Baklava, The World's Most Delicious Dessert

Written for Nabat Banu
By B. Shih, R. Zadeh, S. Zadeh & A. Shih

CATHEDRAL CITY, California -- If you've ever made baklava from scratch, you can appreciate that it is a very meticulous and painstaking process. Handmade baklava requires carefully placing layers upon layers of onion-skin thin sheets of delicate phyllo (or filo) dough atop each other in a baking pan, brushing each layer with melted butter. Layers of chopped nuts are incorporated between several of the phyllo layers. Typical layer counts range from as few as 15, all the way to 60. It is a recipe that requires dedication and patience. This only adds to the mystique of the resulting decadent product, which is a tender, flaky pastry that combines a soft center with lightly crispy edges, and a buttery rich, nutty flavor. Simply heavenly.

Baklava, Dessert of the Heavens

There is much debate regarding the historical origins of baklava. Some scholars trace its history to Persia. For instance, the suffix "-va" is traditionally accepted as having Persian derivation. The word root "bakla", however, is not Persian.

Some sources attribute the beginnings of baklava to Ancient Greece, specifically pointing out a mention of a baklava-like walnut pastry that is referenced in the Greek author Homer's renowned poem, the Odyssey. The Odyssey is esteemed as a cornerstone work in classic literature, and it is believed to have been written in the late 8th century BC.

Other sources credit Turkey with the dessert's invention, citing the region's historical use of layered breads, which resemble the layered pastry sheets of baklava.

"Regardless of one's perspective on the origins of baklava, it is worthwhile to note that different regions each have their own subtle, yet profound, variations on the recipe."

It is probable that the origins of baklava took shape with contributions from several parts of the Middle East and Mediterranean regions of the world, in particular, Greece, Turkey and Persia. And given the interwoven nature of many classic recipes with historical origins, attempting to peg the dessert's origin to a single region of the world will likely remain a perpetual source of contention and debate.

Baklava - Dessert of the Heavens

Regardless of one's perspective on the origins of baklava, it is worthwhile to note that different regions each have their own subtle, yet profound, variations on the recipe. This includes the Greek and Turkish versions, which feature the more well-known recipe, with butter-brushed layers of delicate phyllo dough. 

Iranian baklava, or baghlava in Farsi, is generally more cake-like in contrast, with some exceptions. Thicker layers of flour dough are utilized in lieu of the superfine phyllo. There are many regional iterations, depending on the city or province. (Note that in Iran, many of the cities are capitals of their same-named provinces.)

Qazvin Flag Baklava - Photo from Tap Persia

The city of Qazvin, located in central-northern Iran (just south of Tehran), features a baklava that is prepared with layers of different nuts arranged to replicate the colors of the Iranian flag: green pistachios, white/beige walnuts and red/brown almonds (reddened with saffron). In Qazvin baklava the nuts are crushed more thoroughly than in most other recipes, almost into a fine powder.

The city of Yazd is located in the central-southeast portion of Iran. It is a very pious region of Iran that is famous for its warm, dry climate, as well as for its corresponding wind trappers (or windcatchers), which were used to cool down local houses and building structures. 

Wind Trappers in Yazd, Iran - Photo from Green Prophet

Yazd is perhaps most famed for its desserts. Cake Yazdi, a delicious and popular Iranian treat that is usually enjoyed with warm tea, originated from its regional namesake. The Yazd version of baklava most closely resembles a traditional cake, typically made with a layer of chopped nuts sandwiched by a single layer of dough on each side.

The famed city of Tabriz is the capital of the East Azarbaijan province. It is located in northwestern Iran, and it serves host to the historic Tabriz Bazaar. Antique carpet connoisseurs know that Tabriz is particularly recognized for its legendary handwoven rugs. When one considers the Persian Rug collectible space, many astute collectors opine that the Tabriz rug exemplifies its pinnacle. In fact, Google "tabriz", and one of the first autocompleted search terms will be "tabriz rug".

Tabriz Rug - Image from Wikipedia

The Tabriz baklava utilizes phyllo dough, similar to the Greek and Turkish interpretations. This may be in part related to Tabriz's close geographical proximity to Turkey. But similar to the Qazvin baklava, the Tabriz recipe incorporates nuts that are ground into powdered form, rather than chopped or crushed.

Esfahan, or Isfahan, is a city (and province) in western central Iran. It is renowned for its delicious cuisine. Esfahan baklava is also commonly referred to as Gooshvil or Baghlava Esfahani, and it represents one of the greatest departures from what many consider as classic fork-eaten baklava. Its presentation is akin to that of a cookie or hand pie, and it is usually enjoyed with a sour/salty yogurt drink, such as doogh

Baghlava Esfahani - Aashpazi

"We've gathered some of the most delectable recipes of authentic baklava from around the world."

Of course, several Iranian recipes are sweetened with syrups that include rose water, or golab. This is notably a distinction of Iranian, as well as some Lebanese, baklavas. Iranian recipes also tend to incorporate more pistachio than walnuts and almonds. This should not be surprising to readers familiar with Persian culture, considering Iran is historically acclaimed for its pistachios, after all.

There are many more countries outside of Iran, Greece and Turkey that feature their own wonderful versions of the pastry, each delicious in its own right. We've gathered some of the most delectable recipes of authentic baklava from around the world. We invite you to try each one! Aashpazi Irani!


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