Creamy cheesecake flecked with vanilla beans, flavored lemon juice and encapsulated in the most stunning of crusts: baklava. Layers and layers of crispy buttery phyllo and crunchy nuts contrast wonderfully with the creamy cheesecake. The pie is doused in a simple syrup to hone in on that drippy sweet baklava goodness.
What is baklava cheesecake?
(And the real question you’re thinking: why should I ruin my day working with the dreaded phyllo for this?!)
The backstory for this is that when my FIL came to visit us after I had my first, I asked what to make him for his birthday which coincided with his stay. He told me his favorite two desserts were cheesecake and baklava.. And with a baby in tow I was not going to make both, so I combined them!. The pie was SUCH a hit, to him, my MIL and some friends and they’ve all been asking me to make it again ever since.
Basically it’s a cheesecake but it has a baklava crust. Or it’s baklava with cheesecake on top. The beauty of this dish is that it does justice to both desserts without compromising either, neither takes over and they pair together so very well. A little tang and tart in the cheesecake offsets the nutty sweetness in the crust; you’ll use the creamy filling to scoop up all the little flaky bits of the crust. It’s just the best really.
Ingredients for Baklava Cheesecake
Phyllo: Sheets of phyllo, you’ll need 20. Usually sold and kept frozen, have yours thawed in the fridge for a few hours before you start working with it.
Ghee: This is similar to but not the same as clarified butter; it has a lot of the moisture removed and is a concentration of butterfats. If you can’t find it, you can use butter. I personally prefer ghee as you get the ‘butteryness’ without the milk solids that can brown too quickly in the oven.
Nuts: Walnuts and pistachios are traditional but pecans are also wonderful here. Make sure your nuts are toasted and crunchy before you use them (toast them yourself on a sheet pan at 350 for 5-10 minutes to wake them up. If they are raw, you might need up to 12 minutes).
Cream cheese: Full-fat bricks of cream cheese, at room temperature.
Sugar: Fine granulated sugar for the nut mixture, the filling and for the syrup. You can use brown in the nut mixture if you like.
Sour cream: Contributes to the creamy and tangy qualities in the filling. Room temp is best.
Lemon: I like just a little squeeze of lemon in my cheesecake to offset all the sugar.
Vanilla: Scrape a vanilla bean if you like, use vanilla extract or even vanilla paste.
Honey: Not absolutely necessary but makes a wonderful addition to the simple syrup; honey is traditional in the greek version of baklava.
How to make a baklava crust for the baklava cheesecake
First you’ll make the filling: chopping the nuts and tossing them with sugar/cinnamon and a bit of salt if you like.
Now comes the layering: recipes usually suggest keeping the phyllo covered with a damp towel and you can do this if you like. I personally do not know how to dampen a towel lol, so I just work fast!
Each layer has to be buttered (or spread with ghee, my preference) and layered slightly clockwise so we cover the whole cake pan. It’s like drawing petals on a flower.
You’ll have 10 layers which form the bottom of the cheesecake, then half the nut mixture, another five layers and another half of nuts. And five layers on top.
Don’t worry so much about what the crust looks like on top. You’ll simply scrunch up the overhang and it will look rustic and cute once baked.
How to make a really creamy cheesecake
- Use room temperature cream cheese, it should be very soft
- Beat the cream cheese until no lumps remain
- Don’t overbeat the eggs in the batter
- Pour the batter through a sieve before it goes into the crust, to remove lumps
- Cool the cheesecake slowly
Recipe for Baklava Cheesecake
- 9 or 10" round springform pan
- 20 phyllo sheets 227g
- 226 g ghee or melted butter
- 1 cup pistachios finely chopped
- 1 cup pecans finely chopped
- ¼ cup sugar brown or granulated
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 452 g cream cheese two bricks
- 1 cup granulated sugar 200g
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- ½ cup sour cream or labneh
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon
- Two large eggs at room temperature
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ cup water
- ¼ cup honey
- Prep your ingredients: the cream cheese, eggs and sour cream should be at room temperature before you begin making the filling. The nuts should be finely chopped (not to a powder, but into little bits). Mix together the sugar, cinnamon and ground nuts and set them in a bowl.
- First, make the filling: In a bowl, beat together the sugar, vanilla and cream cheese until smooth and no lumps remain. Add the sour cream and lemon juice and beat until smooth. Add the eggs and beat to just combine. Pour the filling into a bowl through a sieve to remove any remaining lumps.
- Make the crust: If your ghee is thick, warm it up in the microwave so it’s liquid and easy to brush onto the phyllo. Use a 9 or 10″ round springform pan, laying a sheet of parchment on the bottom and buckling it closed. Then begin layering the first ten sheets of phyllo: place the first sheet so it mostly covers the bottom of the pan but also comes up and folds over the side of the pan. Brush with ghee all over then place the second sheet so it also covers the bottom but only partially covers the top part – it’ll be slightly askew, covering the first sheet only halfway. Do this with ten sheets for the bottom layer, arranging each a little more clockwise so that you are covering the whole pan. After you have the tenth layer, brush with ghee and evenly sprinkle on half the nut mixture. Lay a sheet of phyllo on top and arrange 4 more on top of the nuts (each brushed with ghee and layered a bit askew to cover the whole pan). Spread remaining nut mixture then repeat the process with another 5 sheets of phyllo.
- Pour the cheesecake mixture into the center of the unbaked phyllo crust. Scrunch up the sides of the phyllo that were laying over the edge into a ruffled shape (it’s okay if it tears and it need not be pretty).
- Bake the cheesecake on a sheet pan (the ghee tends to seep out and you don’t want a mess in the oven) at 325 F for about 60-70 minutes. Toward the end of baking, make the syrup: in a small pot set the water, sugar and honey (and a pinch of salt if you are like me and can’t help yourself) to cook on medium heat. Stir so the sugar dissolves then cook it for about 7 minutes, until it gets a bit thick.
- When the cheesecake comes out of the oven, pour the syrup over the cheesecake – focusing mostly on the sides rather than the exposed center of the cheesecake. Let cool and then chill in the fridge overnight.
- Store in the fridge, serve cold.