A twist on traditional baklava these Paleo Baklava Shortbread Cookie Bars bring the classic flavors of this popular Greek pastry, I grew up on without flour or gluten. Luscious butter, comforting, aromatic spices, a hint of citrus, a blend of spiced nuts and a sweet honey syrup. Mmmmmm!
I am sorry, I have been holding onto this recipe for sometime now. I usually work several months out on my content, I create and test recipes several times over to get them right, then I make them for the final shoot, I style the food, shoot and edit all the photos, I write up the post and recipe and put it into the content calendar. I move my content around to keep it fresh, I base it on what’s in season, holidays and what you all are wanting most. For me, baked goods aren’t always a priority, I don’t love to bake and I don’t generally care about sweets so the baked goods always get pushed down in the queue.
I created the recipe for these Paleo Baklava Shortbread Cookie Bars after a trip back home to Buffalo to see my family this past April. My trips home always inspire so many recipe ideas, often new ways to create family or local classics that I didn’t even know I missed so much. The day I made this recipe for the very first time, the smell in my kitchen reminded me of home, of my mom and my dad, my Yia Yias. The first bite I took of this Paleo Baklava, I actually cried. A full on dessert-induced cry.
Baklava is Greek tradition, a dessert that is a labor of love. Sheets of phyllo dough, meticulously brushed with melted clarified butter, each sheet counted, one by one, it’s layered with nuts, spices, butter and a delicious honey syrup. It takes some time to make, but it is so worth it! For our family, we would always make several huge trays of it at the holidays and we would pack up festive tins to hand out to friends and family and mail across the country. For so many years I have made baklava with the family, but the last 13 years, I have made it without ever getting to try it. The flakey phyllo dough is what make baklava so special, and it is straight up sheets of gluten, so there was no way around that one.
Recreating baklava has been something I have thought about more times than I would like to admit over the years, I feel like it’s a bit obscene that it took me 13 years to come up with a good option. I would always let myself get stuck on the phyllo dough, “there is absolutely no replacing the phyllo”. So, I did nothing and then I didn’t get any baklava. On the flight home from visiting my family this last time, I was dreaming of Greek food and time with the family and suddenly the idea of shortbread cookie bars popped into my head. Sure this Paleo Baklava would be missing the flakiness of the phyllo dough, but I could still bring all the amazing flavors of the baklava to life in a little bite-sized treat.
The base layer of these Paleo Baklava Shortbread Cookie Bars is super simple to make and you can select whatever fat you prefer. If you can tolerate butter, I highly recommend using a quality grass-fed butter throughout, butter is the classic flavor of baklava, if you can’t do butter, maybe you can do ghee? If not coconut oil is a good option, but it will definitely change the flavor a bit. For the nuts, a rough chop is nice, don’t pulverize those nuts, leave some bigger pieces, if you prefer almonds or pecans over walnuts, go with what you like, walnuts and pistachios are closer to how my family makes our baklava. Finally, for that honey syrup, we have always made ours with lemon juice, but you can also opt for orange juice, here, but don’t skip the citrus, it’s a really nice bright spot in your Paleo Baklava!
- 3 tablespoons grass-fed butter, melted (ghee or coconut oil)
- 3 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1¾ cups blanched almond flour
- 2 tablespoons starch; tapioca or arrowroot
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ⅓ cup pistachios, chopped
- ⅓ cup walnuts, chopped
- ¼ cup coconut sugar (or other granulate sugar)
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
- ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 3 tablespoons unsalted grass-fed butter, melted (ghee or coconut oil)
- ⅓ cup honey
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 stick cinnamon
- Preheat oven to 350°F and line an 8-inch square metal baking pan with two pieces of parchment paper in either direction, allow the parchment to hang over on either side so it's easier to lift out.
- In a small bowl, whisk together your melted fat or oil, with the honey and vanilla extract. In a larger bowl, whisk together the almond flour, starch, sea salt, and cinnamon, add the butter mixture to the flour and mix until incorporated. Press dough evenly into bottom of the parchment-lined pan. Before you bake the crust, start the syrup.
- Make the syrup. Combine honey, water, and lemon juice and cinnamon stick in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and let mixture simmer until syrupy, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool while you make the bars, should cool about 10 minutes, total.
- While the syrup is coming to a boil, place the crust into the oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly golden and set. Do not over bake it, do not let it get super browned. If it isn't quite set, give it another minute or two.
- While the crust bakes, make the nut topping. Combine nuts, coconut sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg in a small bowl; add melted butter and stir until incorporated. Spoon topping evenly over the warm crust and return pan to oven. Continue baking another 5 to 8 minutes, until golden. Watch it carefully so it doesn't brown too much or burn.
- As the bars finish baking, remove the cinnamon stick from the cooled honey syrup.
- Place the baked bars in the pan on a wire rack and drizzle syrup over the still-warm topping, tilting pan slightly to coat evenly. Cool bars completely in pan, allow to set. At least an hour, if not two (I know, I know, patience)
- Carefully lift parchment and place bars on a cutting board; cut with a sharp knife. Cut into three even rows. Then cut each row into 3 squares. Then cut each square in half diagonally so you end up with triangles, similar to traditional baklava.
- Add an additional drizzle of honey, if you'd like. Store leftover bars in an airtight container in the fridge up to 3 days, at room temperature up to 2 days or freeze for 3 months. Enjoy.