The history of baklava and its heavenly taste

Food of the Gods Food of the Gods. We are mere mortals blessed with the sweet richness of baklava. Delicious flavors for one bite include a thin, crunchy filo pastry layered with almonds and ground walnuts topped with cinnamon and cardamom, and dipped in rosewater and lemon juice with honey syrup.

In the eighth century BC, the ancient Assyrians began to lay a layer of unleavened dough with nuts and pour honey on it. In the second century, the Romans baked cheese, honey, and sweet dough in the name of placenta. The rise of the Byzantine Empire brought this dessert east to the region of Turkey and Greece.

Although the Greeks and Turks argue over who can claim the origins of baklava, two facts remain undisputed. The Greeks invented the very thin dough used to make baklava. phyllo means leaf in greek. The name is of Turkish origin and the baklava we know and love comes from the Sultan’s Kitchen in Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace. On the fifteenth day of Ramadan, the Sultan was expressing his appreciation to the Janissaries, the elite army, by offering them trays of baklava in a special procession called the Alawi Baklava.

Baklava, in its many forms, is common in the kitchens of all the countries of the former Ottoman Empire – the Middle East and the Balkans, as well as Greece, Persia, the Maghreb and Algeria.

Three monotheistic religions include baklava in their religious rituals. Muslims indulge in baklava for breakfast in Ramadan. Christians bake baklava for Lent – some use 40 layers of foil to represent the 40 days of Lent (the celebration between Ash Wednesday and Easter where many followers pray, repent and fast); Others use 33 to represent the years of Jesus’ life. Sephardic Jews serve baklava in Rosh Hashanah and Purim.

After marrying into the Rodsley family, Rachel learned to make baklava using Tia Naomi’s recipe. Just like the ancient Greek recipe found in Crete, the Chef family recipe includes sesame seeds. My Iraqi grandmother made a wonderfully light, sweet and crunchy baklava for every family celebration. Baking baklava has always loomed large as a scary feat, but the memory of my grandmother’s baklava (and Rachel’s encouragement and this story) made me take on the challenge. I discovered that baking baklava requires careful assembly and careful handling of the fluffy dough.

Honey syrup can be poured over the dessert after baking with any mixture of lemon juice, rose water, and orange blossom extract. While experimenting in the kitchen, Rachel and I discovered that reducing the amount of syrup makes the end product less frizzy. Enjoy mixing and matching the ground nuts you use – almonds, walnuts and pistachios all taste delicious.

Rolled baklava from Tia Nayomi

2 cups almonds
3 cups pecans
1 cup sugar
1 cup roasted sesame
2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 box of phyllo dough
1 cup oil (vegetable, canola, safflower, avocado)

Concentrated syrup:
1 cup honey
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a food processor, chop the almonds and walnuts.

In a large bowl, mix nuts, sugar, sesame seeds, and cinnamon.

Roll out the phyllo dough and cover it with a damp kitchen towel to prevent it from drying out. (If it starts to dry out, the leaves will break.)

Lay a sheet of phyllo foil on a flat surface and brush it lightly with oil. Put another layer on top, brush with oil and sprinkle about 3 tablespoons of the filling. Put the third layer on top, grease with oil and sprinkle about 3 tablespoons of the filling (keep the phyllo paper under a wet towel).

Working from the bottom up, carefully roll the chips into a tight roll, and place on a greased cookie sheet. Repeat this process until all the dough is used or the cookie sheet is filled.

Rolls slices into 1-2 inch pieces.

Bake for 25 minutes until golden.

While the pastries are baking, combine the honey, sugar and water in the pan. Boil until the mixture is sticky and a beautiful golden colour.

Remove the pastries from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes, then pour the cooled syrup over the pastries. Sprinkle sesame seeds.

This baklava can be frozen without syrup. Defrost and defrost with syrup when ready to serve.

Baklava Nana Aziza

Concentrated syrup:
1 cup sugar
1 cup honey
3/4 cup water
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons rose water

3/4 pound ground almonds
3/4 pound ground walnuts
2 tablespoons of sugar
2 tablespoons ground cardamom
1 tablespoon of cinnamon
2 tablespoons rose water

1 pound of phyllo dough
1 cup centrifuged almond or canola oil

Combine sugar, honey, water, lemon juice, and rose water in a small saucepan and simmer over low heat to dissolve the sugar.

Stir well and simmer until the liquid thickens into a syrup.

Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large bowl, combine the ground almonds, ground walnuts, sugar, spices, and rose water.

Grease the baking tray with a little fat.

Separate wafer sheets. Lay one sheet on top of the other on the tray, gently brushing each second sheet with oil. repeats.

After the sixth sheet, spread about 4 tablespoons of the nut mixture over the phyllo sheets.

Apply four more layers, brushing each second sheet with oil.

Spread the rest of the nut mixture on top and cover with six sheets of phyllo foil, brushing each sheet with oil.

Using a very sharp wet knife, cut five equal dimensional lines into a paste, then cut them diagonally to create small diamonds.

Spread the remaining oil over the pastry.

Bake for 35 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove from the oven and pour the cooled syrup over the baklava.

Rachel SchiffHispanic Moroccan family roots. Sharon GompertsThe family hails from Baghdad and Uzair in Iraq. Known as the Sephardic Spice Girls, they have collaborated on Sephardic Education Center projects and community cooking classes. Join them on Instagram at SephardicSpiceGirls, or on Facebook Group SEC food.

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