learning historical origins baklava

Learning About the Historical Origins of Baklava, Part 1

We’re proud of all of our high-quality custom bakery products at Street Sweets, from custom cakes and dessert trays to numerous other pastry shop features. One of our offerings that’s most-steeped in history and tradition: Baklava, which dates back literal centuries as a dessert delicacy in several cultures.

While we provide a varied, modern take on baklava, we have a great appreciation for the history behind this wonderful dessert. This two-part blog will go hundreds of years back in time to educate you on the origins of baklava, how it’s evolved and been influenced by various cultures over the years, and how it’s now served around the globe.

Beginnings in Ottoman Empire

While baklava in some form can be traced all the way back to the 800 BC range, a period where Assyrians were known to layer unleavened flat bread with chopped nuts in between and honey before baking, the version that most of us are familiar with today goes back to the Ottoman Empire during the 15th century. After several transitions and hand-downs across several Middle East and Mediterranean areas, the Ottomans were the first to truly perfect it.

After invading Constantinople and taking it over, the Ottomans became the world’s premier culinary experts at the time. Records of baklava being baked in this realm can be found in the Fatih period, dated in the late-1400s. For the next 500-plus years, baklava would be considered a delicacy often reserved only for royalty and the wealthy, and many would only eat it on special occasions or holidays.

Other Influences

Both before and after the Ottomans put their stamp on baklava, there were several other major cultures that provided their own takes and influences on it as well. These include:

  • Greek: Greek merchants and traveling sailors quickly learned about baklava, then brought it back to Athens. The Greeks are credited with creating a dough technique that allowed for very thin rolling, rather than the rougher dough used by the Assyrians.
  • Armenian: Armenian merchants on the eastern border of the Ottoman Empire were introduced to baklava, and were a big part of introducing cinnamon and cloves into its texture.
  • Arab: Arab cultures are credited with bringing rose-water and orange blossom water to baklava recipes, particularly Lebanon.
  • Persian: Persians, known at the time for their distinct culture, introduced diamond-shaped baklava with a nut stuffing and jasmine perfume.
  • Turkish: The Ottomans were a far-reaching group, expanding to the east to cover most of the Armenian kingdom. Even as this kingdom eventually gave way to modern-day Turkey, cooks and pasty chefs in this region were a huge part of furthering baklava’s evolution, including introducing actual pastry shops that featured baklava and several other sweets for the middle class – this was the beginning of baklava becoming a more widespread and common dessert rather than just a delicacy.

For more on the origins of baklava, or to learn about any of our other pastry shop services, speak to the staff at Street Sweets today.