In the Mediterranean and the Middle East, baklava is one of the most popular and best known desserts. It is made with various fillings, depending on where in the world you are, though it always has paper-thin layers of phyllo pastry, a sweet filling made with chopped nuts, and a coating of honey or syrup.
As with many traditional desserts, there is much debate over who invented it, with it being generally accepted that baklava originally came from the Assyrian empire, around 800 BC, where layers of bread dough were stretched thinly and baked with chopped nuts and honey for special occasions.
The Greeks adapted the dessert with the addition of phyllo pastry which they invented; then the middle east trading roots brought in new flavours as spices started to travel the world: cardamom, rosewater and cinnamon which are still popular flavours.
Food Historians reference the Ottoman Empire from the fifteenth century onwards for the Baklava we enjoy today. The current recipe was perfected in the Topkapi Palace kitchens in seventeenth century Istanbul and quickly became a favourite of the ruling Sultan, who would give the pastries out to his soldiers on the fifteenth day of Ramadan in what became known as ‘The Baklava Parade’ – a show of strength as well as a way to show appreciation for the army.
As the spices change, so do the nuts used depending on which country or village is making this versatile dessert: pistachios, walnuts and almonds are the more traditional choice. In Australia you might try macadamias instead for a very local flavour profile. Each country or village has a slightly different way to present baklava, a skill in itself - the pic for this blog, is of Afghan Baklava taken by Syed F Hashemi.
There are lots and lots of traditional recipes for Baklava, try this Pistachio & Walnut Baklava Recipe to get you started. Once you have perfected the balance of pastry and syrup, you can shake it up at home by changing the syrup flavour or nuts to suit yourself. Now for the adventure, from Epicurious we found recipes for Pecan Bourbon Baklava and Pecan & Orange Baklava Pie. We like how the pairings to serve these baklavas is a bit different as well - the joy of trialling recipes.
Baklava, Turkish Delight, Halva, Coconut Cakes and Mint Tea - the taste of the Middle East are all perfect desserts with a refreshing drink in hot weather, to enjoy while relaxing in the shade of tall palm trees by a pool. To make it easier for you there are a few blogs with the 'Dessert Crush' with recipes for these desserts so you can try making them at home.
Not much of a baker and fancy some Middle Eastern inspired Chocolates, then order yourself a Turkish Bazaar tasting box.