The basic principle of baklava is to layer nuts with unleavened bread and then drench everything in syrup or honey. This luxurious treat was rather costly, and only the wealthy could afford it, hence it became known as a dish for kings and monarchs.
The type of nuts and ingredients of the syrup are an indication of the particular baklava’s source; Greek baklava is typically made with honey and walnuts, and is often made with 33 layers – each one representing a year of Christ’s life.
Armenian baklava, called paklava, consists of cinnamon and cloves, while the Turkish or Lebanese variant is made with syrup, pistachios and almonds. Persian baklava is made up of a combination of chopped pistachios and almonds which has been spiced with a delicate rosewater syrup and cardamom.
The syrup used, known as serbet (pronounced share-bet) comprises water, sugar and lemon juice, making it less heavy and more crispy than Greek or Middle Eastern baklava, with a subtle, unmistakable flavour. Baklava can be cut into squares, diamonds or wedges, and is often rolled into cigar-shaped fingers or spirals.
You can substitute any nuts for costly pistachios, hazelnuts, walnuts or almonds, and it is a good idea to experiment. Good quality phyllo is readily available and the arduous task of rolling out paper thin sheets is luckily a thing of the past, although quite doable if you are so inclined!
Give your Christmas table a Mediterranean twist with this scrumptious dessert. It is incredibly sweet, so just a bite or three will suffice, washed down with a delicious cup of hot tea or coffee.
Baklava with Turkish syrup and pistachios
• 300mm water
• 500g caster sugar
• Juice of ½ a lemon
• 1 tbs rosewater.
• 325g pistachios (chopped till
• 125g unsalted butter (melted)
• 400g phyllo pastry.
Bring the water, sugar and lemon juice to the boil, and keep it at the boil for 5 minutes. Add the rosewater and remove from the heat.
Leave to cool, and then
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Brush a square (23cmx23cmx4cm) foil with butter or oil.
Line it with half of the sheets of phyllo, brushing each sheet with oil as you go and making sure there is a slight overhang – because phyllo sheets are usually rectangular and your tin is square, it will be easy to place them with even amounts hanging over each side.
When you have placed half of the pastry in the pan, spread the chopped nuts evenly over the phyllo. Continue layering the sheets until they are all finished. The last one must be well buttered or oiled.
Using a sharp knife, trim any stray edges of pastry and then cut the baklava into 5cm-wide square or diamond shapes. Make sure you cut all the way through to the bottom.
Bake it for 30 minutes, or until the phyllo is golden brown and puffed up. Remove from the oven and pour over half the syrup, allowing it to soak in for a few minutes, then pour over the rest of the syrup.