the taste space

Turkish Baklava

Posted in Desserts, Favourites by janet @ the taste space on August 17, 2010

I will not delve into the debate of where baklava originated because it is a common dessert across the Middle East. However, I will let you know that I play favourites:  I like Turkish baklava the most.


Before I visited Turkey, I did not like the oftentimes sickeningly sweet walnut and phyllo dough pastry drenched in honey. When I went to Turkey, though, I was hooked after our first bite the night we arrived. We sampled baklava at nearly every restaurant we encountered it on the dessert menu. I wanted to try a variety of Turkish desserts, but my dad only wanted baklava (I never would have discovered kunefe if I only stuck to baklava!). It was never tooth-aching sweet. It was nice and light, usually with a pistachio filling. There was a sweet syrup but it complemented the pastry as opposed to clashing and overpowering the dish. It wasn’t like anything I have had in Canada.

One of the greatest things about baking yourself is that you can recreate these dishes at home. No longer are you a victim to honey baklava, which reigns in Greek and Persian stores. And while it may seem difficult, baklava is easy to make at home. It is time consuming, but very straightforward. The bad news is that most recipes make a lot of baklava, so you will have to share this treat with family and friends. If they weren’t your friends before, they will be now! Is that such a bad thing after all?


I made sure to get a baklava recipe from a Turkish cookbook and the recipe in The Sultan’s Kitchen by Ozcan Ozan fit the bill well. It was exactly how I remembered the best baklava in Turkey, except the filling was with walnuts. I remember pistachios being a phenomenal filling for baklava so I will try that next time (update- I have made it multiple times, and pistachios are hands-down my favourite filling!). Ozan specifically mentions to use clarified butter which is simple to make at home. It is an important step to make sure your pastry layers are nice, light and fluffy and to reduce any sogginess that can come with the milk solids. It also allows your baklava to have a longer life at room temperature. Personally, they were gobbled up so fast, I didn’t have to worry about that. ;)

This is my submission to AWED-Turkey, hosted by me this month, and to this week’s BSI featuring butter.

Turkish Baklava

2-1/2 cups cold water
3-1/2 cups sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice

3 cups pistachios, plus extra for sprinkling (pistachios are my preferred filling but walnuts can be used, too)
2 tbsp sugar
1-1/2 cups unsalted clarified butter ** it is easy to clarify your own butter!
2 packages of phyllo dough, each containing 20-22 sheets of dough, thawed
Finely chopped pistachio nuts (optional)

1. If clarifying your own butter, start with 1 lb of unsalted butter. In a saucepan over low heat, melt butter. It will separate into 3 layers: a foamy froth on top, a clear liquid in the middle and a white solid at the bottom. When the butter is heated through and no more foam is developing, remove from heat. Remove the foam with a spoon. You want to keep the yellow liquid. You can save it by decanting it from the saucepan without disturbing the milk solids, or strain it through a cheesecloth-lined strainer.

2. Preheat the oven to 375F.

3. To make the syrup, combine the cold water with the sugar in a medium-size saucepan. Boil the mixture for 5 minutes, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 15-30 minutes. The syrup is ready when it is light yellow, and when a small spoonful dropped onto a wooden surface is tacky when cooled.  Once ready, stir in the lemon juice into the syrup and set it aside to cool.

4. Place the nuts and sugar in a food processor and process until medium to finely ground (but not too fine!). Set aside.

5. Brush the inside of a 14 x 18 x 1 inch baking pan (if your phyllo dough is bigger than your pan, let it hang over and trim it off at the end to fit) with a little bit of the clarified butter. Place 1 sheet of phyllo dough in the pan. With a wide pastry brush or paper towel, lightly brush the dough with the clarified butter. Continue layering the dough and brushing with butter until one package of dough is used.

6. Spread the nuts over the dough and lightly sprinkle it with water – a plant mister is best- to help the dough adhere to the nuts where the next layer is added. Using the second package of phyllo dough, layer the dough over the nuts, brushing each sheet with clarified butter. Trim the pastry edges to fit neatly within the baking pan. Brush the top layer and the edges with clarified butter.

7. Using a sharp knife dipped in hot water, cut through the dough halfway down the height of the pan to make 48 pieces (4 lengthwise and 12 cross-wise).

8. Bake the baklava in the centre of the oven for 30 minutes. Lower the heat to 325F and bake for an additional 30 minutes until the top is lightly golden. Remove the baklava from the oven and let it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes. Recut the pastries along the lines, all the way to the bottom of the baking pan. Pour the cold syrup evenly over the cut lines (I generally use around 2/3rd of the syrup solution). Sprinkle the baklava with chopped walnuts or pistachios, if so desired, and let it cool completely. Serve at room temperature.

Baklava keeps for 1 week in a cool, dry place. It will evaporate quickly, if my family is any indication!

Makes 48 pieces.

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32 Responses

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  1. Heidi said, on August 17, 2010 at 7:41 AM

    My mouth is watering……please stop with those amazing and calorie laden photos. I’m gaining weight just looking at them.

    • Saveur said, on August 17, 2010 at 11:53 AM

      I have healthier things coming this week!

      I know – what’s up with all these sweets recently? ;)

  2. Leslie said, on August 17, 2010 at 9:53 AM

    Baklava that doesn’t make your teeth hurt? Where do I line up?!

    It looks absolutely perfect, fabulous job!

  3. Priya (Yallapantula) Mitharwal said, on August 17, 2010 at 4:12 PM

    Wow, that is simply mouth watering. I love baklava and ate it first time only after coming to US and now simply love it. I am drooling all over that pic.

  4. TS of eatingclub vancouver said, on August 17, 2010 at 4:38 PM

    Good to know! I have always found baklava too, too sweet for me. But then, I live in Vancouver. It just so happens, though, that I’ll be going to Turkey next month! I’ll definitely try their version.

  5. Joanne said, on August 17, 2010 at 9:41 PM

    I had Turkish baklava recently at a restaurant and fell in love. It was addictive. I almost ordered a second helping. I’m so glad I can make it at home now!

  6. satya said, on August 18, 2010 at 10:49 AM

    wow these baklavas looks soooooo delicious …never had them before ,after seeing urs i desperately want to taste them :)
    Satya
    http://www.superyummyrecipes.com

  7. Megha said, on August 18, 2010 at 2:16 PM

    Wow!!! I really enjoyed them when I visited Turkey and yes they are really sweet. Can I microwave instead of baking?

    • Saveur said, on August 18, 2010 at 2:49 PM

      Hi Megha, I don’t think it would work to microwave baklava because the phyllo dough would become limp and soggy.

  8. Yasemin said, on August 20, 2010 at 8:41 PM

    Hey there! I -as a Turkish girl who never attempted on making baklava at home- think you made a good job!

    By the way, in Turkey, baklava fillings vary depending on the area, in southeastern regions they make it with pistachio, in Kayseri (which is situated on the middle of anatolia with walnuts, in the black sea region which is in the north with hazelnuts. And in Aegean region, i heard from my mother that they make baklava with almonds, and now i am dying to try it :)

    • Saveur said, on August 20, 2010 at 8:45 PM

      Thanks Yasemin! I love your insight into Turkish baklava. :)
      I think fillings with almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios each sound divine. I wonder how walnuts became so popular when the other nuts are equally as tempting?

      • Yasemin said, on August 23, 2010 at 10:01 AM

        I think it is about the natural habitat of nuts, so people use what they mostly have in their area as filling
        But the most popular baklava fillling is pistachio for Turkey which grows in southeastern parts of Turkey. Gaziantep, one of the biggest cities of that area is really very famous for its pistachio and its baklava for this reason.
        If you ever come back to Turkey, i highly recommend Karaköy Güllüoglu for Baklava, they are the best in Istanbul :)

  9. Ana said, on August 23, 2010 at 7:10 PM

    Just a couple of weeks ago, I Turkish friend brought me some Baklava from Turkey, and he said that was the best in the whole country. It was soooo good. I have been dreaming of it ever since. And you are right. I had Greek baklava before and although I liked it, it is sweeter indeed. Thank you for this recipe. I will be making it soon. Wondering if the recipe could be halved to fit on a 9×13 pan…

    • Saveur said, on August 23, 2010 at 11:30 PM

      Hi Ana, I definitely think it could be halved. The phyllo would need to be cut in half. I had to trim the phyllo dough to fit my cookie sheet and had all these scraps leftover as well. Let me know how it turns out. :)

  10. Esra said, on August 31, 2010 at 9:30 PM

    Your baklava looks superb!

  11. Meredith said, on September 1, 2010 at 12:12 PM

    Oh man this looks delicious! Your pictures are gorgeous! Everything here looks so yummy!
    I’ve recently launched my own blog, I’d love for you to check it out and tell me what you think :) Thanks!

  12. Kamren said, on September 13, 2010 at 10:58 AM

    The only exception to your recipe I found is the use of phyllo dough. Original baklava, from days of the Ottoman empire, was not made with phyllo dough. It was made from scratch or hamur as it is called in Turkish. Even in Ozan’s book he explains how to make baklava with hand rolled dough. Each layer is hand rolled and there are multiple layers. The difference in taste between baklava made with phyllo dough and hamur, is the difference between instant mashed potatoes and mashed potatoes made from real potatoes using milk and butter. There is no comparison. Anyone who has eaten baklava made with phyllo dough has never really eaten baklava. They have never tasted its true taste and essence. That difference in taste is primarily accomplished when the syrup, which can be made either with sugar or honey, is poured over the baklava. With phyllo dough the syrup simply pours over top and down the sides like rain over a shingled roof because phyllo when baked becomes crispy. Hamur, however, when baked still maintains its softness and when the syrup is poured over the top of the baklava it doesn’t just pour off the sides, instead it is absorb into the layers. When you bite into a hamur baklava it melts in your mouth as opposed to a phyllo baklava that tastes and feels like eating a sweet and crunchy breakfast cereal. People in the States, or anywhere else for that matter, who claim that they have eaten baklava actually never have unless it was made from hand rolled dough. Unfortunately, Turkish restaurants, and other restaurants that serve baklava and other such ethnic foods, do not make baklava as it was orginally intented to be made due to time constraints as it takes much longer to make baklava that way it should be made. The shortcut of using phyllo dough not only deprives anyone not familiar with the real taste of baklava from tasting real baklava but it also does not allow a true representation of the authentic foods of a particular culture. Any restaurant serving baklava and not making it from hamur is short-changing their cultural and ethnic heritage.

    • Saveur said, on September 13, 2010 at 11:06 AM

      Hi Kamren,
      Thanks for the comment. I completely agree with you. I have made home-made strudel dough and would never use phyllo for strudel – phyllo just can’t compare. I imagine baklava would be the same. It would be fun to try to make it with hamur to see how different it would be.

      • Kamren said, on September 14, 2010 at 10:59 AM

        Exactly. I can not imagine making any type of borek using phyllo dough, much less baklava. Unfortunately, any Turkish restaurant you go to always makes their food using phyllo dough. Its faster, but not better. They are giving up taste for expediency. Its very unfortunate that they do that both for the restaurant and for the dining public. Anyone who has ever eaten in a Turkish restaurant outside of Turkey has never actually eaten or tasted real authentic Turkish food. I finally found a restaurant in NYC that was willing to bring in someone from Turkey to make something that I love and would never find outside of Turkey….boza. I can not wait until that is made. I am now trying to convince the owner to make and sell authentic Ottoman baklava, namely with hamur and not phyllo dough and offer it to the public as a choice. I told him that the hamur baklava will out sell the phyllo baklava. He has taken this under consideration and hopefully one day trays of hamur baklava will finally be for sale in NYC. Can’t wait.

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  15. Cahide said, on October 10, 2010 at 12:02 AM

    I am from Turkey Cahide.Turkish cuisine is very rich.Baklava is a special delicacy for us.
    Your baklava looks very delicious…

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  20. wellflavored said, on July 9, 2011 at 8:08 PM

    Oh my gosh I thought it was just me. My mother is from a city with a very large Greek population, so I’ve been eating Baklava for years…NEVER liked it. Even as a child I thought it was too sweet.

    Then a few months ago, I got some at a Turkish restaurant that had a stand at our local green market. It’s WORLDS apart. I’m going to have to give your recipe a shot.

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