Baklava could be said to come from Turkey, even though it was probably brought here by the people who became Turks, moving westward out of Central Asia many centuries ago. The Ottomans truly developed the art, however, giving rise to baklava chefs judged on the thinness of their phyllo. Some stories say that, back in the day, the master of the house would test the thickness of sometimes-100-sheet baklava with a gold coin: if the coin fell through all the layers to the tray, the chef got to keep the it. In Gaziantep, there’s a new culinary school that includes training for baklava creators. The experts say it take 15-20 years to become an expert, studying mixtures and ingredients, rolling and spreading techniques, baking and syruping procedures. Baklava is available anywhere in the country, but pistachio baklava is a specialty of Gaziantep and is almost exclusively what is available in the many stores that line the street.
We had tried some good baklava and some mediocre baklava while staying with friends in Bursa. Well, so we were told – it all tasted pretty good to us. Fresh baklava is a different matter, however. If made properly, the piece should make a kssssht sound when bitten into. That shows the pastry is as new as it’s going to get. Luckily, we got this a couple of times, and we tried to find it as much as we could while we were in Gaziantep, stopping after every meal for a bit of baklava here and there.
We even found out there were different kind of baklava. The carrot slice was just a large slice of baklava, the sobiyet had a large spread of cream in the middle, and even the regular baklava came in 20-layer and 45-layer (see the picture to the right) varieties! There were also pieces of pure pistachio paste wrapped in a single layer of phyllo, which I enjoyed a lot.
I’m sad to report that we haven’t found the level of baklava found in Gaziantep yet in the rest of the country – we’ve been bumped up a baklava notch. Other pieces seem over-syruped or too dry or the filling is lackluster. *Sigh* That’s the problem when you try the best – it’s hard to go back to the rest. Still, we’ll valiantly keep testing…