With its honey-drenched layers of flaky filo pastry and spiced crushed nuts, baklava has become a dessert that is savoured and relished universally for its exquisite beauty, textures and flavours. Baklava is an irresistibly more-ish dessert that has always been associated with luxury, sophistication and gourmet cuisine. The wonderful cultural heritage and historical traditions that are interwoven with the development of baklava has made it a truly timeless, classic and refined dessert.
A Brief History of Baklava
Created in the imperial kitchens of Istanbul, baklava is a sweet Turkish dessert consisting of buttery layers of filo pastry and a luscious nut filling. Baklava has been around for hundreds of, perhaps even more than a thousand, years, and a brief glimpse at its past offers a fascinating insight into the history of the development of this exquisite dessert.
Although there are many stories regarding the origins of baklava, the one which is most commonly told implies that an early form of baklava was enjoyed within the Assyrian Empire, which was almost three thousand years ago in 800 BC. This baklava consisted of layers of unleavened bread dough which would be spread thinly, layered with crushed nuts and honey, and then baked for special occasions. Even then, this dessert was regarded as a delicacy because of its use of natural and expensive ingredients such as nuts and honey.
It is then said that with the rise of international trading routes the Ancient Greeks had the opportunity to sample this delightful Assyrian delicacy, and they developed a fondness for it. It was the Greeks who would create the iconic filo pastry- an incredibly thin and delicate dough which would make the individual layers in baklava more lighter and crisp than ever before.
A Royal Favourite
As the silk and spice trade began to flourish people were able to experiment more with flavours and textures, and rosewater, cardamom and cinnamon were incorporated into baklava recipes.
Something that we can be certain of however, is that the baklava which is so universally treasured to this day was developed in the Ottoman Empire in the fifteenth century in Turkey. The baklava recipe was adjusted and tweaked to perfection in the Topkapi Palace kitchens in seventeenth century Istanbul.
These crisp and syrupy morsels would quickly become a favourite of the ruling Sultan. The Sultan even initiated a tradition which would become known as the ‘Baklava Parade’, where he would distribute the pastries amongst his soldiers on the fifteenth of Ramadan, as a way of expressing his appreciation for their strength and bravery.
A Treasured National Sweet
It is in Turkey that this dessert was developed to become the baklava we so cherish to this day, and bakers in Turkey strive to remain true to the timeless cultures, traditions and history which are so inextricably intertwined with the creations of baklava. Although the mastery of baklava may have been accomplished in the city of Gaziantep, there are a number of baklava vendors around Istanbul who are committed to creating genuine and authentic baklava that preserves the essence of Turkey’s wonderful artistic and culinary heritage.
Ever since it was created, this seemingly simple combination of filo pastry, nuts, syrup and sugar has captured the hearts and minds of people, nations and civilizations throughout history and across the world. Whether you’ve tried this wonderful dessert before or you’re yet to give it a try, there’s no doubt that you’ll find the most delicious baklava that you’ll ever eat in your life in the heart of Turkey.
Baklava is one of Turkey’s most beloved and adored culinary gems and one that absolutely anyone visiting Turkey should try – following are some of Istanbul’s most renowned baklava vendors to introduce you to Turkey’s national sweet!
• Hafiz Mustafa
• Karakoy Gullouglu
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