This delicious Vegan Baklava is made with phyllo dough, olive oil, and syrup, and is a sweet twist on the classic Greek, Lebanese, and Turkish dessert.
Do you love baklava?
Of course you do.
We all love baklava!
The whole world loves baklava!
Baklava love is a universal truth.
And then I learned how to make baklava, and was a little overwhelmed by all the butter. SO MUCH butter.
And then I heard a theory– a wonderful idea. The theory is (and I buy it!) that since butter was uncommon years ago in the Mediterranean areas where baklava originates, that just maybe, just possibly– this dessert was originally made with olive oil.
Is it true? I have no idea.
So, I tried it. The results were FABULOUS.
This step-by-step tutorial will walk you through how use olive oil instead of butter to make vegan baklava.
What is Baklava?
Baklava is a Mediterranean dessert made from layers of phyllo dough and nuts, held together with a sweet syrup.
Does Using Olive Oil instead of Butter Affect the Flavor?
Not in my opinion.
I was worried about this one– but the flavor of the syrup overpowers the flavor of both the oil and the butter.
I couldn’t tell the difference between olive oil and butter baklava.
Should I Use “Light” Olive Oil?
You can. I went ahead and tested this recipe with my usual extra virgin olive oil, even though it has a somewhat strong, grassy scent. The stronger olive oil did not affect the taste, and the grassy notes weren’t noticeable at all.
Does Olive Oil Change Anything About the Baklava?
Yes. This vegan baklava is slightly more delicate than baklava made with butter, because the olive oil doesn’t seal the layers together as thoroughly as the butter.
When making this olive oil baklava, be extra careful when you cut the pieces apart. (If any fall apart, just set them back together.)
Another option would be to use coconut oil or vegan butter instead of olive oil.
Is Olive Oil Healthier than Butter?
Personally, I think they both taste delicious, but I think olive oil wins here. Why?
Olive oil is easier to spread thinly, so you can use LESS OIL than butter. This recipe would need 1 cup (8 ounces) of melted butter, but works perfectly with ⅓ cup (2.6 ounces) of olive oil.
Using olive oil is also FASTER than using butter, because there’s no need to melt 2 sticks of butter.
What is Phyllo Dough?
Phyllo dough is paper-thin dough. It feels a little bit like tissue paper, and is very fragile. Handle it carefully.
Handling phyllo dough is probably the trickiest part of making baklava— but when handled correctly, things will go smoothly!
Is Phyllo Dough Vegan?
Since I can’t speak for every phyllo dough brand– check the ingredients list on the type you’re buying to be sure.
My Phyllo Dough is Falling Apart– What Happened?
If you try to unroll the dough before it’s completely thawed– it will fall apart.
If the dough gets too dry while you’re working, it may start to fall apart. Try keeping the dough covered with a sheet of plastic (like the plastic it came wrapped in) and covering it with a barely damp towel.
If the dough has a few tears, or you have to piece a few broken pieces together–it’s okay! It just makes the dough trickier to assemble.
My Phyllo Dough is Sticking Together– What Happened?
It probably got too wet. If you’re covering it to keep the dough from drying out, but you notice that it’s beginning to stick together– uncover the dough and let it dry out for a few minutes.
If the air is humid on the day you’re cooking, it’s probably better to leave the dough uncovered.
Is there a quick thaw method for frozen phyllo dough?
No, not that I’ve found.
This dessert requires a lot of planning ahead– and one of the things you need to do ahead of time is put the frozen phyllo dough in the refrigerator to thaw for about 24 hours, up to a week.
I’ve read that you can microwave thaw by heating the dough for 1 minute on high, but for me– this was a major fail.
Also, since you can’t unroll the dough before thawing– it means microwaving thin plastic, so I give this method a solid NO.
How Do You Cut Phyllo Dough?
To trim the dough to fit your pan, the easiest method is to use kitchen shears or scissors. (It’s incredibly difficult to trim sheets of phyllo dough with a knife.)
Once the dough is assembled into baklava, but before baking, use a paring knife to cut it into small pieces. Always cut the baklava into pieces BEFORE you bake– it’s too fragile after baking.
Does Baklava Use Honey or Syrup?
In general, traditional Greek baklava uses a honey-based syrup, and Lebanese and Turkish baklava are made with other syrups.
Since honey is not considered vegan, for this recipe I used agave syrup.
If you prefer honey, or if you’re a vegan who eats and loves honey (a “bee”gan), check the recipe card notes for directions.
Do You Really Have to Add Oil (or Butter) To Each Layer of Phyllo Dough?
There’s a baklava shortcut floating out there in recipe land– and it says that you don’t need to add fat to each layer of baklava.
In my experience, occasionally skipping a layer of oil (or butter) is okay. If two sheets of dough stick together, instead of fighting with them, I skip the oil.
Skipping several layers of fat (in my experience) leads to soggy layers– layers that didn’t crisp up while baking. I also found that skipping fat made the phyllo layers more likely to fall apart.
What Type of Nuts are in Baklava?
The three nuts you’ll typically see in baklava are walnuts, pistachios, and almonds.
In this recipe, I use all three, but feel you can mix and match the nuts here– just make sure to keep the quantities the same.
How to Make Vegan Baklava
To make this vegan baklava, you’ll simply be layering phyllo dough brushed with oil along with a few layers of chopped nuts.
Think of it like a pasta and nut lasagna.
After layering the phyllo, oil, and nuts, use a sharp paring knife to cut the baklava into squares or diamonds.
Make sure to cut the dough BEFORE baking, because if you try to cut it after, the dough will crumble into pieces. Ask me how I know that.
Slide the baklava into the oven. While it bakes, make the syrup.
When the baklava finishes baking, pour the syrup over the dessert, and let it rest for about 2 hours.
And then– you get to eat the baklava AND do a little happy dance!
2 Weeks (Room Temperature), 3 Months (Freezer)
- 8 ounces phyllo dough (½ lb, half of one standard-size box) Most phyllo dough is vegan, check the ingredients before buying to be sure.
- 6 ounces walnuts (roasted or raw, whole, shelled)
- 4 ounces pistachios (roasted or raw, whole, shelled)
- 4 ounces almonds (roasted or raw, whole, shelled)
- ⅓ cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon (ground)
- ⅓ cup olive oil Alternatively, use melted coconut oil or vegan butter for a sturdier baklava
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ¾ cup water
- ½ cup agave syrup See recipe notes to substitute HONEY
- orange peel from ½ orange
- 1″ cinnamon stick (or ½ tsp ground cinnamon)
- Preheat oven to 350ºF.
- Prep the dough: Use scissors to trim the dough to match the size of a 10″ square baking dish. Do not discard the smaller strips that you’ve cut off– you’ll be using them.Unroll the phyllo dough, and lay plastic wrap over the dough. Set a barely damp kitchen towel over the dough. Your goal is to keep the dough from drying out, and becoming even more fragile, but you do not want to get the dough wet.Humid Conditions Note: When the air is very humid, it may be better to leave the dough uncovered.
- Prep the Nuts: Use a food processor or nut chopper to chop the nuts into small pieces. Pour the nuts into a bowl, and stir in the cinnamon and brown sugar.
- Brush oil on the bottom and sides of a square 10″ baking dish.
- Begin Layering: Lay a square of the cut phyllo dough inside the dish, and brush with oil. Repeat by layering more dough and more oil until you have 8 layers of phyllo.Sticky Dough Tip: If any sheets of phyllo seem to be stuck together, it’s okay to lay 2 sheets down together, without adding oil to the middle.Small Reserved Dough Tip: The smaller, reserved sheets of phyllo can be laid together to create a single sheet (like lasagna). Make sure to oil the seams well. Avoid using the small pieces on the top layers– use them in the middle instead.
- Add ⅓ of the nut mixture on top of the phyllo layers. Spread them out evenly using your hand.Continue layering 5 more layers of phyllo and oil, then another ⅓ of the nuts, another 5 layers of phyllo and oil, then the remaining nuts.
Finish the layers with 8 more layers of phyllo and oil. Finish with a layer of oil, taking extra care that the edges of the dough are oiled.
- Cut dough into squares: Use a paring knife to cut 4 equally spaced parallel lines in the dough. Rotate the dish, and cut 4 more lines perpendicular to the first set of lines. Alternatively, cut perpendicular diagonal lines to cut the baklava into diamonds.Cutting Tip: Make sure to cut the baklava before baking, because the dough will become extremely brittle when cooked, and you won’t be able to cut it cleanly.
- Bake the baklava 30 minutes. Remove it from the oven, and tent it with foil. Bake it 20 more minutes. (50 minutes total.)
- Make the syrup: While the baklava bakes, add all the syrup ingredients to a small pan, and bring the mixture to a boil. Once it begins to boil, lower the heat to medium-low, and lower the boil to a light simmer for 10 minutes. Strain out the orange peel and cinnamon stick.
- When the baklava finishes baking, remove it from the oven, and then slowly pour the syrup evenly over the baklava.
- Let the baklava rest for at least 2 hours before serving to allow the syrup time to soak into the dough and nuts.
- Serving: Use a narrow metal spatula to remove the baklava from the pan. Olive oil baklava is more delicate than traditional butter baklava, so handle the pieces carefully.Storing Short Term: Lightly cover with foil, and store at room temperature or in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Note that covering the baklava tightly with a lid or with plastic wrap will cause it to become soggy.Freezing: Store the baklava in an air-tight container and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator 4-5 hours or overnight.
- Use COCONUT OIL or VEGAN BUTTER instead of Olive Oil: These oils will help the baklava hold its shape more than the olive oil does.
- Use HONEY instead of Agave: For the syrup, use ⅔ cup of brown sugar and ½ cup honey. (Agave is sweeter than honey, so you’ll add more sugar. Remaining ingredients are the same.)
- Use BUTTER instead of olive oil: Use 8oz (½ lb) of melted butter instead of the olive oil.