Güllaç is thought to be the original form of baklava, which was turned into a more elaborate dish by the chefs in the palaces of the Ottoman sultans. For eleven months of the year in Turkey, it is almost impossible to find sheets of güllaç —a fine dried pastry made of cornflour (cornstarch). That’s because it‘s an ingredient associated with the banquet served after sunset during the fasting month of Ramadan.
I used to serve güllaç in my restaurant for one month of the year. Then Owen, a Chinese chef who had worked with me since I opened my restaurant, showed me a round of rice paper that was readily available in all Asian supermarkets. It’s smaller than the traditional güllaç sheets, but combined with milk, rosewater and nuts, it makes a desert which, to me, tastes even better than the cornflour version and is probably healthier. It’s also appropriate that a Chinese person was responsible for my improved recipe. The first recorded mention of güllaç in the world was in a fourteenth century Chinese text called Yinshan Zhenyao, written by a doctor of Turkish origin in the court of the Yuan dynasty.
Using a grinder or a food processor, coarsely crush the hazelnuts. Finely crush the pistachios.
Put the milk and sugar in a saucepan over low heat and gently heat for 5 minutes to combine, being careful not to let the mixture boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the rosewater.
After the first three layers, sprinkle on half the hazelnuts. After three more layers, sprinkle on half the pistachios. After three more layers, sprinkle on the other half of the hazelnuts and, three layers after that, sprinkle on the remaining pistachios. Sprinkle the pomegranate seeds over the pistachios. Put the lid on the dish, then refrigerate for 1 hour.
Slice the milky baklava into quarters and then serve chilled.
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