Like the origins of most recipes that came from Old Countries to enrich the dinner tables of the Americas, the exact origin of baklava is also sometimes hard to know. Every ethnic group whose ancestry goes back to the Middle East has a claim for this delightfully decadent pastry.
It is widely believed that the Assyrians (Syrians) at around the 800 B.C., were the first people who put together a few layers of thin bread dough with chopped nuts between the 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, baklava was considered a food for the rich until the mid 19th century. Even today, in Turkey one can hear a common expression often used by the poor or even the middle class, saying, “I am not rich enough to eat baklava every day.”
Greek seamen and merchants traveling east to Mesopotamia (Iraq) soon discovered the delights of baklava. It mesmerized their taste buds! They brought the recipe to Athens. The Greek’s 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 the name ”Phyllo” (for the Phyllo dough we use in baklava) was coined by Greeks, and it 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. onward. The Armenians, as their kingdom was located on ancient spice and silk routes, integrated cinnamon and cloves. The Arabs introduced rose-water and cardamom.
The taste changed in subtle nuances as the recipe started crossing borders. To the north of its birthplace, baklava was being 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.
I learned how to make baklava from the ladies in the Greek Orthodox Church where my husband, Costa and I were married. For years, I baked it for holidays, mainly Christmas. My company, Baklava by Wilma has been in business since 1993 when I shared my baklava at a little church near our home where people wanted to purchase the delicacy for personal use and gifting. For a number of years the baking was only for select people who approached us. In 2008, I joined a networking organization to further my long-time Mary Kay Cosmetics business. My friends in the networking organization that knew I also baked baklava encouraged me to start marketing it as well. Since that time the business has grown.
It is our pleasure to provide this pastry all year. We’ll deliver locally in the Denver, Colorado area and will ship nationally.
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Wilma and Costa
Baklava by Wilma