Baklava (Shutterstock)
Blog Words : Food & Drink | 03 April

Recipe of the week: Turkish Baklava

It's everyone's favourite Middle Eastern dessert – but how to make crispy, chewy baklava? We've tracked down a traditional Turkish recipe...

Many sweet treats have a history as rich as their fillings. Cheesecake can be traced back to ancient Greece while the humble fruit cake is actually a product of the Roman Empire. But few can rival baklava for its sheer cultural impact.

This sweet’s Middle Eastern origins are hazy, with some arguing that it dates back as far as 8th century BC where it was reserved as a treat for royalty and the super rich. However, as its popularity spread across the region and beyond, many countries developed their own version.

When in Turkey, you’ll find that pistachios are the chosen filling, but regions nearer the Black Sea tend to opt for hazelnuts. Walnuts are preferred in Azerbaijan, while cardamom and rose water syrup is added to Iran’s mix of almonds and pistachios – a recipe harking back to the glory days of the Persian Empire.

Baklava with pistachio (Shutterstock)
Baklava with pistachio (Shutterstock)

If you’re travelling in Greece, the home of filo pastry, you’ll discover that baklava even takes on a religious significance and is commonly made with 33 layers – a reference to the length of Christ’s life. Some countries even ditch the nutty centre, and in Hungary you can enjoy a fruity apricot version.

To this day, the crafting of baklava carries with it an aura of magic, says Anissa Helou, author of Sweet Middle East: “The first time I visited Güllüoglu’s baklava kitchens in Istanbul, it felt like walking into an enchanted world.”

So when you next sample baklava, you’re actually tasting a little piece of history.

Sweet shop in Istanbul, Turkey (Dreamstime)
Sweet shop in Istanbul, Turkey (Dreamstime)

Baklava

Serves 4

For the pastry & filling:
200g hulled, unsalted pistachios
100g superfine sugar
1 tbsp orange blossom water
1 tbsp rose water
12 sheets filo pastry, each measuring 18cm by 32cm


For the sugar syrup:
400g superfine sugar
1 ½ tsp lemon juice
120ml water
1 tbsp rose water
1 tbsp orange blossom water


To make the sugar syrup:

1. Put the sugar, lemon juice and water in a saucepan and place over a medium heat.
2. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Boil for 3 minutes and then add the rose water and orange blossom water.
3. Mix well and remove from the heat. Cool before using.

Baklava sweets (Shutterstock)
Baklava sweets (Shutterstock)

To make the pastry & filling:

1. Coarsely grind the pistachios and transfer to a mixing bowl. Add the sugar, orange blossom water and rose water; mix well.
2. Spread one sheet of filo pastry over the bottom of a baking dish. Brush with melted butter. Lay another sheet over the first and brush with melted butter; repeat with an additional four sheets.
3. Spread the filling evenly over the pastry and cover with six more layers of filo, brushing each one with melted butter. Pour over any leftover butter.
4. Cut the pastry into 5cm squares or thin rectangles about 5cm long and 2cm wide.
5. Bake at 200ºC until crisp and golden – 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let it rest before pouring the sugar syrup all over the pastry.


This recipe is taken from from Sweet Middle East (Chronicle Books, £16) by Anissa Helou; out now


Main Image: Baklava (Shutterstock)