Baklava is a rich, sweet pastry dessert.
Filo is a simple flour-and-water dough that is stretched to paper thinness and cut into sheets, a process so exacting that it is frequently left to commercial manufacturers. For baklava, many sheets of filo, each brushed liberally with melted butter or vegetable oil, are layered in a baking pan with finely chopped nuts. After baking, a syrup, which may include honey, rosewater, lemon juice or orange flower water is poured over the cooked baklava and allowed to soak in.
Baklava is cut into a variety of shapes for serving, although this very rich treat is always served in small portions.
It is usually served at room temperature, often garnished with ground nuts.
Baklava is so delicious that not only was it served to royalty but numerous ethnic groups claim it as their own.
Although the history of baklava is not well documented, its current form was probably developed in the imperial kitchens of the Topkapı Palace in Istanbul. The Sultan presented trays of baklava to the Janissaries every 15th of the month of Ramadan in a ceremonial procession called the Baklava Alayı.
There are three proposals for the pre-Ottoman roots of baklava: the Roman placenta cake, as developed through Byzantine cuisine, the Central Asian Turkic tradition of layered breads, or the Persian lauzinaq.
The oldest recipe (2nd century BC) that resembles a baklava is the honey-covered baked layered-dough dessert placenta of Roman times.
There are also some similarities between baklava and the Ancient Greek desserts gastris, kopte sesamis, and kopton found in book XIV of the Deipnosophistae. However, the recipe there is for a filling of nuts and honey, with a top and bottom layer of honey and ground sesame similar to modern pasteli or halva, and no dough, certainly not a flaky dough.
The Greeks and the Turks still argue over which dishes were originally Greek and which Turkish. Baklava, for example, is claimed by both countries. Greek and Turkish cuisine both built upon the cookery of the Byzantine Empire, which was a continuation of the cooking of the Roman Empire.
The word “baklava” is first attested in English in 1650, a borrowing from Ottoman Turkish باقلاوه (baklava). The name “baklava” is used in many languages with minor phonetic and spelling variations.
As a sweet, rich dish that requires time and expense in its preparation, baklava has generally been regarded in Greece as a dish reserved for special occasions. In some areas, baklava is the most important sweet served at weddings, and is even taken to the church before the ceremony.
In many Greece regions and possibly elsewhere baklava is served at Christian celebrations such as Christmas, and at Easter when it is made with 40 sheets of filo dough representing the 40 days of Lent.
Some Greek-style baklavas are made with 33 sheets of filo doug, referring to the years of Christ’s life.
Today, baklava is typical of the cuisines of the Levant and the broader Middle East, along with Greece, the South Caucasus, Balkans, the Maghreb and Central Asia.
The city of Gaziantep in southeast Turkey is famous for its pistachio baklava.
The largest baklava weighed 513 kg (1,130 lb 15 oz) and was achieved by Mado, Taşpakon and Ankara Valiliği (all Turkey) in Ankara, Turkey, on 22 March 2018. The record attempt took place during Ankara Gastronomy Summit 2018.
Baklava is an example of human ingenuity in developing food that not only nourishes the body, but also brings happiness to the mind and spirit.