Monday, December 15, 2008

History of Baklawa - Bak-la-wa

The Origin : Like the origins of most recipes that came from Old Countries to enrich the dinner tables of dessert lovers, the exact origin of baklava is also something hard to put the finger on because every ethnic group whose ancestry goes back to the Middle East has a claim of their own on this scrumptious pastry.
It is widely believed however, that the Assyrians at around 8th century B.C. were the first people who put together a few layers of thin bread dough, with chopped nuts in between those layers, added some honey and baked it in their primitive wood burning ovens. This earliest known version of baklava was baked only on special occasions. In fact, historically baklava was considered a food for the rich until the mid-19th century.

In Turkey, to this day one can hear a common expression often used by the poor, or even by the middle class, saying: "I am not rich enough to eat baklava and Borek every day.”
Regional Interactions The Greek seamen and merchants traveling east to Mesopotamia soon discovered the delights of Baklava. It mesmerized their taste buds. They brought the recipe to Athens. The Greeks' major contribution to the development of this pastry is the creation of a dough technique that made it possible to roll it as thin as a leaf, compared to the rough, bread-like texture of the Assyrian dough. In fact, Greeks coined the name “Phyllo,” which means "leaf" in the Greek language. In a relatively short time, in every kitchen of wealthy households in the region, trays of baklava were being baked for all kinds of special occasions from the 3rd Century B.C. onwards. The Armenians, as their Kingdom was located on ancient Spice and Silk Routes, integrated for the first time the cinnamon and cloves into the texture of baklava. The Arabs introduced the rose water and cardamom. The taste changed in subtle nuances as the recipe started crossing borders.

To the north of its birthplace, baklava was baked and served in the palaces of the ancient Persian kingdom. To the west, it was baked in the kitchens of the wealthy Roman mansions, and then in the kitchens of the Byzantine Empire until the fall of the latter in 1453 A.D.

The Perfection:In the 15th Century A.D., the Ottomans invaded Constantinople to the west, and they also expanded their eastern territories to cover most of ancient Assyrian lands and the entire Armenian Kingdom. The Byzantine Empire came to an end, and in the East Persian Kingdom lost its western provinces to the invaders.

For four hundred years from 16th Century on, until the decline of Ottoman Empire in 19th Century, the kitchens of Imperial Ottoman Palace in Constantinople became the ultimate culinary hub of the empire.The artisans and craftsmen of all Guilds, the bakers, cooks and pastry chefs who worked in the Ottoman palaces, at the mansions of Pashas and Viziers, and at Provincial Governor (Vali) residences etc., had to be recruited from various ethnic groups that composed the empire. Armenian, Greek, Persian, Egyptian, Assyrian, and occasionally Serbian, Hungarian or even French chefs were brought to Constantinople, to be employed at the kitchens of the wealthy.

These chefs contributed enormously to the interaction and to the refinement of the art of cooking and pastry-making of an Empire that covered a vast region to include the Balkans, Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Persia, Armenia, Iraq and entire Mesopotamia, Palestine, Egypt, North Africa and the Mediterranean and Aegean islands. Towards the end of 19th Century, small pastry-shops started to appear in Constantinople and in Major Provincial capitals, to cater the middle class, but the Ottoman Palace have always remained the top “Culinary Academy" of the Empire, until its end in 1923.Here, we must mention that there is a special reason for baklava being the top choice of pastry for the Turkish Sultans with their large Harems, as well as for the wealthy and their families. Two principal ingredients, the pistachio and honey, were believed to be aphrodisiacs when taken regularly. Certain spices that were added to baklava have also helped to fine-tune and to augment the aphrodisiac characteristics of the pastry, depending on male or female consumer. Cinnamon for females, and cardamom for males, and cloves for both sexes.From 18th century on, there was nothing much to add to baklava has already perfected taste and texture. There were however, some cosmetic modifications in shaping and in the presentation of baklava on a baking tray (called Sinii). The Phyllo dough (called Youfka) which traditionally was layered, and cut into squares or triangles were given a "French touch" in late 18th century. As the Empire began opening itself to the Western cultural (and culinary) influences. the General Manager (Kahyabasi), of the Imperial Kitchen, didn't miss the opportunity to hire Monsieur Guillaume, a former pastry chef of Marie Antoinette, who in exile at the Ottoman Turkish Palace after learning how to bake baklava, created the "dome" technique of cutting and folding of the baklava squares which was named "Baklava Française" (French Baklava) after the nationality of its creator.
Based on the above history it is clear that Assyria is the origin of the Baklava.The Assyrian empire stretched from Southern Lebanon in the south to the Zagros Mountains in the north (bordering present day Iraq and Iran) and included areas of present day Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq. The heartland of Assyria is the area that is now dominated by the Kurds.Baklava, in fact has been the sweetest unifying dessert between all the countries of the Middle East and the Mediterranean Sea. Each country makes it its own way but they are all sweet and sticky.Lebanon has been the leader in promoting Baklava throughout the world. Lebanese baklava bakers such as Samadi were the first to Franchise it in the Gulf region, Europe and throughout the Middle East.
As Lebanon continues to promote this dessert, it will become the ultimate original Baklava.Turkey and Greece therefore should stop this crazy Baklava war, because they both copied the dessert, but Lebanon did a better job at copying.they continue to add:" since Lebanon was at one time part of the Assyrian empire...perhaps Lebanon was the origin of this dessert and the Assyrians copied it from us and then passed on the recipe to the Turks and Greeks!!” it’s a good one Here are some instructions and pictures to teach you how to handle and use all kinds of the phyllo pastry, when you learn the techniques many recipes will be very simple to prepare. Even you can create your own recipe from kind of dough and stuffing and shaping.
I encourage every one of you who never tried working with phyllo either the sheets of the shredded, to try it, trust me, you will be proud of your work.
The sky is the limit to your imagination and creativity

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