Baklava is a Turkish rich sweet pasty made of layers of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey. This dish is distinctive to the former Ottoman Empire cuisines and much of central and southwest Asia. Like the origins of most recipes that came from Old Countries to enrich the dinner tables, the exact origin of baklava is also something hard to put the finger on because every ethnic group whose ancestry goes back to the Middle East has a claim of their own on this scrumptious pastry.
The origin is unclear as it not well documented. The word Baklava was first attested in English in 1653 and entered English from Turkish. The name baklava is used many languages with minor phonetic and spelling variations. It is believed that at around 8th century B.C.
Assyrians were the first people who put together a few layers of thin bread dough, with chopped nuts in between those layers, added some honey and baked it in their primitive wood burning ovens. This early known version of baklava was baked only on special occasions.
Historically Baklava was considered as a food for the rich until the mid 19th century. Many Ottoman sweets are similar to Byzantine sweets, using dough, sesame, wheat, nuts and fruits, and some were similar to the Ottoman borek, halva, and so on.
Vryonis identifies the ancient Greek ‘gantris’, kopte, kopton mentioned in the Deipnosophistae as Baklava and calls it a Byzantine favorite. But though gastris contained a filling of nuts and honey, its outer layers did not include any dough, but rather a honey and ground sesame mixture similar to modern pasteli or halva.
Soon the delights of Baklava were discovered by the Greek seamen and merchant travelers traveling from east to Mesopotamia. It mesmerized their taste buds and brought the recipe to Athens. In fact, the name "Phyllo" was coined by Greeks, which means "leaf" in the Greek language. The major contribution by the Greeks in development of this pastry was the creation of a dough technique that made it possible to roll it as thin as a leaf compared to the rough, bread-like texture of the Assyrian dough.
As the Armenian Kingdom was located on ancient spice and silk routes they were the first to integrate the cinnamon and cloves into the texture of baklava. Later the Arabs introduced the rose water and cardamom. The taste changed in subtle nuances as the recipe started crossing borders and baklava was being baked and served in the palaces of the ancient Persian kingdom. To the west, it was baked in the kitchens of the wealthy Roman mansions, and then in the kitchens of the Byzantine Empire until the fall of the latter in 1453 A.D.
One of the oldest known recipes for a sort of proto-baklava is found in a Chinese cookbook written in 1330 under the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty under the name güllach. "Güllaç" is found in Turkish cuisine. Layers of phyllo dough are put one by one in warmed up milk with sugar. It is served with walnut and fresh pomegranate and generally eaten during Ramadan.
In Turkey, baklava is typically served with whipped cream and pistachios. A drier version of baklava is cooked and presented in smaller diamond-shaped cuts flavored with rose water in Iran. The city of Yazd is famous for its baklava, which is widely distributed in Iran. Persian baklava uses a combination of chopped almonds and pistachios spiced with cardamom, rose water scented syrup and is lighter than other Middle Eastern versions.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina baklava is generally rich in nuts and filling and is only eaten on special occasions, mostly during in the holy months of Ramadan and before Christmas. In Afghanistan and Cyprus, baklava is prepared into triangle-shaped pieces and is lightly covered in crushed pistachio nuts.
In Albania - baklava is the most popular dessert, prepared usually once a year during the New Year festivities, and it is served after the New Year's Eve dinner, and the following days. Albanian housewives mostly prepare it from scratch, by rolling out the dough rather than buying it ready made.
The typical traditional ingredients are flour and egg yolks for the dough, and walnuts and real butter for the filling. The syrup is prepared by boiling water, sugar and vanilla powder (optional). To prepare this traditional Turkish Baklava first chop walnuts to medium to fine pieces and mix with 1 cup sugar, ground Cinnamon and ground Cloves.
Melt Butter. Cut Fillo in half so that each sheet fits the bottom of the baking pan. Generously apply the butter to the bottom and sides of the baking pan and place the Fillo, one sheet at a time, in the baking pan. Spread generous helps of butter on each sheet of fillo as it is placed in the pan. After every 6 to 8 sheets of Fillo spread a layer of walnut mix.
Continue layering Fillo sheets (Baklava pastry sheets) and walnuts until Fillo is complete. Pour the remaining butter over top of the Baklava. The secret to a good flaky Baklava is to have each sheet of Fillo well buttered so that the sheets do not stick together. With a sharp knife, cut the Baklava diagonally to form diamond shaped pieces. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake the Baklava for 40 to 45 minutes or bake until golden brown on top. Remove from oven and allow cooling completely.
To prepare the Syrup mix water, sugar, ground cloves and either Cinnamon or the Cinnamon stick in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes. Pour the boiling syrup over the cool Baklava and allow to cool completely again. When cool serve individual pieces with strong (Turkish) sweet coffee and dried apricots for an exquisite dessert. Baklava is of Turkish origin and is the world's favorite Turkish Dessert. It's extremely delicious. To get the complete recipe of this exotic dish do click at:
During the 18th century the Baklava has perfectioned its taste and texture and had only few cosmetic modifications done in shape and presentation. By the late 18th century the Phyllo dough was given a French touch.