Orange and Date Baklava

This version of the Greek and Turkish dessert features dates instead of nuts. Date palms flourish in the hot climate of the Middle East.

For Syrup:
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon orange flower water
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Make syrup:
Stir first 3 ingredients in small saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat; boil 1 minute. Remove from heat. Mix in honey, orange flower water and almond extract. Cool.

For filling:
3 cups whole pitted dates
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup orange juice
Make filling:
Put the first 4 ingredients in food processor. Using the pulse action, process until dates are minced. Add juice; process until coarse paste forms.

For baklava:
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
12 sheets fresh phyllo pastry or frozen, thawed (each about 18 x 14 inches)
Make baklava:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix sugar and cinnamon. Stack phyllo on work surface. Using bottom of 8 x 8 x 2-inch pan as a guide, cut out two 8-inch-square stacks, making 24 squares. Butter inside of same pan. Place 2 phyllo squares in pan. Brush with butter; sprinkle with 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon sugar. Repeat layering of phyllo squares (2 at a time), butter and sugar 4 more times (a total of 10 phyllo squares). Spread half of the filling over the top.

Top with 2 phyllo squares. Brush with butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Repeat with 2 more squares, butter and sugar. Spread with remaining filling. Layer 10 squares (2 at a time) over filling, brushing with butter and sprinkling with sugar. Using knife, score top into 16 squares (do not cut through to filling).

Bake baklava until deep golden, about 30 minutes. Cut through scored lines to bottom of pan. Spoon cool syrup over hot baklava. Cool. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover. Let stand at room temperature.) Makes 16 pieces.

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