I·ATE Food Term of the Week: Baklava

July 13, 2019 1:10 pm

Baklava (s) is a rich, buttery sweet pastry with nuts and multiple layers of super crunchy pastry (Dough) united with aromatic syrup. Its variations are many. Greeks, Turkish, Lebanese, Bulgarians and Middle Easterners, to name but a few, claim Baklava as their own traditional scrumptious delicacy.

Nevertheless, following the routes, which the maze of history opens for us, we find Baklava for the first time to appear in the region of the Ancient Assyria in 850B.C. Assyrians had the idea to make a desert out of plain bread. So what did they do? They thought of combining bread with nuts and honey, two of the natural, tasty ingredients that nature can generously offer us.

They layered unleavened flat bread with chopped nuts in between, drenching all the layers in honey and then baking them in primitive wood-burning ovens. The result was so tasty that nowadays Baklava(s) remains a highly preferred delicacy for all.

Baklava(s) is said to have been perfected during the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. The oldest reports about Baklava are present in the kitchen notebooks of the ‘Topkapi Palace’ from the Fatih period. According to these reports, Baklava(s) was baked in the Palace in 1473. It is of high interest that until the 19th century, Baklava was thought of as a luxury, which only the very wealthy could afford. A very common Turkish expression says, “I am not rich enough to eat baklava every day”. People would make this desert only on special occasions, and religious events or wedding. Christians usually make Baklava(s) on Christmas and Easter holidays whereas Muslims make it during the holy month of Ramadan and Eid El-Fitr.

Linguistically, the desert is said to have been given its name either by the combination of the Armenian words ‘bakh’ (meaning ‘Lent’) and ‘halvah’ (meaning ‘sweet’) or by the Mongolian root baγla- ‘to tie, wrap up, pile up’, since the layers of pastry are piled up. The word baklava is first attested in the English language in 1650, a borrowing from Ottoman Turkish بقلاوه /bɑːklɑvɑː/.

As for the various opinions regarding the original nationality of Baklava(s), they have turned out to be of benefit, since each country asserting Baklava as part of its traditional cuisine has altered its recipe, resulting in equally tasty and tempting variations of this desert.  In Afghanistan and Cyprus, Baklava(s) is prepared into triangle-shaped pieces and is lightly covered in crushed pistachio nuts. In Armenia, Baklava is made with cinnamon and cloves. In Azerbaijan, Baklava is mostly prepared during the Nowruz festivity, cut into diamond shapes and garnished with an almond or a walnut. In Albania, the dough of Baklava may include egg yolks, and in Bulgaria, it is usually made with walnuts or pistachio and honey syrup. In Iran, they flavour Baklava with rose water whereas in Jordan they use either honey or sugar syrup. Persian baklava uses a combination of chopped almonds and pistachios spiced with cardamom and a rose water-scented syrup and is lighter than Middle Eastern versions. In Israel, Baklava is filled with a combination of nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds, drenched with sweet butter, glove, sugar and cinnamon and it is flavoured with a syrup made of orange and lemon grid. Lebanese Baklava is made of phyllo dough pastry filled with pistachios, walnut, cashews, pine nuts and almonds and then steeped in the ‘Atir’ syrup of orange blossom water and rose water, sugar and water. It is cut into a variety of triangular rectangular, diamond or square shapes. The city of Tripoli in Lebanon is famous for its baklava products. Turkish Baklava is filled with pistachio, nuts and almonds, whereas the city of Gaziantep in southeast Turkey is famous for its pistachio baklava and regarded as its native city. The Greeks’ major contribution to the development of this pastry is 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. In fact, the name “Phyllo” was coined by Greeks, which means “leaf” in the Greek language.

Main recipe of Baklava(s)

Baklava is normally prepared in large pans. Many layers of phyllo (dough) separated with melted butter and vegetable oil, are laid in the pan. A layer of the preferred filling of chopped nuts is placed on top of this first thick layer and then another thick layer of the layers of phyllo (dough) is put on top. Before baking (180 °C, 356 °F, 30 minutes), the dough is cut into regular pieces, often parallelograms (lozenge-shaped), triangles, diamonds or rectangles. After baking, the syrup, which may include honey, rosewater, orange flower water or whichever variation like the above-described, is poured over the cooked baklava and allowed to soak in. Baklava is usually served at room temperature, often garnished with a kind of nut.

References:

Baklava. Wikipedia. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baklava. Published June 20, 2019. Accessed June 21, 2019.

Baklava , history , origin , recipes. https://www.kitchenproject.com/history/Baklava.htm. Accessed June 21, 2019

The History of Baklava. Libanaissweets. https://www.libanaissweets.com/about-us/the-history-of-baklava/. Accessed June 21, 2019


Written by Maria Papamargariti, Greek and English Philologist, Substitute Teacher in ISL School (Luxembourg) and Study Visitor at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament in Luxembourg. She holds a Bachelor in Greek Language and Literature (Philology) and a Bachelor in English Language and Literature, both from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. She has published three books in the field of children’s literature, Books publication link. She speaks English, French and Greek. At present, she is completing her Master Studies in Learning and Communication in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts in the University of Luxembourg.

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