Baklava, the flaky, nutty, sweet pastry, is best associated with the exotic orient and the spice roads of the east. The many peoples of Asia Minor and the Mediterranean still claim to possess the one true and correct baklava. As baklava’s origins are intrinsically tied to the history of the region, much of which pre-dates the boundaries and borders of our modern-day countries, all can accurately claim partial ownership.
The Story of Baklava begins around the 8th Century B.C. in northern Mesopotamia, when the Assyrians layered very thin pieces of dough with nuts, baked their primitive pastry in wood-burning ovens, and added honey for sweetness. As the area was frequented by Greek seamen, a baklava recipe made its way west to Athens. There, Greek artisan bakers made a significant contribution – they mastered a method of rolling the pastry dough into paper thin sheets called fillo. ("Fillo" or "phyllo" actually means "leaf" in the Greek language.) As early as the 3rd Century B.C., baklava was served in wealthy Greek households for all kinds of special occasions.
As often happens with regional cuisine, bordering areas adopted and sometimes altered the Greek baklava recipe to reflect the individual tastes of their respective peoples. Armenians added cinnamon and cloves to their baklava, while Arabs added rosewater and cardamom. The sweet also spread into the wealthy households of the ancient Persians and Romans, and then journeyed to what is now Turkey when the Roman Empire moved east to Byzantium/Constantinople in the 4th Century A.D.
When the Ottomans invaded Constantinople in the 15th Century, and then expanded their empire to include the entire Armenian Kingdom and the ancient Assyrian territory in Mesopotamia, they inadvertently consolidated the regional baklava recipes within their borders. Ottoman Imperial palaces, mansions of Pashas and Viziers, and wealthy merchants employed Armenian, Greek, Persian, Egyptian, Assyrian, Serbian, and Hungarian chefs and bakers to create their regional delicacies. This mix of culinary cultures eventually caused a fusion of techniques and recipes, resulting in the modern varieties of baklava we still see produced today by Sinbad Sweets.
Baklava has many health benefits as a pastry; it's not just full of empty calories like so many other desserts. Nuts are filled with nutrition, and they're naturally cholesterol free. Although nuts are high in fat, the fat is mostly unsaturated fat which has a beneficial effect on health. Honey consumption raises antioxidant levels.
- Various studies have shown that both walnuts and almonds have a beneficial effect on blood cholesterol levels.
- Nuts are an excellent source of dietary fiber, magnesium, copper, folic acid, and vitamin E.
- Phyllo pastry has no trans fat, saturated fat or cholesterol and is low in calories.
- Baklava has a remarkable shelf-life and can last for many months depending on how you store the pastries.