By Heidi Braley
Nothing says decadence like a slice of baklava served with coffee. The richness of the honey, the protein in the nuts and the fat in the butter and nuts all mixed with the crisp dough make it a classic that has stood the test of time. Once served only in the home of the wealthy, it now is a classic served in almost every major city of the world.
The history of Baklava is controversial but by all accounts, it is from the Middle East. The Greeks, Turks, Lebanese, Uzbekistanians and the other nations in the area all claim it as a traditional national dessert and there are even claims of a form of baklava being around in Assyria around 800 B.C. Originally it was simple bread dough spread flat, sprinkled with nuts and served with honey. Because these areas are very hot in climate, the honey was probably used to preserve the dessert from spoiling.
Baklava is traditionally made with walnuts, but there are also varieties with almonds, garbanzo beans, pistachios or pine nuts. Honey and lemon juice is consistently used as the syrup. Some cultures like to use dates in place of some of the nuts. Others call for different spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, or cardamom.
The significance of baklava is the simple variations of the recipe that people have claimed as their special recipe. Of course, each claims their recipe is the best with great passion. It is a dessert that satisfies a sweet tooth and goes well with black coffee, which is another staple of the Middle Eastern culture
Although some might prefer to say that the dessert seems more like something from the Turks, it was the Greeks who have claimed the credit for it. The pastry they use to make it, phyllo dough, is actually the Greek word for leaf because it is so thin. The list of countries in which baklava is served is extensive because it has migrated from nation to nation over the centuries, but you can all find it within a 500 miles radius around Turkey.
The dessert can be made without much difficulty but the key ingredient, phyllo, is usually store bought because it is not possible to make at home with regular kitchen tools to the degree of thinness that the dessert calls for. However, the dough is a simple mixture of flour, hot water, a little vinegar, and oil that is kneaded until smooth and then rolled out as thin as possible. Layers of the phyllo are piled on top of a sweet nut mixture and then the whole thing is soaked in a honey mixture.