More about Baklava

by Sarah on April 23, 2009

According to Charles Perry the evolution of Baklava started from the unleavened bread baked on a saj which was layered with a filling, this evolved into a pastry made of 8 layers of dough and filled with nuts, then finally into the multilayered phyllo dough baklava which was developed by the Ottoman Turks in the Topkapi palace kitchens.

Nawal Nasrallah, an expert on Iraqi cuisine and history, says that a pastry called lauzeenaj was made in the 10th century had many of the characteristics of the baklava of today. It was made with raqeeq al riqaq, the thinnest of thin breads and was stuffed with almonds and sugar, flavored with mastic and rose water and fried in almond oil. Nasrallah says that waraq, very thin pastry wrappers were described in the 10th century Bagdadi cookbook (by IbnSayyar al-Warraq). Lauzeenaj was made by rolling the filling of sugar and nuts (almonds, walnuts or pistachios) in the sheets of thin dough to create a long roll. These were cut into smaller pieces and drenched in almond or walnut oil and sugar syrup. The waraq, or thin dough was made not by rolling the dough out but by making a batter and pouring it onto a hot griddle. Although the diamond shaped baklava is the most common form, these circular types are still popular today. Although no ancient Persian cookbook survives, the fact the Persian aj suffix is used in the word lauzeenaj is an indication of an earlier Persian development.

The nomadic Turkish technique of making thin bread may have been incorporated by the Ottoman Turks to make delicate layered baklava. Or perhaps the waraq, the thin dough made in Baghdad, was adopted by the Turks, but instead of rolling it, they sandwiched the filling on multiple sheets.

Although Turkish multilayered phyllo baklava has been popularized in many countries, there are still some regions that make it differently. Charles Perry speculates that Azeri baklava is a more ancient form because it has only eight layers. I have a Persian cookbook which calls for only four and Farida (Farida’s Azerbaijani Cookbook blog) makes hers with just three layers. He says that the Azeri baklava “seems to combine the Iranian tradition of pastries with nut filling baked in ovens with the layered bread of the Turks.” Did the nomadic Turks introduce the layering technique? I am not sure if the answer is so simple.

Source: Delights from the Garden of Eden, Nawal Nasrallah
A Taste of Thyme, Edited by Sami Zubaida and Richard Tapper

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Daniel April 23, 2009 at 9:06 pm

Thanks for this (and your prior) post on one of my favorite desserts. I just learned more about baklava in ten minutes than I’ve learned over the course of my entire life!

Dan
Casual Kitchen

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Sam Sotiropoulos April 24, 2009 at 8:29 pm

I have discovered some pretty serious errors made by Charles Perry, so I don’t consider him a credible source esp., when it comes to origins of foods. For example, Perry is relied upon by Diane Kochilas to establish the origins of pasta among the ancient Greeks based on Perry’s analysis around the ancient Greek word “itrion”. Unfortunately for Kochilias and Perry, the words “itria” and “itrion” have nothing to do with pasta. If either of them had chacked the Oxford Greek Lexicon, they would have discovered that “itrion” and “itria” refer to pasteli, the relevant info can be found here: http://greekgourmand.blogspot.com/2009/02/pasteli.html So, again, I have serious issues with Perry’s scholarship.

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Baklava Chef October 27, 2009 at 5:26 pm

It is really comical when a “scholar” tries to Turkify something which is clearly of another culture. So Mr Perry, we are basing the invention of Baklava as simply a “flat bread” placed on top of each other with a “filling”? Then why stop there? Who actually invented the bread? While the answer to this may not be clear one thing we do know: The Turkic peoples were not the ones. If they were, in Mongolia, their ancestral central Asian domain, then bread would have been the staple of the present day Mongolians … yet it is not. Bread is certain to have been invented in ancient Anatolia (current day Turkey when there were no Turks there) or Middle East. From there it spread through Persia to India.

Sorry to burst your bubbles, but Baklava is a food of Assyrian, Greek, Armenian and Arabic origin (in that order). So are we surprised that the Turks in WWI committed genocide against these very people and now claim with their supporters that Baklava is of “Turkic origin”? I for one do not give credit to a people for something they usurped with the bloodshed of others.

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