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.
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 checked online to see if it was doable to do both and used my recipes for each to I combined them into one dish. 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.
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. I also add a bit to the sugar syrup. And if you like, you can zest the lemon *before* juicing it, straight into the cheesecake filling for extra lemon flavor.
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.
Start with the nuts, chop or process the nuts and then toss them with sugar/cinnamon and a pinch of salt.
Then the cheesecake filling: start by putting the softened cheesecake bricks into a bowl and then using the back of a rubber spatula to press down – this helps remove those lumps.
Next add the flavorings and sugar, then beat it until creamed. You can do this with a hand mixer or with a stand mixer.
Then add the sour cream and beat, scrape down the bowl as necessary.
Add the eggs and beat until *just* incorporated – don’t over beat it.
Set the filling aside while you make the crust.
Most recipes usually suggest keeping the phyllo covered with a damp towel and you can do this if you like. I personally just work fast and don’t mind when the phyllo breaks – it won’t harm the layering.
Brush the bottom of a springform pan (8 or 9 inches) with ghee or melted butter then layer the first sheet of phyllo. We’ll do ten sheets as the bottom layer – each brushed with ghee. Layer the sheets clockwise so you get an overhang all around the pan.
Once you have ten on the bottom, add half of the nut mixture and spread it into an even layer.
Then do another five layers of phyllo, and the rest of the nut mixture.
Then another five layers of phyllo, then the cheesecake filling:
So in total you’ll have used twenty sheets of phyllo. Breaking it down:
I tend to run my cheesecake filling through a fine mesh sieve to remove any lumps (but I am overly fussy about this=) )
And then you can scrunch up the overhang of phyllo over the filling and brush it with the leftover ghee.
Note: ideally you’ll leave a bit of cheesecake exposed in the center so you can look for the ‘jiggle’ to know if it’s done.
Place it on a parchment lined baking sheet, some of the ghee is going to leak out of the pan and you don’t want it to smoke up the oven!
Bake it until the phyllo is golden brown all over and the cheesecake jiggles only a bit in the center.
While the cheesecake is baking, put all the syrup ingredients in a pot and cook for a few minutes until the sugar has dissolved and is slightly thickened.
As soon as the cheesecake comes out of the oven, pour the syrup over the edges of the cheesecake (wherever there is phyllo). Once it’s cool you can pop open the ring of the pan.
Share & tag me on instagram @buttermilkbysam