The Masters of Baklava

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The Baklava (be’lewa as we call it in Lebanon), as we know it today, was perfected by Middle Eastern pastry makers, especially Lebanese who developed the process of layering the ingredients. This pastry is made of wheat flour, butter and milk with some salt, then sweetened with sugar and stuffed, or topped, with sweetened pistachios. The preparation is more complex: The dough is made into thin layers. Each is brushed with butter, or oil, and placed on top of the other until obtaining multiple layer dough.

The mixture of sweetened nuts is prepared on the side, then layered, or stuffed, in between two bulks of this multiple-layer dough. The baker cuts the dough in similar shapes, and places the pan in the oven to bake.Depending on the variety, the shapes could be triangles, rectangles, lozenges, or diamonds.  When done, he pours syrup to soak it. The syrup varies with the variety and recipes: honey, orange flower water or rosewater.

The story of this scrumptious delicacy is quite controversial, and unfortunately not very well documented. Many ethnic groups such as the Greek, Turkish and Middle Easterners claim baklava as their own, and prepare it in their own ways.

The story of baklava began long ago, as a matter of fact one version of the story claims that Baklava origins to the mighty Assyrians, who had been preparing it as early as the 8th century B.C. by layering unleavened flat bread with chopped nuts in between, drenching it in honey and then baking it in primitive wood-burning ovens, similar to what we have here called mwara’a (post coming soon). The modern day baklava went through a number of transitions as the history of the area kept on changing.

Buell argues that the word “baklava” may come from the Mongolian root baγla- ‘to tie, wrap up, pile up’ composed with the Turkic verbal ending -v; baγla- itself in Mongolian is a Turkic loanword. In fact one of the oldest known recipes for a sort of proto-baklava is found in a Chinese cookbook written in 1330 under the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty under the name güllach. “Güllaç” is also found in Turkish cuisine. Layers of phyllo dough are put one by one in warmed up milk with sugar. It is served with walnut and fresh pomegranate and generally eaten during Ramadan.

Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean, Balkans, Caucasia; Turks, Arabs, Jews, Greeks, Armenians, Bulgarians of today who introduce baklava as their national dessert were all part of the Ottoman empire once. The modern day baklava went through a number of transitions as the history of the area kept on changing.

There is no denying the fact that the dessert that we delectably consume today was perfected during the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century after invading Constantinople (present day Istanbul). And for over five hundred years the kitchens of the Imperial Ottoman Palace in Constantinople became the ultimate culinary hub of the empire. The oldest reports about baklava are present in Topkapı Palace kitchen notebooks from the Fatih period. According to this report baklava was baked in the Palace in 1473. Baklava elaborated from a simple pastry into a dessert, which needed skill in order to please the dignitaries and the rich people.

Till the 19th century baklava was thought of as a luxury anywhere in the world; which only the very wealthy could afford. To this day, it is a very common expression in Turkey that “I am not rich enough to eat baklava every day”.  People would bake baklava only on special occasions, and religious events or wedding.

This pastry must have become so endearing not only because of its crisp, buttery layers that incite near-delirium when eaten warm from the oven, but also because of the labor required to make baklava. There are several steps involve, clarifying butter, making and cooling orange blossom simple syrup, chopping and sugaring nuts, and these no doubt would pale in comparison to the work that once was the burden of Middle Eastern women the world over: the making of the phyllo. It seems they had to stretch the dough as thinly as possible by pulling it across the kitchen table in one huge sheet. It’s a wonder that certain tasks like stretching phyllo didn’t just fall by the wayside, but they did it as though there was no option, and their success in their labor no doubt pushed them full steam ahead.

The Bohsali family is one of the first family businesses in the sweets industry in Lebanon that has been operating since 1860. Saadeddine Bohsali carved the first line in the sweets arts in “Souk Al Sakaker” at the Martyrs’ Square, Downtown, gratifying his customers’ gourmet fantasies with the most delicious homemade oriental pastries.

They started with importing baklava from both turkey and Greece. Seeing how popular they were among their rich customers, they developed their own take on them and started making them right here in Lebanon, modifying the recipe to cater to the Lebanese palette.

Although the origins of baklava and its history will remain somehow unclear, there is no debate as to where to eat the best baklava in the world. Yes! Here in Lebanon. You will notice that both the Turkish and the greek version are sweeter then ours, while the Turkish ones is more sweet, the Greek one lacks the proper crunch to it. So all hail by far the best baklava made in the world right here in Lebanon!

baklava in Lebanon:

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