While not technically one of the seven species, almonds (shaked in Hebrew) have become a sort of unofficial eighth species due to their close association with Tu B’Shvat. Almond trees grow all over Israel today and they tend to bloom right around the time that Tu B’Shvat usually occurs.

Look for cardamom in your spice aisle or in the foreign food aisle in the India section.  You can buy it pre-ground or in pod form and grind it yourself using a coffee bean grinder.  It would take at least 10 pods to get 1 tsp of ground cardamom.  The other alternative is to substitute the 1 tsp of cardamom with 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, and 1/4 tsp of ground cloves. 

Ingredients for filling
4 cups blanched almonds
1 cup sugar (get the fine grain of sugar if possible)
1 teaspoon ground cardamom (*See note above.  Substitute available.)
¾  cup melted butter
10 sheets phyllo

Ingredients for syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup of honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1) Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease 10″ x 14″ cake pan.
2) Grind 3 cups of almonds in a food processor. The remaining cup of almonds should be chopped fine but not ground.
3) Mix almonds with sugar and cardamom.
4) Place three sheets of phyllo in cake pan, brushing each sheet with melted butter.  Spread one-third of the nut mixture evenly over phyllo.  Place two more sheets of phyllo on top of nut mixture, brushing each sheet with butter.
5) Add another third of the nut mixture and spread evenly.  Top with two phyllo sheets brushed with butter.
6) Add last layer of nuts and top with remaining three sheets of phyllo, each brushed with butter.
7) Using a very sharp knife cut pastry into diamond or square shapes. You may cut pastry lengthwise into 4 equal sections, then cut diagonally at 1-1/2-inch intervals to form diamond shapes. (or see picture below).
8) Pour leftover butter on top of phyllo and sprinkle water over the top to prevent drying.
9) Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes.
10) 20 minutes before baklava has finished baking, prepare the syrup.  Mix sugar, water, and lemon juice in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes.
11) Remove from heat.  Add the honey and vanilla and stir until blended.
12) When baklava is removed from the oven, finish cutting the layers.  Pour syrup evenly over pan.  Let pastry sit at room temperature for four hours before serving.  Lightly cover pan with a towel and do not refrigerate.

*Recipe by Shelley Neese, the vice president of The Jerusalem Connection. Click here for her articles and videos.

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