Baklava is considered the most famous Turkish dessert. The birthplace of this dish is the city of Gaziantep in the Southeastern Anatolia Region of Turkey. Gaziantep has long been identified with pistachios and baklava itself. Historically in the Ottoman palace and mansions, the chefs who were experts in making baklava were preferred. Chefs vying for the position were given a baklava-making test as well as a pilav (rice meal) test. The Master of Baklava was determined according to the talent of that chef to make the very thinnest dough possible.
The claim that baklava is "the most famous Turkish dessert" caught my attention. Rather amazing that such a statement can apply to an entire country! In the U.S., there is a statement that some things are "as American as Apple Pie". But this does not imply that Apple Pie is our national dessert because each state in the U.S. lays claim to an iconic dessert. To name a few:
Alabama: the Alabama Lane Cake. An award-winning white cake, it is mixed with bourbon-soaked raisins with white marshmallow frosting. It made several appearances in the famous American story of "To Kill A Mockingbird".
Colorado: The Root Beer Float at Sweet Cow. A legend in Colorado is that a miner and bar owner named Frank Wisner invented the drink in 1893 after musing that the moon shining over snow-capped Cow Mountain looked like a dollop of ice cream resting over a dark-colored beverage. His imagination led him to create the Black Cow Mountain, later shortened to the name of Black Cow, and eventually the name was finalized as a Root Beer Float.
Indiana: Hoosier Pie, sometimes called Sugar Cream Pie, is made with cream, sugar, and vanilla. The recipe for Sugar Cream Pie appears to have originated in the 1800's in Indiana (my home state) with Shaker and/or Amish communities. It was a fallback pie recipe when the apple bins in the pantry were empty.
The interesting thing to note about baklava is that it is not just a single type of dessert; there are various types. If possible, you should try to find all of them, taste all of them, and pick your favorite.
Types of Baklava:
When you ask a Turk what to eat as a Turkish dessert, the most common answer will be baklava. The Turks love sweets and, of course, baklava is the perfect example. It is described simply as chopped nuts spread in between layers of phyllo dough (in Turkish, yufka), dressed with butter, baked and then sweetened with syrup or honey. Along with "traditional" baklava, there are five other types of this beloved dessert.
Sütlü Nuriye: Basically the same as baklava but with a slightly different syrup. Less water is used and milk is added, giving it a whitish look and making it taste less heavy. The origin of its name is somewhat vague. Nuriye is a female name but some say it was named for its inventor. Others say the cow that supplied the milk was called Nuriye. Still others claim that after the 1980 coup d’état, when the economy was disastrous and baklava prices were frozen by the municipality, people got creative. Using milk with less sugar and hazelnuts instead of the more expensive pistachios was the invention of a baklava artisan. He called it Sütlü Nuriye to point out the difference.
Burma Baklava: This variety is distinguished by its shape. A few layers of very thin phyllo dough are placed on top of each other, dressed with nuts between the layers, wrapped around a rolling-pin, and creased around the pin by pushing. It is then dressed with butter, baked in the oven, then sweetened with syrup. Since it has a hole in the middle, some claim they can enjoy a bigger portion without feeling so much guilt from the calories. Let your conscience be your guide!
Bülbül Yuvası (Nightingale’s Nest):
The name comes from the circular shape of the phyllo dough. Of course, it contains nuts, mostly pistachios. The preparation is almost the same as with the Burma Baklava. The difference is that the rolls are shaped into rings and the pistachios are placed in the hollow of the rings after the dough has been cooked.
Fıstıklı Sarma (Pistachio Wrappings): This Turkish dessert is also similar to baklava, with the exception of the excessive amount of pistachios. Fıstık means pistachio and this dessert is made only with pistachios, but you can get baklava with hazelnuts and walnuts. Its hometown is the city of Gaziantep in southeastern Turkey. It is often served with the famous Turkish Maraş Ice Cream. This would be my choice!
Şöbiyet Baklava: Compared to the others, this is the only phyllo dough dessert with an original filling. A mixture of milk and semolina is boiled until it becomes a thick pudding called kaymak (a cream filling). Ten layers of phyllo dough are layered on top of each other with a butter dressing between each layer. They are then cut into 7 by 7 cm squares (approximately 3 inch squares). Kaymak (cream filling) and walnuts are placed on the center of the squares which are then folded into triangles, baked, sweetened with syrup, and dressed with ground pistachios.
"Let's eat sweet, talk sweet" is a famous phrase that relays how important desserts are in Turkish culture and cuisine. In Turkey, dessert is often a social ritual and it is meant to be shared. Desserts have different meanings when served on special occasions, from celebrations to funerals. Of course, they are also consumed at ordinary daily meals in Turkish homes. Offering sweets or something to drink to someone is one of the most honorable features of Turkish culture.
The best Turkish pistachios are produced in Gaziantep, in the Southeastern Anatolia Region. If you ever happen to be there, be sure to visit the Baklava Museum. You will enjoy watching live demonstrations of how a Master of Baklava makes Turkey's most famous dessert.
Some frequently asked questions about baklava:
How long does baklava last? It will last 1-2 weeks if kept covered in a container at room temperature. Do not store it in the refrigerator. Its texture might change as the sugar crystallizes, and it will also lose its moisture.
Can it be frozen? Yes, you can freeze it. After it is baked, pour the syrup over it, then let it cool completely before putting it in the freezer. Store it in small batches in freezer bags so you do not have to thaw all of it at once. One day before it will be served, bring it out of the freezer.
What do you serve baklava with? Serve it with Turkish tea or Turkish coffee, preferably without added sugar. The dessert itself is already sweet enough. Besides tea or coffee, some people love to pair their baklava with Turkish Ice Cream.
Copyright by North America TEN and Mary Bloyd