Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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baklava is a many-layered pastry, soaked in syrup, that is made in central and western Asia and parts of the Balkans, in countries ranging from Greece to Uzbekistan and Turkey to Egypt. The most common type of baklava consists of 40 to 80 layers of tissue-thin filo, moistened with melted butter before baking, and soaked with hot syrup after baking. See filo. It is usually filled with nuts, the most common being walnuts or almonds. In Turkey, fillings also include fresh cheese and a custard made of milk thickened with starch or semolina. Other examples of regional variations are cinnamon added to the nuts in Greece, and cardamom or rosewater to the syrup in Iran. See flower waters. Baklava is usually cut into small lozenges. Variations are made by rolling or folding the pastry sheets into diverse shapes, known in Turkey as dilberdudaāği (beauty’s lips), sariğiburma (twisted turban), bülbülyuvasi (nightingale’s nest), vezirparmaği (vizier’s finger), and gül baklava (rose baklava). Sugar syrup is used in Turkey and the Middle East, although honey syrup and boiled grape juice were common in the past when sugar was a luxury for ordinary people. See pekmez. In Greece, honey is sometimes added to the syrup. To make the filo sheets, dough is either rolled in individual pieces or first rolled into small circles, next stacked 10 at a time, with starch sprinkled between each layer; then the whole pile is rolled out simultaneously. The latter method is often used by both professional and home cooks and is easier for the inexperienced baker. Although few city dwellers make their own baklava today, homemade baklava is still widely produced in provincial Turkish towns.