Had George Washington known about Cherry Pie Baklava, he would have chopped down that tree much faster. I can't tell you how much I love this recipe especially coming from someone who isn't a diehard baklava lover. The sweettart cherries melt into crunchy almonds and walnuts snuggled between layers and layers of crispy, buttery phyllo. Bathed in a syrup perfumed with almond, lemon, orange, and vanilla, I promise you'll never look at baklava the same way.
In a medium saucepan
3/4 cups [174g] granulated sugar
1 cup (224g) water
1 cup (332g) honey
Peel of a large lemon
Juice of the same large lemon
Peel of a medium orange
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
In the bowl of a food processor
5 ounces (70g) toasted walnuts
5 ounces (70g) toasted almonds
9 ounces (130g) dried cherries
1/4 cup (60g) granulated sugar
Dash of ground cinnamon
Dash of ground nutmeg
Dash of ground cardamom
On the sidelines
1 box (16 ounces) thawed phyllo dough
3 sticks (339g) salted butter, melted and cooled
Crushed graham crackers, for decoration, optional
Dried cherries, for decoration, optional
Make the syrup well ahead of time so it has plenty of time to cool. I often make the baklava filling and the syrup the day before so I only have to assemble and bake the next day. Place the saucepan and its ingredients over medium high heat and bring to a gentle boil. Once gently boiling, turn down the heat to low and let simmer for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool completely.
With a food processor, pulse the ingredients until the nuts and cherries are just broken down. We don't want everything pureed, just chopped and well mixed. Set to the side.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Carefully remove the thawed phyllo dough from the package and place in between two clean kitchen towels. Phyllo dough dries out very, very quickly so while you're busy buttering each layer, keep the dough covered with a towel.
Using a pastry brush, thoroughly butter the bottom of a 8x12 or 9x13 pan. Lay the first piece of phyllo down on the bottom and lightly brush the top with butter. Add another piece of dough and brush the top with butter just as before. Repeat these steps until you've used about one-third of the package of dough.
Add 1/2 of the cherry and nut filling and repeat the layering and buttering of phyllo until you use another third of the package of dough. Top with the second half of the cherry and nut filling and repeat the buttering and layering of phyllo until you use the entire package. Brush the top with butter.
Deeply score the baklava so you can easily cut it after baking. You can cut any shapes you like but be sure to use a very sharp knife so you don't tear or rip the delicate dough.
Bake for roughly 50 minutes or until the phyllo dough is cooked through and the top is deeply golden brown.
Remove the baklava from the oven and while still hot, begin pouring the syrup evenly on top. I like to do this step incrementally- pour a third of the syrup and let it soak in for a few minutes. Add some more, let it rest, add the rest, let it rest.
Let the baklava completely cool before attempting to cut or eat. It'll be a disaster if you don't exercise patience here so don't touch it for many hours or until the next day if possible.
Cut the baklava according to the scoring and serve.