Also, Greek cuisine is said to be the mother of all European cuisines.
Needless to say that I brace myself for a monument of gastronomy this week: baklava!
Baklava or baclava (μπακλαβα in Greek and bâqlavâ in Persian) is a traditional dessert common to all the peoples of the former Byzantine Empire, Persia and the former Ottoman Empire.
Since 196 flavors is visiting Greece this month to celebrate the third edition of the Greek Dinner Around the World initiative that is happening today, it is in Greece that we will enjoy this baklava!
But can we really say that baklava is a Greek dessert? Well… Nothing is less certain!
I am aware that I am engaging in a minefield when it comes to the national identity of this dessert that is known all over the world. Remember though, that 196 flavors is first and foremost about love and cooking! Not war!
It is true that once you taste this delicious dessert, you can understand that it is a national pride and no joking material!
The “Baklava War” erupted in May 2006, at the Vienna summit, where, at the initiative of the
You can imagine the revolution throughout Turkey!
– “The Turks brought baklava from Central Asia as evidenced by several documents and it is time for Turkey to claim and to honor its national treasures”, claimed Mehmet Yildirim, President of the Turkish Foundation of Baklava and Dessert Producers. These are corroborated by two theses contained in the works of the Turkish Association called “Türkiye Baklava ve Tatlı Üreticileri Derneği”.
– “Personally, I think baklava is a dessert that is served in Turkey, but the origin of Turkish cuisine is Byzantine kitchen, with varied backgrounds. Turks cannot claim baklava as exclusively theirs, when it is in fact made in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and several countries of the region “, replied Yiannakis Agapiou, president of the Association of Chefs of Nicosia.
Although each country who makes baklava claims its paternity, dare we say that without necessarily taking sides, that the majority of writings trace the origin of baklava to the Byzantines or Central Asia, so… the Turks! Indeed, the Turks are a nomadic people who have always been known for their preparations of puff pastries such as yufka or katmerli Hamur.
It is Greek professor Speros Vryonis who defends the Byzantine thesis by creating similarities with a Greek dessert called kopton. This thesis was dismantled by American journalist Charles Perry.
According to Perry, baklava is a culinary fusion of Turkish Central Asian flaky preparations and Persian fillings made from cooked dried fruits (nuts, hazelnuts, peanuts). He illustrates his thesis with Azerbaijani baklava named Bakı pahlavası.
Moreover, the word “baklava” would have Mughal origins according to the Oxford Dictionary of English, which reinforces the Central Asian Turkish thesis.
Among the Ottomans, the first written records of baklava date back to 1473 at the time of the conqueror of Istanbul, Mehmed II.
Anyway, as I said earlier, I am all about peace in the kitchen! And as a pacifist at heart, I must talk about what is good, don’t you think? So… If you spend one day in Gaziantep, a Turkish town called “cradle of baklava”, do not leave before tasting one! I went there twice, so you have to trust me on this one!
196 flavors is not about conflicts, so let’s go back to the basics: cooking and baking!
Baklava is a pastry prepared with layered filo sheets, stuffed with chopped nuts, drizzled with a honey and sugar syrup flavored with rose water and / or orange blossom water, and sprinkled with ground pistachio.
Its most common shape is the diamond, but there are many other forms with evocative Arabic names like kol w’chkor (eat and thank) assabih Zainab (fingers of Zainab) or boaj (small nests).
It is said that there are traditionally 33 filo sheets used for baklava in reference to the age of Christ when he died. In my recipe, I strictly followed the tradition of 33 sheets, but I chose to use a square shape.
The art of lamination of phyllo dough is still a question that torments me and as I told you last week when I prepared my spanakopita, I am going to have to make phyllo dough myself very soon!
Yes, making this dough that is rolled and stretched with infinite care is in my opinion an art in itself! In some countries, it is said that grandmothers teach this delicate art to girls that would have the age to marry by singing to them.
I recommend to anyone who will taste this flaky dessert not to lose a single crumb. It is that good!
Recipe of Baklava
Preparation time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Rest time: 8 hours
Cooking time: 1 hour
- 17 phyllo sheets
6 oz shelled pistachios
6 oz almonds
6 oz walnuts
14 tablespoons + 4 tablespoons clarified butter (recipe here) or soft butter, melted
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons rose water and / or orange blossom water
For the syrup
- 1 cup water
1 cup caster sugar
1/3 cup honey
1 lemon, squeezed
3 tablespoons rose water
For the topping
- 3 oz shelled pistachios
- 1 rectangular baking pan (10 x 12 in)
1 pastry brush
Boil water and sugar for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the honey, lemon juice and rose water. Set aside.
Roast all the nuts separately and grind to coarse powder.
Set aside 3 oz of shelled pistachios for the topping.
Mix all the remaining nuts. Stir in 4 tablespoons of butter, rose water or orange blossom, cinnamon, and sugar. Mix well and set aside.
Cut all the filo sheets in half and adjust the size according to the size of the pan you use (you will get 34 sheets).
Butter the pan. Using a pastry brush, coat 15 sheets with melted butter and accurately place them one above the other. Spread half of the nut filling.
Butter 10 more sheets one by one and place them exactly on top of one another. Spread over the remaining filling.
Finally, butter 8 leaves and deposit them accurately one above the other. Butter the last sheet and use to fill the edges if necessary. Coating the entire surface of the baklava with butter.
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Pre-cut the baklava into squares or diamonds.
Bake for 30 minutes at 350 F and then 30 minutes at 300 F.
Drizzle warm baklava syrup immediately after removing from the oven. Let stand at least 8 hours before serving. Sprinkle with ground pistachios before serving.