Perfect Vegan Baklava

You'd never believe how absolutely EASY it is to make the perfect baklava! This is a treat I've loved since I was a kid - my grandma and I always used to get a piece at the farmer's market on Saturdays. She'd get pistachio, I'd get walnut. If you're looking for a sweet treat to absolutely WOW your guests, look no further. People will be freaking out that you actually made this yourself. And yes, they can have the recipe.

Recipe from the Decadent Dessert section of my first cookbook, Radiant Health, Inner Wealth.

Orange Spiced Baklava

½ lb. phyllo dough, thawed
6-8 tablespoons vegan margarine
Sauce of Bliss: 
½ cup EACH: water and agave nectar
¼ cup organic sugar
2 whole cinnamon sticks
3 whole cardamom pods
3 whole cloves
½ teaspoon EACH: vanilla extract, minced orange zest, and fresh lemon juice                         dash of sea salt
1/2 cup (2.25 oz.) walnuts
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon organic sugar
1/8 teaspoon sea salt

1. Place all of the sauce ingredients in a small pan, stir well, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently (uncovered) for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside. Once cooled, remove the cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, and cloves.

2. To prepare the filling: Chop the walnuts in a food processor until coarsely ground. Alternatively, you can place them in a sealed plastic bag and smoosh them with a rolling pin or mallet. Mix with the cinnamon, sugar, and salt and set aside.

3. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Melt the margarine. Get ready to rock.

4. Divide the ½ lb. of phyllo into two portions. Set one of the portions aside, covered with a lightly damp towel. Using a pastry brush, coat the bottom and sides of a 9 x 9-inch pan with some of the melted margarine. Place one sheet of phyllo (from the uncovered stack) on the bottom of the pan and brush it lightly with margarine. If your phyllo doesn’t fit the size of the pan, simply cut it or overlap it a bit—you can even things out as you go. Continue layering one piece of phyllo at a time, brushing each piece lightly with margarine, until you have used up the first portion of the phyllo. Top evenly with the nut mixture.

5. Uncover the second portion of the phyllo and use it up in the same manner as you did before. Keep placing single layers of phyllo on top of each other, brushing each lightly with margarine.

6. When you’ve used up the last of the phyllo, bring on the knife. You’re about to cut the phyllo into individual pieces….very carefully. Begin by cutting diagonal lines (with a 1½-inch space in between each cut) across the whole pan. If it helps, you can hold onto the top layer of phyllo with your other hand as you make your cuts all the way through to the bottom of the pan. Next, make cuts (again with a 1½-inch space in between) that are horizontal across the pan. Short story long, you want diamond-shaped baklava.

7. Next, pour about half of the sauce evenly over the top of the phyllo.

8. Bake for about 20-30 minutes, or until very nicely golden browned. Once the phyllo just starts to brown (after about 15 minutes), you'll want to check it often, as it can burn easily.

9. Remove from the oven. Pour the remaining sauce evenly over the top of the baklava. This may seem like a lot of sauce, but the longer the baklava sits, the less saucy and sweet it becomes. Enjoy your gleeful feelings of accomplishment...and the insanely delicious eats.

Makes one 9 x 9-inch pan of baklava (about 15 pieces); Purple (according to the health guidelines in my cookbooks)