The rocky mountains surrounding Athens, especially Mount Hymettus, don’t look like they could produce much of anything. The crags and crevices are sparsely dotted with a few hyacinths, crocuses, lavender, or savory, but the only plant that truly grows well there is wild thyme. Feeding on those thyme flowers, Greece’s gentle cecropia bees produce a honey that is among the most prized in the world: Hymettus honey, also known as Greek thyme honey.
For the dough
- 1pound unsalted butter
- 5sprigs fresh thyme
- 1pound frozen filo dough, defrosted
For the sesame filling
- 2cups toasted sesame seeds
- 1cup dried, pitted Medjool dates, cut into 1/8-inch dice
- ⅔cup sugar
- 3teaspoons roasted ground cinnamon
- 1dozen scrapes fresh nutmeg
For the syrup
- 1cup) Hymettus honey (also labelled thyme honey)
- ⅔cups water
- ⅔cups sugar
- 1cinnamon stick
- 10sprigs fresh thyme
- ½teaspoon kosher salt
- Juice and zest of one lemon (about 3 tablespoons juice, 1 tablespoon zest)
To make the Thyme Honey and Sesame Baklava
- Step 1
Preheat oven to 350. Place the butter and thyme in a medium saucepan over low to medium heat until completely melted. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
- Step 2
Place the sesame seeds, dried dates, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg and mix to combine. Set aside. Brush a 9- by 13- by 2-inch pan with the butter. Keeping the filo sheets covered completely with a layer of parchment paper and then a damp kitchen towel on top, remove one sheet and recover the remainder (see Kitchen Tips); lay the filo in the bottom of the pan and brush with the thyme butter. Repeat until you have used 4 sheets.
- Step 3
Spread one thin layer of the sesame mixture (about 1 cup of filling) on top of the filo, cover with a sheet of filo and brush with butter; repeat with three more sheets. Cover with another layer of sesame mixture, and repeat this process for a total of 3 more times (using 16 sheets), making sure to brush each sheet liberally with butter.
- Step 4
With a very sharp knife, cut diagonally across the pan, creating diamonds. Bake for 45 minutes until it is a warm brown.
- Step 5
While it is baking, make the syrup. Place the honey, water, sugar, cinnamon stick, thyme, salt, lemon juice, and zest in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until it just comes to a boil and remove from heat. Set aside.
- Step 6
Remove baklava from the oven and pour the syrup over it evenly, allowing it to saturate the layers until it just covers the baklava top. Allow the baklava to cool before serving.
The sweetness and herbaceousness of the Greek thyme honey is kicked up with plenty of fresh cultivated thyme. Honey labelled as Hymettus, Attica, or Greek thyme honey can be found online, and at specialty and spice shops, but the less expensive Greek blend will work for this dish as well. This sesame baklava hits sweet high notes and savory bass notes in a memorable modern harmony. Great for Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur break-fast, it can last up to 5 days—if you are lucky enough to be able to keep it around that long.
1. These will keep for a day or two, wrapped in foil and refrigerated, but they will be soggy. Tasty, but soggy.
2. Filo will dry, break, and crumble away if it is left out of the package uncovered. The trick is to balance keeping it moist without getting it wet. If it is wet, it will clump. You may also find that it will clump in places if you keep it in the refrigerator too long after it has defrosted. Follow the advice on the package about defrosting. I use parchment paper on the filo covered by a damp kitchen towel. Together it allows just enough moisture through to keep the filo sheets workable, but never wet. But no matter how you choose to do it, you must keep it covered.
3. A 1-pound box of filo often contains about 28 sheets. In some brands each sheet is 12 inches by 17 inches, but filo sheet sizes as well as the amount of sheets vary by company, so be flexible and use your common sense.