I was vegan for almost 7 years before finding vegan baklava for the first time, and when I did, I ate two entire tubs of it in 24 hours. I have a problem, and that problem comes in the form of flaky layers of phyllo dough, cinnamony walnuts, and sticky sweet honey(-less) syrup. Thankfully, my homemade vegan baklava is a little bit lighter. And in response to reader requests, I’m including a few step-by-step photos of the filling and assembly, which will hopefully make your life a little bit easier too.
I think, that making my own vegan baklava at home has helped me in a way because I see all of the oil and sugar that goes into it and that calibrates my brain to be satisfied with a few small pieces. 🙂
I first found plant-based baklava in western Pennsylvania of all places. First, I was eating with friends at B52 cafe in Pittsburgh (which remains one of the best, if not the best, vegan meals I’ve had EVER) when I sampled some for dessert. Then, the next morning, my boyfriend and I were driving back to Baltimore and decided to stop at Cafe Verve in State College on our way home. Lo and behold, there on the counter was MORE vegan baklava. I finished all of it and absolutely made myself sick and I’m pretty sure he had to drive the rest of the way.
Those experiences made me realize that butter is so not essential to making a delicious baklava. It’s all about the cinnamon spiced nuts, crispy dough, and nicely flavored syrup, all of which can easily be achieved without any animal products. Most commercial phyllo (filo) dough is already vegan. Probably because oil is cheaper than butter, but no matter the reason, I’ll take it.
In this particular vegan baklava I made a few executive decisions:
- Light olive oil for brushing the dough.
- A mixture of walnuts and pistachios in the filling; these are simply my favorites.
- A quick swap of agave nectar for honey in the soaking syrup.
- Gentle hints of citrus and cloves in both the syrup and filling.
- I use a higher ratio of filling to pastry than your standard baklava.
Of course, you can customize it to your liking.
Just be warned. Working with phyllo dough is always fussy. It will break, it will tear. It will get everywhere when you slice up the vegan baklava after baking it. It will test your patience. This recipe is not for the weak of heart, but at the same time, it’s very forgiving (it’s not like you can’t eat cracked filo), so go boldly forth and enjoy!
For the vegan baklava filling:
- 1 cup pistachios
- 1 cup walnuts
- 1 and 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 1 tsp orange zest (optional)
- 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg (optional)
- 1/8 tsp ground clove (optional)
- 1/8 tsp salt (only add if nuts are unsalted)
- 5 tbsp maple syrup
For assembling the vegan baklava:
- 8 oz phyllo dough (most varieties in stores are vegan; check ingredients)
- 2 tbsp light olive oil (plus more as needed)
For the honey-free syrup:
- 3/4 cup water
- 6 tbsp agave nectar
- 1 stick cinnamon (optional)
- 5 whole cloves (optional)
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 2 tsp fresh orange juice (optional)
- Before doing anything else, make sure that you have thawed your phyllo dough according to package instructions.
- Start by making your syrup so that it has time to cool while the vegan baklava bakes. Add all of the ingredients to a small saucepan. Bring it to a boil and then immediately reduce it to a steady simmer. Cook for 15-20 minutes, or until reduced in volume and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Remove the cinnamon stick and cloves if used.
- Meanwhile, make the filling. Pulse the pistachios and walnuts in a food processor until crumbs are formed.
- Add the cinnamon, lemon zest, and orange zest, ground cloves, nutmeg, and salt if using. Stir, then add the maple syrup and stir again to combine everything.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease an 8-by-8-inch baking dish, or similar sized dish.
- Open your phyllo dough. If you are buying a usual 16-oz box, it will have two rolls of dough inside, and you only need one of them. Gently unroll the dough, and trim it to the size needed to fit your pan. For my 8-by-8 pan, I sized it by cutting the entire stack of dough in half and then trimming a little bit off of one edge. Get a damp kitchen towel and use it to cover the dough to keep it moist.
- Add approximately 3 sheets of dough at a time to your pan. Brush with a very light coating of olive oil and continue. Do this until you have used about 1/3 of the sheets.
- Sprinkle 1/2 of the spiced nut filling onto the dough. Gently spread it out into an even layer as best you can without tearing the dough too much.
- Continue layering and oiling sheets of dough until you have used approximately 2/3 of the sheets. Add the remaining half of the filling at this point, and finally, continue with the remainder of the dough. After lightly brushing the top layer of dough with oil, use a sharp knife to cut the baklava into pieces of your choosing (I went with a diamond pattern as seen here). Be sure to cut all the way through to the bottom of the pan.
- Bake uncovered for approximately 25-28 minutes, or until nicely browned on top. Immediately after removing the baked vegan baklava from the oven, pour the syrup evenly over it. Try to get some of it it in all of the different cuts so that it can soak through to the bottom.
- Let cool to room temperature before slicing and serving. Leftovers can keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few days, or frozen.
Adapted from: AllRecipes; Lazy Cat Kitchen
More phyllo dough recipes from the site: kale spanakopita; spicy tempeh phyllo rolls
You can use pure date syrup or maple syrup instead of agave.
Bhaumik Yadav says
This is helpful for those who wanna explore food and don’t appreciate cruelty.
I’m wondering if it really needs refrigerated. I usually see it sitting out on the counter in middle eastern restaurants. I am making this for a dinner party and want to make it the day before. Do you think it would be ok to leave it out overnight ir should it just set it out for a couple of hours the next day to bring it to room temperature before serving?
Is there any reason not to make it with vegan butter rather than oil?
Sorry just saw your comment about using vegan butter.
Shannon @ Yup, it's Vegan says
No worries, yeah I design my recipes without vegan butter so that it’s not dependent on being able to find specific brand name products, since availability varies depending on where people live. Some brands of vegan butter taste good to me while I find others to be awful. If you have access to one that you like, go ahead and use it.
Lauren Furey says
“Add approximately 3 sheets of dough at a time to your pan. Brush with a very light coating of olive oil and continue. Do this until you have used about 1/3 of the sheets.”
Do you mean that we put olive oil in between each of the three sheets that we add? Thanks!
I used regular sugar instead of agave for the syrup and forgot the maple syrup in the filling and it was still delicious!! Also used a 10×6 pan and just trimmed the ends slightly.
It’s just so good! I doubled the recipe (9×13 pan) and used almost all of the original 8 oz. of phyllo. No problems with only maple syrup. All of the citrus really makes it special.
Ok, so this looked super intimidating at first, but I decided to give it a try. Even though I somehow managed to forget to add the maple sirup to the nut mix, it came out great (I added some more to the sirup at the end to make up for it). Your detailed instructions on how to handle and cut the phyllo dough definitely helped. I used a rectangular Pyrex dish, and as luck would have it, my dough sheets were exactly twice as large — meaning I was able to save time and dough handling by folding two sheets in half together at a time, for twice the layers. I used spray oil from a can on the layers, which made it even easier!
Okay I’m going to be honest, I am extremely weak of heart. I knew this recipe wasn’t for me, but I love Baklava so much, I needed to try it. My Baklava turned out AMAZING. My family said it’s “better than from the Persian Bakery” !! If you just go in with it knowing that Phyllo dough will break apart and you just have to deal with it, you won’t have any other struggles. Simple, easy recipe and I will be making more!!
I made this for the first time a few months ago, and it has now become a family favorite! The filling is so flavorful and the phyllo dough cooks perfectly. I was skeptical about the sauce while cooking it, but it really did turn out just perfect. I’m glad to have a new party favorite that is also vegan.
Delicious, light, and really nice flavor! This was my very first attempt at baklava, and your instructions made it manageable — no, easy! I used a 9×13 pan so added a cup of nuts (used walnuts and pistachios but ran out so also used almonds) and some extra water/sugar for the syrup. I did use honey plus coconut sugar instead of agave for the syrup, and I had a coconut oil/ ghee mixture on hand so brushed every sheet sparingly with that. I wasn’t sure how many sheets to use; I had a 16 oz box with 18 large sheets that I cut in half and used a little over half the box. I will definitely make again…. this would be great for gifts!!!… but I will make more syrup for the 9×13. Thank you !!
Can we use agave syrup as well for the filling instead of maple syrup?
Delicious!! I wasn’t sure if I used enough phyllo dough though. I ended up using about 4oz, should I have used closer to 8oz?
Can I swap the olive oil with coconut oil?
Shannon @ Yup, it's Vegan says
It might be a little heavy with coconut oil, I’d recommend using olive oil or vegetable oil if you can. But if you do use coconut, make sure to melt it completely and use only a very light coating.
Becca S says
I made these with honey instead of agave and maple syrup – not vegan, sorry. However, I otherwised used your instructions and they are freaking perfect! Wow. Great to know I can make this when I’m craving baklava since it’s impossible to find a dairy free version anywhere, but this is just as good as anything from a store.
I had high hopes for this recipe and I was satisfied with the result. I shared it with some friends that are lactose intolerant and everyone really enjoyed it.I’m comfortable passing on the recipe because the ingredients are easy to find and the instructions are clear to follow.
I wanted to thank you for this recipe, Shannon.
Like you, baklava was one of my favorites and something I didn’t expect to eat again once I became plant-based.
I never would have expected to be able to use store-bought dough and olive oil, but after finishing off every last piece of the baklava, we are convinced this is as good as the “real thing”.
Thank you for giving us a wonderful recipe and fun weekend kitchen project, and for the pictures to help show the process and remind us that even you are not “perfect”.