- Andrea Juarez
Baklavas, a Middle Eastern delight
The Baklava, an essential pastry in the Turkish, Middle Eastern, and Greek tables, is a pastry made of layers of filo dough. It is characterized because it extends in very thin leaves, usually similar to the puff pastry, filled with chopped nuts and sweetened wIth syrup or honey.
According to historian Paul D. Buell, the world baklava is likely to come from the Mongolian root bayla, 'to tie, wrap up, pile up’, composed with the Turkic verbal ending - bayla- itself in Mongolian, is a Turkic loanword.
Its origin comes from the Ottoman Empire. The oldest reports are present in Topkapi Palace kitchen notebooks. According to this report, baklava was baked in the Palace in 1473, evolving from being a simple pastry to a dessert that needed skill in order to please the wealthy.
A version of the story says that it used to be prepared by ancient-Assyrians on the 8th Century B.C. by layering unleavened flat bread with chopped nuts in between, drenching it in honey, and then baking it in primitive wood-burning ovens, according to Libana Is Sweets.
This means that the baklava that we all know has developed under the influence of different civilizations. One of its biggest influences was the Greek. The seamen and merchants who traveled to Mesopotamia were so impressed with the baklava’s flavour, that they brought the recipe to Athens.
Over there, they created a technique that allowed the dough to roll as thin as a leaf, unlike the rough texture of the Assyrian dough. The name “Phyllo” (Filo) was coined by the Greeks, which means “leaf”.
The Armenian influence on the baklava integrated cinnamon and cloves into its texture, after they discovered it on the Eastern border of the Ottoman Empire, located on Spice and Silk Routes.
In the East, the Arabs introduced the rose-water and orange blossom water, which made the taste change in subtle nuances. Of all the Middle Eastern countries, Lebanon is credited with contributing the most to the development of the baklavas. The Persian influence consisted of creating a diamond-shaped baklava, which had a nut stuffing perfumed with jasmine.
Until the 19th century, baklava was seen as a luxury and only available to the wealthy.
Baklavas around the world
As the Arabs and Greeks immigrated to North America, they have brought their culture along. They would prepare baklavas on special occasions, preparing phyllo by hand and filling it with nuts.
As the ingredients were cheaper in America, they started to use them in abundance, and even filling their special versions of baklava with more sugar and nuts, which was considered a sign of wealth in their homeland.
In Calgary, baklavas are often found in Greek and Middle Eastern Restaurants and bakeries. Shawarma restaurants have also a variety of these delicate desserts, and some businesses in the U.S. sell their baklavas online.
The baklava comes in numerous shapes, sizes, and flavours. The most popular you see in Calgary are the cevizli baklavas (walnut) and fistikli baklava (pistachio) and ceviz dolama, a round-shaped baklava.
To prepare your own baklavas, you’ll need:
1 package of phyllo dough. (16 oz)
The phyllo needs to be super thin, as each package has two rolls with a total of 40 sheets, don’t use the thick sheets of dough for this recipe.
Don’t skimp on the butter or any part of the syrup as the recipe needs to moisten and soften the sheets.
1 pound of chopped nuts
1 cup of butter
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 cup of water
1 cup of white sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/2 cup of honey
Preheat oven to 350 degrees f (175 degrees C.) Butter the bottoms and sides of a 9x13 inch pan.
Chop nuts and toss with cinammon and set aside.
Unroll the phyllo dough and cut whole stack in half to fit pan. Cover the phyllo with a dampened cloth to keep from drying out as you work.
Place two sheets of dough in pn, butter thoroughly, and repeat until you have 8 sheets layered. Sprinkle 2-3 teaspoons of nut mixture on top. Top with two sheets of dough, butter, nuts, layering as you go. The top layer should be about six to eight sheets deep.
Using a sharp knife, cut into diamond or square shapes all the way to the bottom of the pan. Is possible to cut into four long rows to make diagonal cuts. Bake for 50 mins until baklava is golden and crisp.
While the baklava is baking, make the sauce by boiling sugar and water until sugar is melted then add vanilla and honey. Simmer for about 20 minutes.
Remove the baklava from the oven and immediately spoon sauce over it and let it cool. Serve in cupcake papers and leave it uncovered. Don’t wrap it up as it can get soggy.