The origins of this sumptuous flaky, buttery and aromatic delicacy are quite controversial, and very much up for debate as it is not very well documented. The Greeks, Turkish and Middle Easterners all claim Baklava as their own and depending on where you eat it can be prepared in a wide range of ways.
There are some stories about the ancient and mighty Assyrians layering a type of flat bread with chopped nuts in between, drenching it in honey and then baking it in basic wood-burning ovens. Modern day baklava has gone through a number of transitions as the history of the area kept on changing but many of the nations of today who claim baklava as their national dessert were all part of the Ottoman empire once.
For me personally Baklava heralds a special occasion or celebration and it’s such an easy but impressive dessert to make! It is often recommended to leave it for 24 to 48 hours to “set” however I prefer to eat it on the same day while the flaky pastry is still super crunchy. It needs about 3-4 hours to absorb all the rosewater lemon syrup and then it’s ready so you could make it on the morning of the day you want to serve it or the day before if you want to be more relaxed!
You will also need a decent pan to make the baklava in – my favourite pan is this one;
Word of warning: whatever you use is going to get knife marks cut into it at the base of it.
serves between 16-24 depending on how small you cut the baklava and how hungry you are!
Ingredients for Syrup – you can make this a day or a week before if you like
200ml Golden castor sugar (I like the brand Natura)
Zest & juice 1 lemons
2 tablespoons Rose water (get the best you can afford – the REAL deal – not flavoured – Olive Branch Deli have a good selection)
16 sheets filo cut to size of pan
150g walnuts & 150g Almonds mixed with 70g unrefined icing sugar (again Natura Sugars do a fab Demerera icing sugar)
finely chop the almonds in your food processor first – then chop the walnuts separately in the processor. If you don’t do them separately you will get chunky almonds and superfine walnuts!
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
Green nibbled pistachios for decoration (Atlas trading in the Bo-Kaap is best)
Make the syrup first:
Bring the sugar and water for the syrup to a boil and simmer 10 mins, then add the rose water and simmer for another 5. Finally add the lemon juice & zest & put to one side for up to a week in a jar in the fridge.
To make the Baklava:
Preheat the oven to 180C – Brush the baking dish/tray (23cm x 35cm – or thereabouts) with a little melted butter and arrange a filo sheet to fit the bottom.
Brush with butter & repeat for 6-8 sheets of filo.
Then top and spread the the walnut, almond & sugar mixture.
Continue layering over the nut mixture as before with sheets and brushing with butter each time. It doesn’t matter if one sheet does not fit exactly – just layer the next sheet to fit the pan on the other side.
Using a sharp knife cut the baklava into diamond shapes the size of a generous mouthful. The pieces in the picture are cut a bit larger – I would usually have 5 cuts down the length
Spray with water (I use a plastic spray bottle but you can flick water if you don’t have) to help pastry crisp up and bake for 30-35 mins until golden brown.
Once out of the oven pour over the cooled syrup and let it seep into every gap. Let it sit for 6 hours at least but 24-48 hours is also fine.
Serve with Vanilla Ice Cream or on its own 🙂