Coconut Baklava with Ginger-Lemongrass Syrup

This is an entry to Cathay Pacific’s Art of Dessert contest. Maybe you’d be interested in checking out two other entries from my friends? Marc made Matcha Lavender Trifle and Ken made Orange-Scented Macaroons – yum!

Humor me for a second and picture this: you are your younger self, hanging out with your friends, playing video games or just running around the yard. Maybe it’s a weekend day or just those few precious hours after school before you have to go home for dinner. Someone mentions “ice cream” and all ears perk up. Before you know it, you’re standing inside an ice cream shop, peering at those colorful buckets, pressing your fingertips and nose against the icy-cold double-paned glass, trying to make that most important of all decisions. When all your friends choose Rocky Road, your heart sinks because that is a flavor you can never order.

Welcome to Nathan’s childhood.

Kiwi and honeydew melons make my tongue itchy and my mom and sister both get rashes from eating too much shellfish. But every so often, we still find ourselves tasting a bite or two of the “forbidden” stuff. For the first 28 years of my life, that was really all food allergy meant to me. Then I met Nathan, who gets seriously sick for hours if he eats even a tiny bit of tree nuts, and food allergy suddenly got way more serious.

So one night a few years ago, when he told me he wanted to try almonds, I looked at him like he was crazy. I was still living with my friend Kim at the time and we had come home to a house smelling like freshly baked shortcakes. When Kim and Shawn offered us some, we didn’t even think twice. Well, at least I didn’t think twice. Nathan asked Kim about the nut content of the shortcakes and she said she used almonds.

A pause. Then a declaration, in the face of freshly baked shortcakes, to pit his body against almonds and see who will prevail. Breaking off a tiny bit of the shortcake, he took a tiny nibble. Then another nibble. Then a bigger one. Then he ate the whole chunk. Then an entire almond. “I’m not allergic to almonds!” he stood up triumphantly. But as he looked around for his share of the freshly-baked shortcakes, none were to be found.

Because I had eaten all the rest of it.

To this day, I still feel guilty about denying a born-again almond-eater those freshly-baked shortcakes. So every so often, I try to make up for it by making some almond-containing goodies. Since I was about to take off for a week to visit my sister in Paris (!), I thought it’s the perfect time to leave my almond-loving husband an almond-y treat.

Baklava is usually verboten in our house since it is made with walnuts and pistachios. So I decided to play around with the idea of an almond-only baklava. To make the filling a little more interesting, I incorporated shredded coconut as well as ground ginger and ground cardamom. Traditionally, baklava is soaked in a simple syrup with honey and cinnamon, but since I went all Asian with the coconut and ginger, I decided to just roll with it and made some ginger-lemongrass syrup. To top it off, toasted shredded coconut took the place of the traditional chopped pistachios.

The verdict? Two sticky thumbs up. Now let me just see about that Rocky Road ice cream…

Inspired by Simply Recipes’ Baklava.

This is a work in progress, i.e. I’m still fine-tuning the recipe. My current problem is that the syrup is not as ginger-and-lemongrass-infused as I’d like. So I’ll be updating this recipe as I try to figure that out.

1 lb phyllo dough, thawed according to directions on box
1 cup butter

For the nut filling:
1 lb slivered almonds
⅓ cup sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cardamom
½ cup shredded coconut

For the syrup:
¾ cup sugar
1 cup water
¼ cup honey
3-4 stalks lemongrass, chopped
2-inch piece of ginger, sliced

a handful of shredded coconut, for garnish

Make the nut filling: Place almonds in the bowl of a food processor and pulse. How finely you grind the almonds depends on your own preference, but I like to leave mine on the chunkier side because I like the texture it gives to the filing. Place the chopped almonds in a bowl and mix with sugar, ground ginger, ground cardamom, and coconut. Set aside.

Assemble baklava: Preheat oven to 350F and grease a 13×9 pan well. Melt the butter in the microwave – you will be using the butter as glue to paste together layers of phyllo dough. Carefully unroll the phyllo dough, and depending on the size of your dough, you may need to cut the whole stack in half so the sheets will fit in your pan.

Peel off one sheet, place in bottom of pan, and brush all over with butter. Lay another sheet on top and repeat until you have an 8-sheet thick bottom crust. Add on a few spoonfuls of filling, then top with two sheets of phyllo (again, glued together with butter). Repeat layer process until you run out of filling. Finish with another 8-sheet thick top crust.

Using a sharp knife, cut the baklava up into 24 small squares. Bake at 350F until golden brown, which should take about 30-35 min. The edges of the phyllo dough should look and feel quite crispy.

Meanwhile, make the syrup: Combine sugar, water, honey, lemongrass, and ginger slices in a small pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 7-10 minutes until all the sugar has melted and the syrup is a little bit thick. Pour through a strainer and set aside to cool.

Finishing the baklava: Once the baklava comes out of the oven, spoon the cooled syrup evenly all over. Allow the baklava to rest and the syrup to soak in for at least 4 hours.

Gently toast a handful of shredded coconut in a dry pan on low heat until lightly golden brown. Garnish each square of baklava with a little pile of toasted coconut.

Yield: ~24 small squares of baklava
Time: 1-1.5 hrs to prepare baklava + at least 4 hrs resting time


  1. Joanne said:
    27 November 2010 at 5:29 pm

    Wow he was super brave to try those almonds! Kudos to him. I love this Asian twist on baklava. It sounds downright dreamy and would definitely give some traditional baklava a run for its money.

    • angi said:
      29 November 2010 at 7:02 pm

      Thanks Joanne! I love coconuts so am always on the lookout for any excuse to incorporate them in recipes. ;)

  2. 1 December 2010 at 6:05 am

    This sounds so delicious, the flavour combination is just ingenious!

    • angi said:
      3 December 2010 at 6:40 pm

      Thanks Maria!

  3. Joyti said:
    1 December 2010 at 11:19 am

    My boy has many allergies too – he’s overcome some of them – but a dietician, nurse, and an allergist told him he shouldn’t try to overcome his crustacean allergy because its too severe, too risky. Take-away is thus a scary thing.
    A nut allergy must be terrible – so many things made in factories that process nuts.
    But on a more positive note, your baklava sound phenomenal! I love the flavors, like a bit of the summer tropics in the middle of winter.

    • angi said:
      3 December 2010 at 6:43 pm

      Thanks Joyti! I know, food allergies of any type are just so scary because even though you tell waiters about them, some of them don’t really take them seriously. Luckily, Nathan’s is not the kind where you have to go to the hospital so even if he accidentally eats some nuts, he’ll be ok after a miserable few hours. Sorry to hear about your boy’s crustacean allergy – they’re so delicious! :( Although I guess not to him…

  4. Jackie said:
    1 December 2010 at 1:55 pm

    I’m allergic to Silverbirch pollen which means that certain fruits and nuts are off the list for me too (unless they’ve been cooked, which, strangely, gets rid of their allergenic properties – most bizarre), and for a long time I was allergic to almonds. Happily no more (I appear to have grown out of it) so I, along with your hubby, will celebrate with tasty treats such as these!

    It must be said, however, that were you to make me these and I were still allergic, I would still eat them, come hell or high water (or, y’know, asphyxiation).

    Jax x

    • angi said:
      3 December 2010 at 6:45 pm

      Aww Jackie – you’re too kind. It’s my life goal not to asphyxiate anyone though so not to worry. Besides, now you can eat almonds – yay! I think of all nuts, that’s possibly the most important one to be able to eat because it’s the basis for so many desserts. :)

  5. 6 December 2010 at 8:49 am

    So yummy! I am drooling for sure. And I thought my mom and sis were the only one allergic to melons b/c they get itchy throats from them…go figure! I’m so glad to see your post b/c your pictures always inspire me :)

    • angi said:
      8 December 2010 at 2:40 am

      Oh I feel for your mom and sister, Chandara… melons are so delicious! Thanks for your sweet comment – it means so much coming from an amazing photographer like yourself! :)

  6. Adelina said:
    16 December 2010 at 7:36 am

    I have baklava all the time, but never came across anything so cool. Love the added layers of flavor – very fusion infused.

    • angi said:
      17 December 2010 at 11:52 pm

      Thanks Adelina!

  7. Brian said:
    18 December 2010 at 4:32 am

    I stay away from baklava like it’s the plague because i know if it’s around me, I will devour it!

    • angi said:
      20 December 2010 at 7:19 pm

      Devour away, Brian! :)

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