My Introduction to Homemade Baklava
During my family’s holiday season, baklava is center stage. I find the strong combination of savory pistachios and sweet honey sugar interspersed between crunchy phyllo dough layers truly irresistible. My foray into making this dessert dates back to the previous year, guided by a close Turkish friend of mine. The recipe for this dish is quite straightforward. The secret to perfecting this Turkish Pistachio Baklava lies in using high-quality puff pastry. While homemade puff pastry or phyllo dough would be splendid, the frozen puff pastry available in contemporary grocery stores is more than adequate and will serve this recipe admirably.
Pistachio Baklava is a festive treat. My grandmother often served this sumptuous dessert during Christmas, and it was a staple on our Easter menu too.
Baklava Recipe Variations
- Different Nuts: Swap out the pistachios for other nuts like walnuts, almonds, or even a combination of these. Each type of nut will lend a distinct flavor to the baklava.
- Add Spices: You can add spices such as cinnamon, clove or cardamom to the nut mixture for a warm, aromatic flavor.
- Citrus Infused Syrup: Try adding lemon or orange zest to your sugar syrup. This can give a fresh and tangy twist to your baklava.
- Chocolate Drizzle: After the baklava is baked, drizzle some melted dark or white chocolate on top for a sweet twist.
- Rose or Orange Blossom Water: Some Middle Eastern versions of baklava include a dash of rose or orange blossom water in the syrup for a fragrant touch.
- Vegan Baklava: Replace the butter with a plant-based alternative, and ensure your phyllo dough is vegan-friendly for a vegan version of baklava.
Back in 2014, I had the pleasure of hosting a Turkish friend for almost three months. Our activities ran the gamut, ranging from enjoying tea times and making Turkish coffee, to relishing Turkish Delight candies, grilling lamb kebabs, and creating some of Turkey’s most delectable desserts. He must have grown tired of my recurring question: “How do you make authentic baklava?” Yet, by the end of his visit, we had not only made it once but several times!
There’s something uniquely gratifying about crafting Turkish Baklava with someone who hails from its birthplace. It might be the unique cooking techniques, or perhaps it’s the realization that food truly is a universal language, transcending all boundaries and uniting people, regardless of their origins.
Ingredients in Baklava
- Phyllo dough
- Nuts (commonly walnuts, pistachios, or almonds)
- Honey or simple syrup
- Spices (usually cinnamon or clove)
- Lemon juice (used in the syrup)
Baklava History and Origin
Originating from the Ottoman Empire, Baklava was a rich dessert enjoyed across the Middle East and Eastern Europe. It features layered phyllo pastry, nuts, and syrup or honey. Its name comes from the Ottoman Turkish word baklava, though its exact origins are a subject of culinary debate.
How to make Baklava
- Lightly flour a surface and roll out all 4 puff pastry sheets until they fit a 9 x 11-inch baking dish. Put them aside.
- Grease your baking dish with butter.
- Place a rolled puff pastry sheet into the greased pan and spread some butter over it.
- Layer another puff pastry on top and spread butter over it as well.
- In a medium bowl, mix the coarsely chopped pistachios, honey, sugar, and water. Pour this mixture evenly over the puff pastry sheets in the baking dish.
- Layer another puff pastry sheet over the mixture, spreading butter over it.
- Place the final puff pastry on top and pour any remaining butter over it.
- With a sharp knife, cut the baklava into your preferred shape, such as a diamond or square.
- Put the baklava in the preheated oven and bake for 90 minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when the top has turned a light golden color and the pastry appears crispy.
- While the baklava is baking, grind or finely chop the remaining pistachios.
- Once baked, allow the baklava to cool, then garnish with the ground pistachios.
The beauty of this baklava recipe lies in its simplicity. It appears that much of Turkish cuisine shares this quality – simple to prepare, yet strikingly presented with mouthwatering flavors. For this recipe, I sourced pistachios directly from Turkey, which seemingly enhanced the overall taste.
Can’t think of what to pair with this Baklava? Don’t worry we got your back!
- Tea or Coffee: Traditional Turkish or Greek coffee, or a cup of mint or chai tea, complement the sweet flavors of Baklava well.
- Ice Cream: A scoop of vanilla or pistachio ice cream alongside baklava can create a delightful contrast of cold, creamy sweetness with the warm, crispy pastry.
- Dairy: A glass of cold milk or a serving of unsweetened yogurt can help balance the sweetness of baklava.
- Fruit: Fresh fruits like berries or sliced peaches can add a fresh, tangy contrast to the rich, sweet baklava.
- Cheese: A slice of salty, tangy cheese like feta can be a surprising but enjoyable pairing with sweet baklava.
- Wine: A dessert wine, like a Muscat or a late-harvest Riesling, which has enough sweetness to match the baklava, could work well.
- Digestif: A small glass of a sweet digestif, such as a cream sherry or a dessert liqueur, could be a nice way to round off a meal.
Is baklava originally Greek or Turkish?
Baklava has a rich and complex history, which makes it difficult to assign it to a single place of origin. The dessert has roots in both Greek and Turkish cuisine, among others, and is enjoyed widely across the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
The version of Baklava that we’re familiar with today — thin layers of phyllo dough layered with nuts and soaked in syrup or honey — was largely developed in the kitchens of the Topkapi Palace during the time of the Ottoman Empire, which was based in present-day Turkey.
However, the technique of layering thin sheets of dough, which is crucial to Baklava, dates back to the ancient Romans and was later adopted by the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire), based in present-day Greece.
So, while the dessert we now call Baklava was refined and popularized in Ottoman Turkey, the cooking techniques it uses have a longer history in the region, including in Greece. As a result, both Greece and Turkey have strong claims to Baklava, and the dessert is a beloved part of both cuisines.
Why is Baklava so high in calories?
Baklava is high in calories due to the ingredients used in its preparation. Here are the main culprits:
Phyllo Dough: While phyllo dough is thin, it’s often layered multiple times to create the flaky texture that baklava is known for. Each of these layers contributes to the overall calorie count.
Nuts: Nuts are nutrient-dense and high in healthy fats, which are quite calorie-dense. Commonly used nuts in baklava include walnuts, pistachios, and almonds.
Butter: Baklava recipes typically use a generous amount of butter between each layer of phyllo dough, which adds a significant amount of calories.
Syrup or Honey: Baklava is sweetened with a large quantity of sugar or honey, both of which are high in calories.
Portion Sizes: Baklava is often cut into small diamond shapes, but each piece is deceptively calorie-dense due to the ingredients listed above.
What is the best way to store leftover Baklava?
Here are some tips for storing leftover baklava rolls.
Cool Completely: Before storing, let the Baklava cool down completely to room temperature.
Airtight Container: Transfer the Baklava into an airtight container. This will prevent it from drying out and keep it fresh.
Room Temperature: Store the container at room temperature rather than in the refrigerator. Refrigerating Baklava can lead to soggy pastry due to the moisture from the fridge.
Avoid Stacking: If possible, store the pieces in a single layer to prevent them from sticking together. If you have to stack them due to space limitations, place a piece of wax or parchment paper between layers to prevent them from sticking together.
What is Persian style baklava?
Persian baklava, often referred to as Baghlava, is quite distinct from its Greek and Turkish counterparts. While the basic principle of layering thin sheets of dough with sweet and nutty fillings remains, the ingredients and flavors used often differ. Here are some key features of Persian baklava:
Flavorings: Persian baklava tends to use a cardamom and rose water-flavored syrup, which gives it a unique, fragrant character.
Nuts: Almonds and pistachios are commonly used in Persian baklava, often ground to a finer consistency than in other versions.
Shape and presentation: Persian baklava is typically cut into diamond shapes, similar to Greek and Turkish baklava, but it’s also often made into a round shape and decorated with ground pistachios and slivered almonds. Some varieties even incorporate a layer of ground nuts and spices between two layers of pastry, which is then cut into small, bite-sized squares or rectangles.
Yogurt: Some versions of Persian baklava use yogurt in the dough, which is said to contribute to a richer, tender crumb in the finished pastry.
Saffron: Saffron, one of the most precious and aromatic spices, is sometimes used in the syrup for a more luxurious version of Persian baklava.
Less Sweet: Persian baklava is often less syrupy and a bit less sweet than its Greek and Turkish counterparts.
Thinking about trying the best baklava recipe ever?
Well… What are you waiting for? Let me know how you enjoyed it in the comments!
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Turkish Pistachio Baklava
- 2 lbs puff pastry sheets
- 4 cups pistachios , shelled, coarsely minced
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 cups melted butter
- 1 cup finely minced pistachios , to garnish
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. On a lightly floured surface, roll all 4 puff pastry sheets to fit a 9 x 11 baking dish; set aside. Grease pan with room temperature butter. Place 1 rolled sheet of puff pastry into pan then grease pastry sheet with butter. Place another layer of puff pastry on top, then grease with butter.
- In medium bowl, combine coarsely chopped pistachios, honey, sugar and water and mix. Pour mixture over puff pastry sheets in dish. Place another puff pastry sheet over the top of the mixture, then grease it with butter. Place the last puff pastry on top and pour remaining butter on top. Use a sharp knife to cut baklava in the shape of a diamond or square.
- Place baklava in oven and bake for 90 minutes. The top of the puff pastry should be light golden color and the papers should appear crispy. Meanwhile, grind or chop the remaining pistachios into an almost fine dust or finely chopped. Allow baklava to cool then garnish with pistachios.
Nutritional information is only an estimate and it’s accuracy is not guaranteed to be exact.
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