Sweet flaky pastry, nuts and a healthy dousing of honey or syrup. Thinking this sounds good? You’re not alone in being tempted by this delicious sweet pastry treat. Baklava or baklawa has been around for thousands of years and many different countries would like to claim it as their own. While there are dozens of regional variations, the quintessential ingredients are syrup, pastry and nuts. This sweet treat is pretty much recognised all around the globe, and chances are that you’ll have eaten it yourself.
Reputed for its exceedingly rich taste, baklava’s unique syrup-infused flavour is one of the reasons for its popularity. In some parts of Turkey, the locals believe that real baklava is only made with syrup, and not honey - regardless of what it is drenched in, there is no doubt about the fact that this treat, cherished by many, is a true staple of the Middle East.
It is generally believed that the origins of baklava date back to 8th century BC Assyria (modern day regions of Lebanon, Turkey, and Egypt to name a few). The Assyrians layered thin pieces of unleavened dough and filled them with nuts and honey. This dessert was reserved for the wealthiest of society, as only they could afford such a luxury item.
Spread throughout the Mediterranean by Greek traders, the baklava sweet soon became the favourite of both Hellenes and Arabs. Many cultures adopted baklava and put their own stamp on it; the Arabians made it with syrup, rosewater and cardamom spices, while those from the Balkan Peninsula used cloves and cinnamon.
Baklava as we currently know it was developed in the 15th century in the newly-born Ottoman Empire. It’s thought the recipe was perfected in the kitchens of the Topkapı Palace of Istanbul, where the Sultan served baklava to the royal Janissaries every 15th day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Ever since then, baklava has remained the ruling monarch of Mediterranean pastries. Even though the Ottomans can rightfully claim to have introduced baklava to the Europeans, the Greeks were the ones who made the filo (or phyllo) bread as thin as paper. Up until about a hundred years ago, each and every layer of filo was hand-made.
Varieties of Baklava, Turkish, Lebanese, Greek, Moroccan, Algerian to name a few
Many countries claim to be the original creators of baklava. For example, both the Greeks and Turks insist that they created the sweet; while others suggest that it is simply a continuation of a Byzantine sweet that originated from the ancient Roman placenta cake. It is of no surprise, then, that many, many varieties of baklava exist.
In the Levant, baklava is made with walnuts and sometimes even with orange blossom water. Lebanese baklava is usually lighter on the syrup than other varieties, enabling people to have a few more bites, or, conversely, to make sure they don’t get sick after eating too much of it. This type of baklava is also much lighter, in terms of weight and flakiness of the pastry.
In Greece the pastry is cut into squares, with pistachios being the nut of choice and the syrup usually replaced with honey. For some, a single piece of ballorieh (Greek baklava) is enough, as it is very sweet.
In Turkey they tend to eat all kinds of baklava. Baklava made with pistachios (fistikli baklava) or walnuts (cevizli baklava), but there are also some unique variations, like the kaymak baklava, filled with clotted cream. This ingenious recipe serves to dampen the excessive sweetness of the baklava with a velvety cream that melts in your mouth. The Turkish baklava comes in most shapes and sizes, including: squares, rectangles, circles and even diamond shaped.
Baklava Recipes or Order Fresh
Regardless of how you like your baklava, baking it yourself is possible but can be a little tricky. While the old belief that you have to butter each layer of filo has been long debunked, getting each step of the process right can be a bit overwhelming.
If baking isn’t for you, thankfully, there are bakeries that can help you get your hands on delicious fresh baklava. Drawing upon years of experience, passion and, of course, a handful of family secrets, the sole purpose of these bakeries is to deliver freshly baked morsels of sweet, sweet bliss straight to your mouth (and doorstep!).
All you have to do is take your pick.