, 20 to 30 minutes.

  9. Take out of the oven and drizzle the cold syrup over the top of the entire ba’lawa. Cover lightly with aluminum foil and allow the syrup to soak in for 5 to 6 hours. (Don’t seal it, or it will get soggy.) Serve at room temperature. These will keep, refrigerated, for 5 to 7 days.

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