Deconstructing baklava, a Turkish classic with a noble past

Recipe: Walnut Baklava

This recipe from Turkey-based baklava master chef Abdullah Yeşil features 20 layers of thin batter for that classic crispy, flaky texture. It’s topped with the traditional walnut filling — if you can’t find ground walnuts, you can buy whole ones and chop them up in a food processor for about 15-20 seconds.

Lasts: 2 hrs plus 1 hr rest

serves: 8th

3 medium eggs
750 g strong white flour
Cornmeal, for dusting
300 g ground walnuts
240g ghee, melted, plus extra for greasing

For the syrup
1 kg of granulated sugar
1½-2 tsp lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 165 °C, fan oven 145 °C, gas hob 3. Place the eggs, 2 teaspoons salt and 300ml cold water in a large mixing bowl and mix well. Add the white flour and stir into the wet mass with a wooden spoon. Combine into a dough with your hands.

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2. Place on a lightly floured work surface and knead for 5 minutes. Put the dough back in the bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and let it rise in a cool place for 1 hour.

3. Sprinkle your work surface with plenty of cornstarch to keep the dough from sticking. Form the dough into a thick 40 cm roll, then cut into 20 equal pieces. Take a piece and flatten it out with your hand, then use a rolling pin to roll out into a 20cm circle about 1mm thick, turning the dough every few rolls while brushing with extra cornstarch. Repeat with all remaining parts. Don’t worry if your circles aren’t perfect as the edges will be trimmed later.

4. Take 10 circles of dough and stack them in a pile. Press firmly around the edge to hold it in place, then roll the entire stack outwards from the center while turning until it’s about 12 inches in diameter. Carefully peel off the layers one at a time, brush each generously with cornstarch, and stack back on top of each other. This time, roll it out until it is 35 cm in diameter. Set aside and repeat for the remaining 10 circles. You now have two stacks of pastries.

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5. Place a 12″ round, 1″ deep casserole dish or pie dish on one of your stacks and use a knife to cut all the way around to fit the pastry sheets snugly. Brush the dish with some ghee.

6. Take a stack and gently peel off each layer of dough and stack them back in the bowl. Scatter the walnuts on top in an even layer and repeat for the second batch.

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7. Using a sharp knife, cut the baklava lengthwise into 10 strips. Pour the melted ghee on top, then cut the baklava again 10 times at a 45 degree angle to create diamond shapes. Place in the oven for 35-45 minutes until golden brown.

8th. While the baklava is baking, prepare the syrup. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and lemon juice with 1 liter of cold water and stir well. Place on medium heat, bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes until a liquid syrup is formed.

9. When the baklava is ready, immediately pour the hot syrup over it. Serve immediately or allow to cool to room temperature.

Published in Issue 17 (Autumn 2022) of Food by National Geographic Traveler (UK)

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