Ah, you might think, this is where she talks about the importance of a firm handshake and attention to body language. And you would be so sadly wrong.
The best way to win friends is with baklava. Why baklava? It's ridiculously simple to make, yet looks very complicated and impressive. And it tastes so incredible that you will have people following you around looking for more. They will probably not ask for the recipe, because it looks so hard. See? Your illusion stays intact. This is potluck season, people. Be prepared.
The secret to this is that you don't have to mess with individual paper thin sheets of phyllo. You do them in stacks, and it actually works better because the sheets don't turn into glue from all the butter between the layers. This little trick turns a one hour prep into something under 10 minutes. (I know, I know, you can send fan mail to me if you must.) The other trick is keeping it crisp. You do that by making sure your honey syrup is really, really hot before you pour. That way it will caramelize and make a nice moisture shield so your phyllo doesn't get soggy.
So, off we go.
16 oz walnuts, chopped fine
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 pound of phyllo dough
2 sticks of butter, melted
16 oz honey
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
Preheat oven to 300 and grease a 13" x 9" baking dish very well with butter. Make sure your phyllo is thawed according to the package directions. Cut all the layers at once into 13" x 9" rectangles and cover lightly with plastic wrap, then put a damp dishcloth on top. Dump the diced walnuts in a bowl and mix in the cinnamon and sugar. (If you can't find diced walnuts, you can chop them in a food processor, just don't overdo it.)
Now for the simple-yet-impressive part. Take 5 sheets of phyllo and place into the baking dish. Brush well with butter (don't skip the corners). Sprinkle 1 cup of the walnut mixture on this. Now repeat that twice more, using all the walnut mixture. Now place the remaining phyllo sheets on top and brush with the last of the butter. Cut halfway through the layers with a sharp knife into 12 sections, then split each square into 2 triangles (don't skip the cutting). See, that wasn't so bad, was it?
Bake it for 1 hr and 25 minutes. The last 5 minutes, heat the honey, cardamom and cinnamon stick in a small pot over med-high heat. Keep it at a simmer, but don't let it boil.
Now when you take out the baklava from the oven, pour the simmering honey (minus the cinnamon stick) over the whole thing right away, making sure it gets down the sides of all the pieces. It will boil furiously for a minute, then subside. Cool for 1 hour, then finish the cuts all the way through. Do not refrigerate this or the caramel will break down and it will get mushy. If kept covered at room temperature it will last a week. (Yeah, right. It will all get eaten before then, trust me.)
Take it to your next potluck and watch the influencing begin.
Variations: Greek and Turkish versions use pistachios and almonds instead of just walnuts. You can flavor the nut mixture with cardamom or other masala spices. Also, you can flavor the honey with a few drops of rose, jasmine, or orangeflower water.