I may be alone on this, but for those who know Eva Hesse’s (1936-1970, German-born American sculptor) work, doesn’t this sculpture remind you of baklava?

Eva Hesse, Sans II, 1968; sculpture; fiberglass and polyester resin, 38 in. x 86 in. x 6 1/8 in.

Translucent citrus kissed repetition in squares. Or so I thought when I recently removed the hot baklava pan from the oven, which may be testament to the fact that I need to get out more.

baked baklava

The comparison, however, ends there. Hesse’s piece Sans II was made with fiberglass and polyester resin whereas lucky for us, this baklava isn’t.

brushed butter on phyllo dough

Hesse was associated with the post-minimal anti-form movement in sculpture and was a pioneer in the use of nontraditional materials, such as latex and fiberglass. Her work borders on the eccentric without any literal explanation to be interpreted from the pieces, and like post-minimalist art, her sculptures were stripped down to their surface, materials, and forms.

baklava filling mise en place

The difference between Hesse’s work and other artists associated with post-minimalism, such as Felix Gonzalez-Torres or Damien Hirst, is that her sculptures feel as if they are handcrafted and speak to a larger notion of art and humanity’s impermanence.

Trust me, if you make this baklava, it won’t last. It too, is a post-minimalist work.

baklava syrup mise en place

The beauty in the baklava, however, shows up in the layers of phyllo and cinnamon sugar spiced nuts that are baked then drenched with a sweet honey Meyer lemon tea syrup.

honey meyer lemon tea syrup

You’re going to want to run, not walk, to your freezer and unearth a box of phyllo dough you’ve saved for a special occasion. It’s here.


Be sure to thaw it in the refrigerator overnight and clear your Sunday morning for baking.

baklava square

p.s. Thanks to Stash Tea for sending a sample box of their new Meyer Lemon Herbal Tea to try. Also, if you’re interested in cooking or baking with tea, Stash is hosting a recipe contest through June 17, 2011 featuring sweet, savory, and drink recipes made with their lemon tea. Prizes include a KitchenAid stand mixer, Le Creuset French Oven, and more.

Yield about 24 squares or diamonds

For the filling:
3 cups coarsely chopped walnuts, pistachios, almonds, and pecans (toasted, see below)
1/4 cup natural cane sugar
1 teaspoon grated Meyer lemon zest
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 pound phyllo dough (thawed overnight in the refrigerator)

For the syrup:

3/4 cup natural cane sugar
3/4 cup brewed Meyer Lemon Herbal Tea* (steep 4 tea bags in two cups hot water for 30 minutes, reserve leftover tea to serve on the side with ice)
3/4 cup raw honey
1 cinnamon stick
1 (2-inch) piece fresh orange peel

*I use Stash Meyer Lemon Herbal Tea which contains rosehips, lemongrass, orange peel, hibiscus, and Meyer lemon oil. If you can’t find Stash tea, feel free to substitute with a similar teas or flavors.

One hour before you’re ready to make the baklava, remove phyllo dough still wrapped in its packaging from the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 325F. Butter a 13 x 9-inch metal baking pan; set aside.

To toast the nuts: scatter them on a baking sheet and toast in oven for 5 to 7 minutes, checking and stirring frequently to keep from burning. Remove nuts and finely chop; set aside.

To make the filling: stir the toasted chopped nuts, sugar, lemon zest, and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Melt the butter.

Unwrap the phyllo. Trim the phyllo sheets to fit the bottom of a 13 x 9-inch pan. Keep the stacks covered with plastic wrap and a damp towel (don’t let the damp towel touch the phyllo, or it will dissolve into a paste and likewise don’t leave the phyllo sheets uncovered since they dry out in just a minute and will crack when you try to use it). Brush the bottom and sides of the pan with butter. Place 2 sheets in the baking pan and brush the top sheet evenly with melted butter. Repeat this step 2 more times, for a total base layer of 6 sheets. Top with 1/2 of the nut mixture and spread evenly. Cover the filling with 2 phyllo sheets, butter the top sheet, and repeat until there are 6 sheets on top of the filling. Cover with the other half of the nut mixture. Cover with all of the remaining phyllo sheets, adding them 2 at a time and buttering only the second sheet each time. Brush the top with the remaining butter.

With a sharp knife, cut through all the layers to make 2-inch squares or diamonds (once the baklava bakes, it will be too fragile to cut it and will break the pastry if you wait).

Bake for 30 minutes. Turn down the oven temperature to 300F. Bake for another 45 minutes, or until the baklava is golden brown.

Prepare the syrup during the last 30 minutes of baking. Combine the sugar, brewed tea, honey, cinnamon stick and orange peel in a 4-quart saucepan and bring to a gentle boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

Strain the hot syrup and pour evenly over the baked baklava. Allow the pan to sit, uncovered until completely cool, at least 8 hours and up to overnight before serving. Cover and store at room temperature for up to 5 days.


  1. says

    I’ve seen the Eva Hesse sculpture (I think the SF Moma had it on exhibit at one point). I remember promptly craving a lemon flavored lollipop and then thinking I needed some citrine earrings… Interesting the triggers art can inspire, no? I like how you used lemon tea in your baklava- such a good idea!

  2. Amy Chien says

    I love that you know Eva Hesse! I work at the Menil Collection and we published a book on her a couple years back, nice to hear the reference (especially to something as awesome as baklava!).

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