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What is Baklava?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Baklava is a type of Greek pastry traditionally made with phyllo dough, honey, nuts, and orange essence. Many other Middle Eastern nations have pastries which are very similar, thanks to a long running tradition of sweet desserts which feature flaky, delicate pastry. While baklava was originally considered a food for the wealthy, today it can be found in many pastry shops and Greek specialty stores all over the world. Baklava can also be made at home, if the cook has experience with phyllo dough.

The word baklava has Turkish origins, reflecting the fact that the dish was perfected in the Ottoman Empire of Turkey. During the period of the Ottoman Empire, the Greeks and Turks freely mixed, exchanging foods and cultural traditions. The result was a rich culinary mix of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean, including things like dolmas and baklava, two popular foods commonly associated with Greek cuisine today.

To make baklava, the cook starts with phyllo dough, a type of very fine pastry dough which comes in sheets that cook into fluffy, crisp layers. Phyllo dough is notoriously difficult to handle, because it is so fine and easily dried out. Most cooks keep phyllo dough under a cloth in a humid kitchen while they work, and assemble dishes quickly, before the dough has a chance to turn brittle and unworkable.

Cooks start by brushing a thick baking dish with melted butter, and placing a single sheet of phyllo dough in the dish. This layer is brushed again before another layer is applied and brushed, and so on until half of the phyllo dough has been used. A layer of chopped nuts, traditionally pistachios, is made, and the rest of the phyllo dough is layered on top in the same way used to assemble the bottom. Then the dish is baked in a 350 degree Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius) oven until golden brown, which usually takes approximately 20 minutes.

The baklava is allowed to cool and then cut, often into fanciful shapes such as diamonds. A syrup is made from honey, sugar, lemon juice, and orange water, heated together on the stove until they reach a thick consistency. The syrup is poured over the baklava pieces and allowed to soak in, creating a sweet, rich, moist dessert. If kept in a cool dry place, baklava can last a very long time, as the sugars will keep it from decaying.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By asrez — On Aug 04, 2015

Since there are firms in Turkey selling baklava to the many countries of the world including Greece, baklava is believed to belong to Turkey by Turks.

Indeed, what is more important than "invention of such a lovely dessert" is who makes it best.

It is possible to make it at home if you have necessary ingredients.

By ddljohn — On May 10, 2012

I had been looking for an easy baklava recipe for over a week and finally realized that there is a recipe for it on the back of the ready-made phyllo pastry boxes!

I got two phyllo pastries from the grocery store and followed the directions on the back and the baklava turned out really good!

The hardest part was chopping the walnuts into really small pieces. It wouldn't have been a problem if I had a food processor but I didn't.

And I didn't put the walnuts as one single layer. I brushed on some butter and sprinkled some walnuts every 3-4 layers of phyllo dough. I think it came out really good. And it's so easy, you just let it turn slightly brown in the oven and then pour the sugar syrup over it and that's it! Who would think that something so tasty would be so easy to make.

By serenesurface — On May 10, 2012

@simrin-- Not just Greeks and Turks but all Middle Eastern countries also have baklava in their cuisine. For example, Lebanese baklava is also very popular.

Greek and Turkish baklava is mostly the same with just a few minor differences. As far as I know, Greek baklava often includes cinnamon and orange water like the article said. But I've never seen Turkish baklava with either. But in terms of the method and all other ingredients, it's the same.

Walnuts and pistachios are the two nuts used for baklava. I don't think almonds or any other nuts are used.My favorite is pistachio baklava. It's just amazing. It's much more expensive than walnut baklava though because walnuts are a lot cheaper than pistachios.

When I was in Istanbul, Turkey, there were pastry shops selling baklava practically everywhere. You can stop by any and just ask for a piece or two of baklava to eat. I think baklava is more than a dessert, it's more of a delicacy that you have once in a while.

Oh baklava is also very popular during Islamic holidays in Turkey, or for any major celebration really. I was there during Islamic Eid holiday and people were buying trays and trays of baklava to serve to guests they would have over the holidays.

By SteamLouis — On May 10, 2012

Baklava is the best dessert I've ever had. We have a Greek family friend who made it at home for us one time. My two brothers and I ate up a whole tray of it in a couple of days!

I love how rich it is, and syrup is so sweet and delicious. I don't know how our friend managed to do it this way but the bottom part of the baklava pieces were soaked in syrup and slightly soggy but the top part was dry and crisp. So when you bite into it you get this amazing combination in your mouth. And the butter makes the whole thing just melt away. I'm craving it now!

I didn't know Turks make baklava too. Is there any difference between Greek and Turkish baklava?

The baklava I had was made with walnuts. Is that the traditional recipe or can other nuts be used too?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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