Baklawa (Baklava) is a wonderful dessert that when made well will just melt in your mouth, with a creamy crunchiness that you will be hard pressed to find in any other sweet dish.
It comes in all shapes and sizes, and I find the little bite size ones dangerous because you can eat them like popcorn without realizing that you are filling yourself up with these amazing little bombs of flavor!
There is very much of a gift giving culture in the Middle East, and sweets rank high on the list of things people give each other.
During any social visit of which there are many, sweets of all kinds will be served along with tea or coffee.
Some of my favorite memories as a kid are those of visiting my relatives during the feast, and always being able to eat as many sweets as I wanted as a treat.
It was always fantastic because of the huge variety on offer.
The less fond memory is of after visiting three or four of my relatives I would begin to have a stomach ache and of course collapse hard when I got home because of the sugar crash.
Still, they were wonderful moments in my life.
What is Baklava?
Baklawa is a Middle Eastern dessert that is made of phyllo dough, nuts, and simple syrup, flavored with rose water, or orange blossom water, and sometimes both.
This dessert is found in many countries throughout the Mediterranean region, each with its own variation in flavor and technique, but underneath it all the basics of the dish are the same.
There are a lot of variations of nuts and spices used depending on what country you are in.
And like many things in baking the nice thing is that you can make the recipes the way you like them.
Do you like your baklawa to be large, the way the Greeks tend to like it?
Or do you like a variation of small bite sized cashew filled baklawa that you can find in the Middle East?
Do you like cinnamon, or are you a purest and just like the flowery flavor of rose water?
You decide, and make it your way!
If you were to ask an Arab, Greek or Turk where baklawa originated, they would all claim that it came from their home country, and that there can be no other answer.
The reality is that many countries in the Middle East and Mediterannean were conquered by each other at different times in history, and were different parts of the same empires at other times.
So even though baklawa may be of Asyrian origin, it was modified over the centuries by Turkish, and Greek influences.
Populations were going back and forth across borders regularly throughout history, and with them they took their knowledge of food, learned new things, and adapted the old way of doing things to the new.
There is no such thing as a pure cuisine, food has been in a state of fusion from the very beginning.
How to Make Baklava
Phyllo dough is sold frozen as this is the best way to keep it fresh over the long term.
You will need to thaw the dough in the fridge overnight, and then bring it to room temperature as and when you are ready to start working with it.
Preheat oven to 375ºF (190ºC).
Melt butter, you can also use clarified butter if you prefer.
Lay out a layer of dough on a tray.
Using a pastry brush and brush butter to cover the entire piece of phyllo dough.
Once done place another layer of dough and repeat the process.
Do this with about half the pastry dough leaves.
Mix the chopped nut filling of your choice with powdered sugar.
Pour on top of the buttered phyllo dough.
Starting with the second half of the dough, place a leaf of phyllo dough over the nut and sugar mixture, buttering as before, and repeating the process until all the dough is used.
Using a sharp knife, score through the top layer of phyllo in diamond shapes leaving the bottom layer intact.
Place in the oven for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.
Meanwhile bring to a boil, water and sugar, and add some lemon juice.
Stir for about 15 minutes until all the sugar is dissolved.
Set aside to cool.
Once baklawa is done remove from the oven, and evenly cover with the simple syrup until it is absorbed by the phyllo.
Cut through nuts and bottom layer of dough and serve.
Equipment I Used:
- 1 lb Phyllo room temperature
- 1 cup Butter melted
- 1½ cups Walnuts chopped
- 1½ cups Pistachios shelled and chopped
- ¾ cup Powdered Sugar
- 1½ cups Sugar
- ¾ cup Water
- 1 tbsp Lemon Juice
- 2 tsp Rose Water
- Place walnuts and pistachios into a food processor and process until nuts are well chopped. Pour into a bowl and add powdered sugar, and stir well. Melt butter.
- Preheat oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Place a sheet of phyllo in a buttered 13X9 pan.
- Butter phyllo sheet. Once buttered completely place another sheet of phyllo on top and repeat buttering process. Continue until you have used half the sheets of dough.
- Pour nut mixture into pan and make an even layer. Place a sheet of phyllo dough over nut mixture.
- Butter as before alternating with sheets of phyllo. Use up the rest of the sheets of dough.
- Using a sharp knife, score top layers of phyllo (into diamond shapes) that sit on top of the nut mixture.
- Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.
- While baklava cooks make the simple syrup. Add sugar to water, and bring to a boil. Add lemon juice, and rose water.
- Stir until sugar has dissolved completely. Remove from heat.
- Remove baklawa from the oven and cover evenly with simple syrup.
- Cut through all layers of phyllo, and remove baklava and serve.