fine food - Baklava
Written by Craig Butcher
This popular dessert of 30–40 filo pastry layers filled with chopped nuts, held together by sticky syrup or honey, is enjoyed in wondrously varied forms from Armenia to Arabia.
Turkish baklava dough is baked in butter as elsewhere, but crucially in summer it is topped with ice cream. The typical nut filling between the dough layers remains, but in the Aegean region this filling is made with chopped pistachios, almonds, and walnuts. In the Black Sea region, chopped hazelnuts are more common.
In Lebanon, baklava tends to adopt the ‘more is more’ approach – walnuts, pistachios, and hazelnuts are invariably used, with the with the whole dessert steeped in attar syrup, either a rose-water, orange, or plain sugar syrup, for a wonderful depth of flavour. They are then gloriously decorated with crushed nuts or icing sugar.
Egyptian baklava typically excludes the honey that appears elsewhere. Sweet and occasionally flavoured syrups such as orange blossom take its place. Meanwhile the nuts common to the dish elsewhere remain, including chopped pistachios, but noticeably leaving out chopped almonds. Cinnamon often dominates, while diamond or triangle shapes are preferred.
What are baklava?
Europeans might consider them similar to petits fours – small pastries often enjoyed at the end of a meal alongside coffee. Available in most countries influenced by the Ottoman Empire, their history is much disputed. Typical nuts used include pistachios and hazelnuts, with honeys often flavoured with orange blossom or rose water.