Baklava (/ /,, or //; Ottoman Turkish: باقلوا) is a layered pastry dessert made of filo pastry, filled with chopped nuts, and sweetened with syrup or honey. It was one of the most popular sweet pastries of Ottoman cuisine.
|Place of origin||Ottoman Empire|
|Serving temperature||Cold, room temperature or re-warmed|
|Main ingredients||Filo pastry, nuts, syrup|
The pre-Ottoman origin of the dish is unknown, but, in modern times, it is a common dessert of Iranian, Turkish and Arab cuisines, and other countries of the Levant and Maghreb, along with the South Caucasus, Balkans, and Central Asia.
The word baklava is first attested in English in 1650, a borrowing from Ottoman Turkish: باقلاوه /bɑːklɑvɑː/. The name baklava is used in many languages with minor phonetic and spelling variations.
Historian Paul D. Buell argues that the word "baklava" may come from the Mongolian root baγla- 'to tie, wrap up, pile up' composed with the Turkic verbal ending -v; baγla- itself in Mongolian is a Turkic loanword. Sevan Nişanyan considers its oldest known forms (pre-1500) to be baklağı and baklağu, and labels it as being of Proto-Turkic origin. Another form of the word is also recorded in Persian, باقلبا (bāqlabā). Though the suffix -vā might suggest a Persian origin, the baqla- part does not appear to be Persian and remains of unknown origin. Linguist Tuncer Gülensoy states that the origin of baklava is bakl-ı (feed) in proto-Turkish and suffixes -la-ğı are added. The word changes as bakılağı > bakılavı > baklava.
The Arabic name بقلاوة baqlāwa likely originates from Turkish.
Although the history of baklava is not well documented, its current form was probably developed in the imperial kitchens of the Topkapı Palace in Constantinople (now known in English as 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.
The three main proposals for the pre-Ottoman roots of baklava are the Ancient Roman placenta cake,  the Central Asian Turkic tradition of layered desserts, and the Persian lauzinaj. There are also claims attributing baklava to the Assyrians, according to which baklava was already prepared by them in the 8th century BC.
There are also some similarities between baklava and the Ancient Greek desserts gastris (γάστρις), kopte sesamis (κοπτὴ σησαμίς), and kopton (κοπτόν) 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.
Another recipe for a similar dessert is güllaç, a dessert found in the Turkish cuisine and considered by some as the origin of baklava. It consists of layers of filo dough that are put one by one in warmed up milk with sugar. It is served with walnut and fresh pomegranate and generally eaten during Ramadan. The first known documentation of güllaç is attested in a food and health manual, written in 1330 that documents Mongol foods called Yinshan Zhengyao (飮膳正要, Important Principles of Food and Drink), written by Hu Sihui, an ethnic Mongol court dietitian of the Yuan dynasty.
The placenta theory
The word placenta originally comes from the Greek language plakous (πλακοῦς), which means something "flat and broad". Although there are no surviving recipes for Greek plakous, the term is known from the work of comic poet Antiphanes, quoted by Athenaeus:
"The streams of the tawny bee, mixed with the curdled river of bleating she-goats, placed upon a flat receptacle of the virgin daughter of Demeter [honey, cheese, flour], delighting in ten thousand delicate toppings – or shall I simply say plakous?" "I'm for plakous"' (Antiphanes quoted by Athenaeus 449c).
The earliest known recipe from the 2nd century BC that resembles baklava is Ancient Roman placenta cake, a honey-covered baked layered-dough dessert which Patrick Faas identifies as the origin of baklava:
"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. Roman cuisine had borrowed a great deal from the ancient Greeks, but placenta (and hence baklava) had a Latin, not a Greek, origin—please note that the conservative, anti-Greek Cato left us this recipe."
Cato's original recipe for placenta follows:
Shape the placenta as follows: place a single row of tracta along the whole length of the base dough. This is then covered with the mixture [cheese and honey] from the mortar. Place another row of tracta on top and go on doing so until all the cheese and honey have been used up. Finish with a layer of tracta. ... place the placenta in the oven and put a preheated lid on top of it ... When ready, honey is poured over the placenta.
We cannot be so sure why there is a section of recipes for bread and cakes (74-87), recipes in a Greek tradition and perhaps drawing on a Greek cookbook. Possibly Cato included them so that the owner and guests might be entertained when visiting the farm; possibly so that proper offerings might be made to the gods; more likely, I believe, so that profitable sales might be made at a neighbouring market.
According to a number of scholars koptoplakous (κοπτοπλακοῦς) was a precursor of modern baklava. Historian Speros Vryonis describes koptoplakous as a "Byzantine favorite" and "the same as the Turkish baklava", as do other writers. The name (Greek: πλατσέντα) is used today on the island of Lesbos for thin layered pastry leaves with crushed nuts, baked, and covered in syrup.
Baklava is a common dessert in modern Arab cuisines, but the Arabic language cookbook Kitab al-Tabikh, compiled by Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq in the 10th-century, does not contain any recipe for baklava. Its recipe for lauzinaj refers to small pieces of almond paste wrapped in very thin pastry ("as thin as grasshoppers' wings") and drenched in syrup. Some writers say this is dessert that most closely resembles the modern baklava. Charles Perry, however, has written that "it was not much like baklava".
There are similar recipes for lauzinaj in the 13th-century Kitab al-Tabikh by Muhammad bin Hasan al-Baghdadi. Written in 1226 in today's Iraq, the cookbook was based on an earlier collection of 9th century Persian-inspired recipes. According to Gil Marks, Middle Eastern pastry makers later developed the process of layering the ingredients.
Central Asian layered desserts
Baklava is normally prepared in large pans. Many layers of filo dough, separated with melted butter and vegetable oil, are laid in the pan. A layer of chopped nuts—typically walnuts or pistachios, but hazelnuts are also sometimes used—is placed on top, then more layers of filo. Most recipes have multiple layers of filo and nuts, though some have only top and bottom pastry.
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, a syrup, which may include honey, rosewater, or orange flower water is poured over the cooked baklava and allowed to soak in.
Baklava is usually served at room temperature, and is often garnished with ground nuts.
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There are many regional variations of baklava. In Greece, walnuts are more common than pistachios, and the dessert is often flavored with cinnamon. In Iran, fragrant cardamom is added to a sweetened walnut filling. In Azerbaijani cuisine Azərbaycan Paxlavası, made with walnuts or almonds, is usually cut in a rhombus shape and is traditionally served during the spring holiday of Nowruz. In Gaziantep, locally grown pistachios are used, and the dessert is often served with kaymak cream.
Azerbaijani pakhlava (Azerbaijani: Azərbaycan paxlavası), or simply Pakhlava (Azerbaijani: Paxlava), are a type of baklavas made in Azerbaijan for Nowruz holiday, although not baked only for holidays. Yeasty pastry, hazelnuts or Circassian walnut, milled clove, cardamom, and saffron are used for the preparation of pakhlava. Milled nuts and sugar are used for stuffing.
The diamond shape of pakhlava is commonly associated with a star or fire in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani pakhlava is multilayered and commonly prepared with walnuts or almonds and flavored with saffron. It is generally made in a big baking tray. Pakhlava has some variations in different regions of Azerbaijan based on the ingredients and baking techniques.
A layer is rolled out from the pastry with thickness of not less than 2 mm, put into baking tray, oiled and lavishly filled with stuffing. This process is continued, until 9–10 layers are made. Another version uses 14 layers. The last layer is greased with yolk, mixed up with saffron. Then pakhlava is cut into two rhombus, then either hazelnut or half of the kernel of Circassian walnut is placed on each piece. Then it is baked with 180–200 °C temperature pending 30–40 minutes.
- Baku pakhlava. Baku pakhlava can be made of peeled almonds or walnuts. It consists of 8–10 layers. Its top layer is coated with saffron mixed with yolk. A half walnut or pistachio is placed on the center of the top layer of each diamond-shaped piece. Syrup or honey is poured on the surface of pakhlava 15 minutes before it is ready.
- Ganja pakhlava. Ganja pakhlava is characterized by its stuffing prepared of almond, sugar and cinnamon, baking on a copper tray over a campfire and consisting of 18 layers of pastry. 8 layers of almond stuffing are spread on every 3 buttered layers of pastry. The surface is coated with egg. Syrup is added to Ganja pakhlava 15–20 minutes before it is ready. Infusion of rose petals (gulab) can also be added to the dough, and cardamom is added to the stuffing.
- Rishta pakhlava. This kind of pakhlava differs from the other types with its top layer which is covered with rishta. Rishta is made from wheat starch or rice flour. Grid-shaped rishta made by pouring knead liquid dough on hot griddle through a special funnel with 11 holes and baking it in a minute.
- Guba pakhlava. This type of pakhlava is characterized especially by its colour. The covering layer of Guba pakhlava is coated with a mixture of saffron and a red colour additive. Guba pakhlava consists of approximately 50 rishta layers.
- Sheki pakhlava. It is also called Sheki halva. It is made from rishta, stuffing (hazelnut, cardamom and coriander seeds) and syrup.
Baklava also exists in Romanian cuisine, being known as baclava in Romanian. It is one of the most preferred desserts among Romanians together with the Kanafeh (cataif) and the sarailia. In Romania, some Turkish pastry shops that sell baklava have notable popularity. They are common in the south and southeast of the country, but some also exist in its east.
In Iranian cuisine, a drier version of baklava is cooked and presented in smaller diamond-shaped cuts flavored with rose water. The cities of Yazd and Qazvin are famous for their baklava, which is widely distributed in Iran. Persian baklava uses a combination of chopped almonds and pistachios spiced with cardamom and a rose water-scented syrup and is lighter than other Middle Eastern versions.
In Turkish cuisine, baklava is traditionally made by filling between the layers of dough with pistachios, walnuts or almonds (in some parts of the Aegean Region). In many parts of Turkey, baklava is often topped with kaymak or ice cream.
In the Black Sea Region hazelnuts are commonly used as a filling for baklava. Hazelnuts are also used as a filling for the Turkish dessert Sütlü Nuriye, a lighter version of the dessert which substitutes milk for the simple syrup used in traditional baklava recipes.Şöbiyet is a variation that includes fresh cream in the filling, in addition to the traditional nuts.
The city of Gaziantep in southeast Turkey is famous for its pistachio baklava. The dessert was introduced to Gaziantep in 1871 by Çelebi Güllü, who had learned the recipe from a chef in Damascus. In 2008, the Turkish patent office registered a geographical indication for Antep Baklava, and in 2013, Antep Baklavası or Gaziantep Baklavası was registered as a Protected Geographical Indication by the European Commission. Gaziantep baklava is the first Turkish product to receive a protected designation from the European Commission.
A tray of baklava in the Old City, Jerusalem
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