This post is sponsored in conjunction with Christmas Cookies Week. I received product samples from sponsor companies to aid in the creation of the Christmas Cookies Week recipes. As always, all opinions are mine alone.
Turkish Baklava, also known as Fistikli Baklava or Pistachio Baklava, is a deliciously rich, buttery, sweet dessert made from phyllo dough, finely ground pistachios, butter, and a syrup made from sugar, water and lemon juice. That’s it!
Last year during Christmas Cookies Week (go check out this year’s welcome post and enter our giveaway!), I shared a Greek baklava recipe, which we LOVED. And apparently you did as well, because I had so many readers come to my site for that post! It’s full of walnuts and sweetened with a honey syrup and is just so, SO good.
But this year, I thought I would make this Turkish baklava recipe to showcase some of the similarities and differences between the recipes!
Right after graduating law school and taking the California bar exam, Paul and I took off on a backpacking trip around parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Two of the countries we stopped in were Greece and Turkey. We loved them both deeply, and are agreed that Turkey, especially, is one of our favorite countries we have ever visited. Let’s throw it back with a photo collage of three of my favorite spots in Turkey – Cappadocia, Pammukale, and Istanbul.
Without going too deep into history and culture, one thing we learned while we were traveling between the two countries is that their history has been fraught with confrontation and there has been fighting between the two for centuries. It was more than a little awkward a time or two when guides from either country would start openly criticizing the other country and giving a very skewed account of the history of what had happened between the neighboring countries during periods of time.
But there have been periods where many Greeks have lived in Turkey and many Turks have lived in Greece, and there has been crossover between them. Enter baklava.
Greek Baklava vs. Turkish Baklava
I don’t think anybody really knows where it was invented or who, really, can claim ownership over it. But I know that both countries have strong baklava traditions that even vary within the country from place to place.
So I’m aware that I’m somewhat over-generalizing here by saying that Greek baklava uses honey, walnuts, and cinnamon, while Turkish baklava uses a sugar syrup, pistachios, and lemon juice without the addition of spices or other flavors. Good baklava is sweet, but not cloying, and moist, but not soggy, regardless of where it’s from (although I do think that Turkish baklava is typically more wet than Greek baklava in my experience).
There are also differences in how the baklava is cut and presented, but for the sake of keeping things simple, let’s just go with the distinctions I’ve already made. Is that okay?
When it comes to Turkish baklava, I strongly feel that pistachio nuts are the way to go. I just love their flavor and vibrant green color that is so unlike any other nut! Sure, some places in Turkey use almonds, or a combination of pistachios and walnuts, but from what I have seen and read, it really seems like classic pistachio baklava is the way to go if you are trying to create authentic Turkish baklava.
Turkish baklava is also unique in that it doesn’t use any honey as a sweetener or to provide flavor. Instead, a thick syrup is made from nothing more than sugar, water, and a little lemon juice, which adds both flavor and helps prevent crystallization of the sugar.
But besides those two major distinctions, baklava from either country is similar. It’s made from thin phyllo dough that is layered in a large baking dish one sheet at a time, brushing melted clarified butter between each sheet to build up the distinctive flaky texture that baklava is known for. 8 to 10 sheets of butter-brushed phyllo build the base of the baklava in the pan, then a good amount of finely chopped nuts is spread evenly before topping with another 8 to 10 sheets of phyllo and butter, more nuts are added, and the remaining phyllo is added to finish things off.
It’s a little different from how I layer my Greek baklava where I do more layers of nuts between fewer layers of phyllo, but both approaches work equally well.
How to Make Turkish Baklava
- Thaw a box of frozen phyllo dough in the refrigerator overnight.
- Make the sugar syrup for the baklava by combining the sugar and water in a saucepan and bringing to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and let the syrup thicken for 20-25 minutes until golden and thick. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice, then cool completely and refrigerate until ready to use. You want the syrup to be cold when it’s time to pour it over the baklava.
- When ready to make the baklava, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and brush a 9×13-inch baking dish with clarified butter. Unroll the thawed phyllo dough and cut to fit the pan, if needed. My 16-ounce package of phyllo dough came in 18 sheets that were 13×17-inches, so I just cut the entire stack in half so they fit, which gave me 36 sheets to work with. Really more like 33-ish since I almost always destroy a couple of phyllo sheets along the way.
- Keep the phyllo covered with a damp cloth while stacking the baklava so that it doesn’t dry out. Gently lay 1 sheet of phyllo down in the bottom of the buttered pan and use a pastry brush to drizzle and brush some of the clarified butter to coat the sheet of phyllo. Repeat with another 8-9 sheets of phyllo dough, brushing with butter each time. It’s reminds me of doing modge-podge, if you have any experience with that. (My only experience with modge-podge is from Girls’ Camp, but it’s what I always think of when making baklava). The first couple of sheets might want to fold up on you, but once you have two layers or so, it gets easier as there is more base built for the new phyllo sheets to cling to.
- Sprinkle half of the finely ground or chopped pistachios evenly over the built up bottom layers of phyllo dough, then repeat the process with another 10 sheets of phylllo dough and clarified butter, melting the butter in the microwave if it starts to cool down too much and firm up.
- Add the remaining ground nuts, then finish assembling the baklava by creating the top layer with any remaining sheets of phyllo dough and butter. My top layer ended up being 13 phyllo sheets thick. Brush the top layer with the last of the butter.
- Use a very sharp knife to cut through the uncooked baklava in a rectangular pattern to make 36 baklava servings. Be sure to cut all the way through to the bottom layer! Bake for 1 hour until golden brown on top and the bottom layers are cooked through. Check the baklava around 40 minutes and if it is browning too much, cover with heavy duty aluminum foil for the remaining bake time.
- As soon as the baklava is done baking, remove it from the oven and slowly pour the cooled syrup over the hot baklava, being careful as it can bubble up as the cold syrup hits the hot pan. You don’t have to use all the syrup if you feel like it’s too much or your baklava is too wet. It’s important to have the temperature differences though as it keeps the baklava from getting soggy, which is what happens if you pour cooled syrup over cooled baklava. Sprinkle the baklava rectangles with finely ground pistachios on top.
- Let the baklava sit for at least 1 hour to soak up the syrup. If the baklava doesn’t soak up all the syrup, don’t worry too much. Like I mentioned before, most of the Turkish baklava I have had has seemed wetter than other types of baklava. Just pour off any excess syrup that doesn’t get absorbed and transfer the baklava rectangles to a serving plate.
How to Make Clarified Butter
This recipe calls for clarified butter, which is just melted butter that has the milk solids (the foam on top and the white solids at the bottom) removed. I actually don’t know that I notice a difference between using clarified butter or just using regular melted butter in baklava. But for the sake of authenticity, I went ahead and clarified my butter for this recipe. It’s really easy to do.
Here’s how: Melt 1 pound of butter in a saucepan over low heat. No need to stir, really. The melted butter will separate into 3 layers: foamy froth on top, clear yellow liquid in the middle and white solids at the bottom. When the butter is completely melted and the foam has formed, remove the pan from the heat. Scoop the foam off the top with a spoon and discard. Keep the yellow middle layer by decanting it from the saucepan without removing the milk solids or by straining it through cheesecloth.
How ‘Bout a Little More Baklava? Here are some less traditional Baklava Variations:
- 3 cups sugar
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 pound Phyllo (18x14")
- 3 cups unsalted and shelled pistachios, chopped
- 2 cups butter, melted
- 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
- 1/3 cup unsalted and shelled pistachios, ground
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