Ingredients: Granulated sugar, potable water, wheat flour, plain butter, walnuts and/or pistachio, honey, wheat starch, egg and common salt
HISTORY OF BAKLAVA
THE NATIONALITY OF BAKLAVA
Almost all the peoples of the Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean, Balkans, Caucasia; Turks, Arabs, Jews, Greeks, Armenians, Bulgarians introduce baklava as their national dessert. When we consider that all of these regions once belonged to the Ottoman Empire, it is possible to think of Baklava as an Ottoman dessert. But because Ottoman is mostly equivalent with ‘Turks’, especially Greeks and Arabs don’t like this qualification.
Does the history of baklava go back to Byzantine ?
Greeks claim that Turks had borrowed Baklava from Byzantine . Professor Speros Vryonis in trying to prove this claim asserts that baklava is very like the dessert kopte or kopton (koptoplakous) very much liked during the Byzantine period. According to Charles Perry ,one of the defenders that Baklava is not from Byzantine but from the Middle East, kopteom is not a pastry but is a kind of confection. Walnut, nut, almond or poppy mixed with honey is placed between two layers of mastic made up of ground sesame and boiled honey. Sula Bozis a Greek from İstanbul in his book named ‘ Kitchen Culture’ tells about a Byzantine dessert (kopti) made by placing grounded nut ,sesame, and honey between two thin layers of dough.
He came across this recipe in the old notebooks from Greeks in Istanbul. If kopte which is a basically a sesame mastic confection has been transformed into a pastry made of sheets of dough , it might then have been transformed into baklava made of many, many thin sheets of dough. But then we have to explain how thin sheets of dough entered into Byzantine culinary culture.
Is baklava a discovery of nomad Turks ?
Professor Speros explains that the nomad tribes were very poor in culinary culture and they fed on what they got from the herds they had , the vegetable and fruit they could find and the simple bread baked on sheet of metal. It is known that the nomad Turks couldn’t bake bread the way we can and ate the thin layers of dough they bake on portable metal sheets . Even today in many parts of Turkey they eat thin layers of dough as home made bread.
The Turks who have the thin layers of dough as their basic food might have developed layered desserts by placing certain things between the layers to enrich the dough. It is highly probable that Turks had devised desserts made of layered dough by using cream and honey as an ingredient placed between the layers and this might be considered as the origin of baklava.
Charles Perry considers the traditional pahlava of Azerbaijan as the evolution of the thin layered of dough cooked on sheets of metals in the plains of the Central Asia into the classical baklava. The Pahlava of Baku is a dessert prepared by placing nuts and peanuts between 8 layered dough not thinner than the home made macaroni. Perry stating that Azerbaijan is on the migratory route from Central Asia considers baklava as the product of the contact between migratory Turks and settled Iranians.
Baklava is like the combination of an Iranian dessert made of dough filled up with nuts and peanuts and baked in ovens with the thin layered bread of the Turks. Though this is considered to be an assumption it looks more rational than the claims of the Greeks.
Baklava and the history of baklava during The Ottomans
Whether baklava came from ancient Greek or from Byzantine or whether from the nomadic times of Arabs and Turks , it is clear that what we now define as classical baklava had taken its elaborate form during the Ottoman period.
The oldest reports about baklava is Topkapı Palace kitchen notebooks from the Fatih period. According to this report baklava was baked in the Palace in 1473. Evilya Çelebi has written that in the middle of the 17th century he as a guest in the mansion house of the esquire of Bitlis has eaten baklava.
In the ‘Surname’ written by Vehbi it is reported that in the circumcision ceremony of the Sultan’s four sons in 1720 all the guests had been offered baklava.
From these records we know that baklava which was well known in every part of the Ottoman empire was consumed more in the mansion houses, ceremonies and the banquets.
It can be said that baklava has been elaborated from a simple pastry into a dessert which needed skill in order to please the dignitaries and the rich people. Some researchers like Bert Fragner from Bamberg University claim that the culinary tastes in the Ottoman Empire has been shaped according to the tastes and preferences of the İstanbul high society.
It is known that in places and mansion houses to be a master of baklava was a reason for being preferred as a cook and that it was very important that the layer of dough was very thin. In the 15th century records baklava is referred to as ‘rikak baklava’. Rikak is the plural of the Arabic word rakik which means thin. The word thin might have been used to mean the layers of dough. Describing baklava as ‘rikak’ brings to mind the possibility that formerly thick layers of baklava was used. And if this is the case ,then we might say that baklava gained its perfect taste in the Ottoman kitchen.
In the old mansion houses the cook nominees had to cook pilav and baklava to test their abilities. The master cook could be understood from the way he cut the dough. If the pieces are thin enough and the exact size of the tray ,then the skill of the cook was admitted.
According to the book about the cultural roots of Turkish people ,Burhan Oğuz writes that in the old mansion houses the cook was supposed to fit 100 thin pieces into the tray when making baklava. It was a matter of pride and joy for the family to have a cook who can make such thin pieces. Baklava was brought to the owner of the house for inspection before it was put into oven. The owner threw a gold coin perpendicularly onto the tray and if the coin could reach the tray then the cook was successful. Then the gold coin was given to the cook as a tip. If this show was done in front of the guests and the cook was not successful, the owner felt embarrassed.
It would be reasonable to conclude that making of baklava has been seen as a mastership on its own because of the importance given to baklava in these old mansion houses. Sula Bozis writes that in the 19th century the masters from Sakız who belonged to a guild were invited to roll out baklava dough. In the Istanbul encyclopedia by Reşat Ekrem Koçu there were people in the kitchens especially to roll out dough for baklava and börek. These people nearly spent a life to be master in rolling out dough; no exaggeration but in one tray of baklava they could lay 40 sheets of dough as thin as a rose leaf. There were more famous kitchens than the kitchen of the Palace. For example during the reign of Sultan Mahmud 2 the mansion house of Dürrizade Efendi , a Muslim theologian , had achieved a great reputation.
Again according to Reşat Ekrem Koçu at the old mansion houses kidney fat was the favorite fat used for making baklava. And the filling was always nut. Peanut and cream as a filling was used later on. Ekrem Koçu also reports that at the mansion houses baklava was well roasted and nothing was added onto it after it was taken out of the oven. To put cream or grounded peanut on it meant to blemish it. Ekrem Koçu also adds that ‘ Baklava is the sultan of dough desserts with its unique flavor and would accept no other flavor .’
Baklava which is the sultan of desserts was also the dessert of the sultans. The importance of baklava at the palace was not only because it was accepted as the token of wealth and sophistication ( as in the mansion houses) but also because it was a state tradition. The baklava parade that started at the end of the 17th century or at the beginning of the 18th century is example of this tradition.
During the reign of Kanuni Sultan Suleyman it was traditional that the soldiers were treated to stewed meat, zerde ( a sweet, gelatinous dessert that has been colored and flavored with saffron) and pilav when they were going on expedition. Afterwards when the expeditions became rare this tradition was also forgotten. Instead of this tradition when soldiers were getting their trimonthly pay from the sultan they were offered a big feast and on the 15th of Ramazan they were treated to baklava.
On the 15th Ramazan when the sultan visited hırka-i şerif (the cloak of Mohammed kept in Topkapı Palace) as a caliph , baklava from the palace was sent to janissary and other soldier bases . One tray of baklava for ten soldiers.
The delivery of baklava to the soldiers and carrying the baklava to the barracks has become an imposing parade. The baklava trays covered in a kind of towels called futa were lined in front of the Palace kitchens; the soldiers who were to take away the baklava trays also lined up in front of the trays.
First Silahdar Ağa took the first two trays in the name of Sultan who was the number one Janissary; and then two soldiers hooked the trays by the help of green poles through the knots of the fut-as and placed them on their soldiers. The chief of every troop in front and the baklava carriers at the back started their long march from the gates to their barracks .This procession was called the baklava parade. All the people in İstanbul would come out to watch this parade and jeer for the sultan and the soldiers.
The tradition which made baklava the symbol of the Ottoman court disappeared when the Janissary were abolished. The latest baklava parade was made on 21 April 1826 about 2 months before the abolition of the Janissary.
Turkish authentic desserts, food, unusual sayvories, Turkish delight