The Light and Crispy Beginnings of Baklava

Baklava is a sweet, rich dessert. It is a pastry made into layers filled with sweetened chopped nuts that are held together with honey or syrup. Baklava was perfected in the sultan’s palace by royal bakers in Istanbul. It has phyllo for layers, filled with spices, and nuts drenched in syrup.  It is a Middle Eastern Rosh Hashannah traditional treat and is enjoyed throughout the year at all celebrations. 

The variations of baklava are numerous, and the recipe has been a guarded secret that is now passed down within the families. Baklava has a walnut filling that is apparent, while the pistachio-almond and pistachio fillings are preferred in Iran. There are the traditional blanched almonds, to produce the light colour, signifying the year to be sweet and bright.  The pastries are refrained from being served in dark-colours as they believe it portrays a dark year. The purists look down on anything, but for the nut filling. Some cooks also include the chocolate chips and dates, while there is the apricot version made by Hungarians. This is a luxurious treat to be served only in small portions.

Preparation of the Layered-Wonder

  • Baklava is prepared using large baking sheets.
  •  Usually, Baklava is prepared in large size pans. The filo dough is in many layers and is separated using vegetable oil and melted butter in the pan. Chopped nuts are spread as a layer, and it has pistachios or walnuts typically, but sometimes hazelnuts are also used on top, and more filo layers are added. This recipe has multiple filo layers and nuts, while some have pastry in the top and bottom.
  • Before baking for 30 minutes at 180 °C or 356 °F, it is cut into pieces, mostly in the parallelogram shapes, diamonds, triangles or rectangles. However, after baking, honey, rosewater or some orange flower water syrup is poured over the baklava, or it is allowed to soak in the syrup. Baklava is served usually at room temperature, while it is garnished often with ground nuts.

Baklava Types

Baklava, in Turkey, is prepared traditionally by filling the layers between the dough with pistachios, almonds or walnuts. In the Region of Black Sea, the commonly used ingredients are hazelnuts as a baklava filling. Hazelnuts are used for Sütlü Nuriye, the Turkish dessert that is a lighter dessert version substituting milk for simple syrup that is used in the traditional recipe of baklava.

In Southeast Turkey, the city of Gaziantep is famous for pistachio baklava. This dessert was introduced in 1871 to Gaziantep by Çelebi Güllü. In fact, he learned this recipe in Damascus from a chef.  In 2008, the patent office of Turkey registered for Antep Baklava as a geographical indication, and in 2013, Gaziantep Baklava or Antep Baklava was designated by the European Commission as a Protected Geographical Indication. In many Turkey parts, baklava was served topped with ice cream or Kaymak. Armenian Baklava comes spiced with cloves and cinnamon. The Baklava in Greek-style is made with 33 layers also include almonds or walnuts in a rhombus shape, served during Nowruz, the spring holiday.

In Bosnia Ruzice cuisine, there is a regional variant. While in Syrian, Lebanese, Iraqi, Jordanian, Israeli, Egyptian, and Palestinian kitchens, the phyllo dough sheets are prepared using walnuts, butter, and sugar syrup and are cut into pieces in lozenge-shapes. The Tunisian, Libyan, Moroccan, and Algerian cuisines pasty is made differently by the Ottomans, thus making Baklava different depending on cultures and traditions.