Turkish Baklava (Baklava)

In Turkey, there is a saying “Tatlı yiyelim, tatlı konuşalım”, meaning “Let’s eat sweet and let’s speak sweet”. So if you want to eat sweet and speak sweet, I recommend you to eat the delightful dessert, ‘Baklava’. That said; now let’s talk about my baklava recipe…

I have received so many compliments on this baklava, I have to admit that there was some hesitation on whether I should share this baklava recipe with everyone… This is a good thing and so why not share good things with people?

This is my favorite dessert. If it weren’t for all the calories it contains, I would eat it every day. It is just out of this world. Until five years ago, I did not know that baklava can be made at home. Where I lived in Turkey, most people did not make baklava at home; they always purchased it from the local specialized baklava stores. The first time, I ate home made baklava was when I was in graduate school here in the States. There was a very skilled Turkish college professor who used to make it and bring it to certain college activities. She made excellent baklava some of which were made with apples. Yummy.

Years later, I attempted to make baklava after some people at work kept asking me questions about Turkish baklava. I did some research on the internet, but I never found any baklava recipe made with pistachio nuts. In the region I lived in Turkey, baklava was always made with pistachios. I am sure they make baklava with walnuts too, I just never came across. In fact, I had never eaten baklava with any other nuts than pistachios in Turkey. Pistachio nuts are my favorite nuts. There is a city called Gaziantep in Turkey which produces the world’s well known best pistachios ever. The name for pistachios in Turkish is ‘Antepfıstığı’ which means ‘Nuts of Antep’. In the word Antepfıstığı, Antep comes from Gaziantep and fıstık means nuts. Fıstığı is considered to be “nuts of”. Antepfıstığı is so delicious; I can eat a 1 lb bag by myself in one sitting. I have never done that, but I could if I wanted to indulge. In Houston there are some markets that sell Turkish pistachios. Even though they are expensive, I prefer to make my baklava with Turkish pistachios, because they make a big difference in the taste. Gaziantep is also known with its famous baklava. I am confident that no one can compete with the masters of baklava in Gaziantep. The city is famous not only with pistachios and baklava, but also with its many other cuisines.

Since I could not find any baklava recipes with pistachios at the time, I took a walnut baklava recipe and substituted the walnuts with pistachios. When I entered this challenge, I first followed other recipes, and then I started to create my own baklava by trial and error. Each time, it got better and better. I am not claiming to have the best baklava, but I have received comments from people who claim it is the best baklava they have ever eaten. The best part is, when I went home last summer, I made baklava for my family and they loved it. To this day, my father tells me that he thinks my baklava is even better than what they purchase in the local specialized baklava stores. I don’t know about that, but I think it is getting close. Also, the baklava stores in Turkey roll their own phyllo sheets; this by itself adds a wonderful flavor to the baklava. I have never tried to roll the phyllo sheets myself. The sheets have to be very thin.
So, I really hope that you enjoy this recipe. If you have never made baklava before, it may take you longer to make it for the first time; however, you will get faster over time.

After all this talk, here is the recipe....

1 lb phyllo dough sheets (18x14 inch)
3 cups raw unsalted pistachios (coarsely grounded)
1/3 cup raw unsalted pistachios (finely grounded)
3 tbsp powdered sugar
1 lb sweet cream unsalted butter

For the Syrup:
3 cups of ground sugar
1 ½ cups of water
3 tbsp honey
1 tsp fresh lemon juice

First, prepare the syrup. Add the sugar and water in a pot. After the sugar melts, add the honey and lemon juice. Let it boil for 2 minutes and remove from heat. Cool syrup. It is easier to cool syrup if you pour it in a different pot or a deep bowl. Let it sit at room temperature.

If the phyllo dough is frozen, make sure it’s thawed in the refrigerator and it is out of the fridge in room temperature 5 hours before preparing the baklava. Otherwise, the phyllo sheets may be sticky which will make them difficult to butter.

Melt the butter on low heat and cool. Anything that accumulates on top (whitish foam) remove with a spoon. This will clarify the butter.

Using a cooking brush, grease a 18x14 inch tray with the clarified butter. You may also use a 9x14 inch pyrex dish if you do not have an 18x14 inch tray. In this case, you will need to cut the phyllo sheets in half to fit the pyrex dish.

Mix the coarsely grounded pistachios with the powdered sugar. Make sure everything is ready before opening the phyllo dough (i.e. the butter, the tray, the pistachio mix). The phyllo dough tends to dry out quickly. Cover with a damp cloth or a damp paper towel after opening. Select one sheet and place on the greased tray. Quickly butter the phyllo sheet completely. Add another sheet and repeat the same process until you have buttered 8-9 phyllo sheets. Then add 1 ½ cup of the pistachio mix and spread all over the sheets so that there is a thin layer of the mix.

Add another sheet of phyllo dough and butter all over.

Repeat the same process for another 8-9 sheets. Add the rest of the pistachio mix and spread to cover the sheets. Again, place a sheet of phyllo dough on top of the mix and butter it. Butter each of the left phyllo dough sheets one by one until you are out of phyllo sheets. If you see that some of the phyllo sheets are sticky and will not come out separately, then you may add the sticky sheets all together (without separating) and butter very well. One of the secrets of a good baklava is making sure every single sheet is buttered well. After finishing the phyllo sheets, if you have left over butter, pour on top of the tray. Cut diagonally or in squares after pouring the butter.

Heat the oven to 350º F. Place the baklava tray in the middle rack and bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove baklava when ready and pour the cooled syrup all over the tray. Make sure every single piece has syrup on it. The baklava has to be hot when pouring the cooled syrup. Decorate with the finely ground pistachios on top of each of the pieces. Cover with aluminum foil and let sit over night.

Enjoy with a cup of strong Turkish coffee.