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Travel Photo of the Day: Baklava

Travel Photo of the Day: Baklava



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Baklava recipes are relative to region

Baklava comes in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Baklava is one of the most popular (if not one of the most delicious) Middle Eastern desserts. In its most basic form, baklava includes sheets of flakey phyllo pastry, a sweet filling, and syrup.

Click here to see the Travel Photo of the Day Slideshow!

Depending on where you are in this part of the world, though, the recipe changes. In Syria, for example, walnuts are a common baklava ingredient and pieces are oftentimes cut in lozenge pieces. However, in certain parts of Turkey, pistachio nuts, hazelnuts, and/or almonds might be layered between pastry sheets. Pistachios are also a common ingredient in Iran, where rosewater is also used in the baklava syrup.
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Although this rich pastry can most certainly stand on its own, Turks sometimes eat their baklava with a clotted cream, fruit, or rice garnish.

Do you have a travel photo that you would like to share? Send it on over to lwilson[at]thedailymeal.com.

Follow The Daily Meal’s Travel editor Lauren Wilson on Twitter.


How To Make Baklava

Baklava is one of those desserts that has a reputation for difficulty, but is actually surprisingly easy to make. I suspect this is because working with phyllo dough always seems tricky, but if you follow a few very simple tips, it’s really not — and the results are irresistible. Read on for how to make a pan of sticky, sweet, buttery, flaky, nutty baklava!

Baklava is a dessert of the Middle East and Mediterranean, and it has numerous variations depending on the country of origin. Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Greece, Jordan, Israel, Afghanistan, Georgia, Iran, Armenia, and many other countries and regions all have a variation of this pastry, which is made with buttered layers of phyllo dough and ground nuts (usually pistachio, walnuts, or almonds, or a combination) and covered in a sweet, often honeyed, syrup. Other flavorings include cinnamon, cloves, rose water, cardamon, clove, and orange rind.

For this recipe, I used a mixture of walnuts and pistachios. I like this flavor combination and the pretty green color that the pistachios bring. For this same reason, I garnish my baklava with chopped pistachios, but you can use walnuts as well.

The thing that most often scares people away from making baklava is handling the tissue paper-like sheets of phyllo. It really isn’t that difficult, if you remember a few simple tips.

Tips for Working with Phyllo

  • Defrost your phyllo dough in the refrigerator. The night before you are going to make your baklava, put the package of phyllo dough in the refrigerator to defrost. Do not try to use frozen phyllo — it will crack.
  • Unwrap it carefully. The phyllo usually comes rolled up in plastic and should unwrap easily. Leave the larger plastic sheet beneath it and try to unroll it in the place where you will be using it so you won’t have to move it once it’s laid out.
  • Cover with a dampened tea towel. Dampen a cotton or linen tea towel and place it over the unrolled sheets. Important: Be sure the towel is wrung out very well. If the towel is too damp, it will gum up the sheets.
  • Keep it covered. Always replace the tea towel after you have removed a sheet of phyllo from the stack.
  • Handle gently. Be gentle with the sheets of phyllo. Keep the stack near your baking dish so you don’t have to transport it very far once you lift a sheet off of the stack.
  • Rips and tears are OK. Phyllo dough rips easily, but that’s OK. You are building up several layers of dough, so a rip or ragged edge here and there will be fine, and likely hidden within the baklava. Even if your last piece tears a little, it will only contribute to the rustic, many-layered look of the dish.
  • Trimming the phyllo. Phyllo comes in many sizes and a single sheet might not fit into your baking pan. One option is to trim the phyllo to fit: Simply measure the inside of your pan and, using a scissors, cut the whole stack to fit. I find that scissors are easier than a knife, which can pull and drag on the layers.
  • Trimming isn’t always necessary. Even if your sheets aren’t a perfect fit to your pan, you can still use them without trimming. Just fold them over to fit, being sure that you stagger the folds so you aren’t creating extra layers in one place.
  • Don’t use a ton of butter. You don’t have to coat each layer completely with butter. Just gently brush the butter on here and there without covering every inch of the surface. Don’t press really hard or you’ll drag or tear the phyllo sheet.

You may notice that the measurements for the nuts in the recipe below are given in weight, not volume. This is because the size of the nuts can vary wildly and therefore can really screw up a volume measurement. For example, a cup of whole walnuts will weigh less than a cup of walnut pieces simply because you can fit more pieces in a cup.

The other important thing is to be sure that you have a very sharp knife. The baklava should be cut before you bake it and recut again after baking to be sure all the pieces are separated. A sharp knife is crucial. Many recipes call for as much as one pound of butter to make baklava. I find that somewhat shocking, as I’ve never needed more that half that amount (two sticks) to make my baklava, and it it always comes out flaky and buttery. It’s not necessary to drench each layer of phyllo in butter. Drizzling and dotting the butter will distribute it enough.

Rose water is a traditional flavoring for baklava. I did not include it in the recipe below, but it’s easy enough to add if you enjoy its sweet, floral perfume. Alton Brown has a nice trick where you put 1 teaspoon of rose water and 1/4 cup of water in a spritz bottle and then use it to mist the nut layers before starting with the next phyllo layers.

Finally, baklava is best after it sits for a while, so it’s perfectly fine to make it a day before you plan to serve it. The recipe below makes about 28 squares, but you can get even more out of it if you cut the squares even smaller. Remember, baklava is a rich pastry and most people only need a bite or two (although it is irresistible!).

I was very grateful that my neighbors were in the middle of a renovation project so I could give away most of the pan of baklava I made for this post to their construction workers. If I hadn’t, there’s no doubt that I would have eaten the entire pan, given a day or two. It’s that good.


Method

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.

Grease a 17cm x 28cm (11in x 7in) baking tray with butter.

Melt the remaining butter in a saucepan over low heat or in a microwave.

Lay 10 sheets of filo pastry, one at a time, into the tray, brushing each sheet with butter before adding the next.

In a clean bowl, mix together the nuts, sugar and cardamom and spread the mixture over the pastry in the tray.

Layer up the remaining sheets on top of the nut mixture, brushing each sheet with butter, as before.

Using a sharp knife, cut a criss-cross pattern into the top layers of the pastry.

Place baklava in the preheated oven for approximately 20 minutes, then decrease the oven temperature to 150C/300F/Gas 2 and cook for an additional half hour to 40 minutes, or until the pastry is slightly puffed and golden on top. Do not allow the top to burn. Remove and allow to cool slightly.

For the syrup, heat the sugar, water, lemon juice and orange blossom water in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over a medium heat until the sugar has melted and a syrup is formed. (This will take about 20 minutes or so.)

Pour the syrup into the slits in the baklava and leave to cool. Cut into small diamond-shaped pieces and serve.


Do you Know the Different Baklava Choices by Name?

Born in Lebanon, Joumana Medlej started drawing at 11 and has not been able to stop since. Self-taught in illustration, she graduated in 2001 with a Bachelor's in Graphic Design from the American University of Beirut. She worked as an animator before deciding to freelance to expand her creative horizons. She was involved in mail art, learned bookbinding, experimented with mixed media and watercolour, and exhibited both artwork and travel photography.

She created and published Lebanon's first adventure comic series, Malaak: Angel of Peace, and the humorous comic Driving in Lebanon. She was apprenticed to a master calligrapher for several years while creating computer games for one of the Middle-East's first game developers. She is now settled in London, UK, where she is dedicated full-time to her own calligraphy, going deeper into the potential of the ancient art of the Kufic script, while pursuing illustration for her own pleasure.


Baklava Granola

Honey sweetened granola with spices and nuts inspired by baklava. Serve over Greek yogurt with spiced citrus honey syrup.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups ( 240 grams ) old fashioned oats
  • 1/4 cup ( 55 grams ) lightly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup ( 113 grams ) honey
  • 1/3 cup ( 75 grams ) olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnut pieces
  • 1/2 cup roasted and salted macadamia nuts
  • 1 large egg white, at room temperature preferably*
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 pieces of orange peel
  • Chopped dried apricots
  • Fresh pomegranate
  • Greek yogurt
  • Roasted salted pistachios if you’re feeling nutty and fancy

Instructions

  1. To make the granola, line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl toss together oats, brown sugar, spices, and salt.
  3. In a small bowl whisk together honey, olive oil, and vanilla. Add all at once to the oat mixture and toss until all of the oats are lightly coated.
  4. In the same small bowl whisk the egg white with a fork or small whisk until it becomes lightly frothy. Add to the oat mixture and toss to coat.
  5. Toss in the walnuts and macadamia and stir to combine. Spread into an even layer across the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 35-45 minutes, tossing every 10-12 minutes to ensure even browning. Bake until golden brown. The granola will crisp as it cools.
  6. While the granola bakes, make the honey syrup. In a small saucepan combine honey, sugar, water, cinnamon stick, and orange peel. Bring to a boil (being sure not to let it boil over the pan) reduce the heat and allow to simmer and reduce for about 10-15 minutes. The mixture will thicken just slightly. Thinner than honey but slightly thicker than simple syrup. Transfer to a jar and allow to cool to room temperature before fitting with a lid and storing at room temperature.
  7. Once the granola has cooled, stir in dried apricots, or any dried fruit you prefer. Add pistachios if you’d like. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for a week if it lasts that long.
  8. To serve, drizzle a serving with a few tablespoons of honey syrup and stir. Serve over yogurt with pomegranate seeds and extra pistachios if you’d like. Add a last drizzle of honey syrup for good measure

Notes

*Egg white can be subbed for a flax egg: Finely grind 1 tablespoon of golden flax seeds in a spice grinder. Place in a small bowl and stir in 3 tablespoons of water. Allow to sit for 30 minutes before using in a recipe.


How To Make Baklava.

I’m about to bombard you with pictures, so let’s just get this out of the way.

Here’s the deal: I’ve wanted to make baklava for YEARS. As a firm believer of the nuts-stink-in-desserts camp, this flaky treat has always made the cut. In fact, I’m pretty sure that for the first like, 15 years of eating this, I didn’t even know it was nuts. I just thought it was some sort of delicious, caramely heaven thing.

No one in my family ever made it, but a few of my mom’s friends would graciously gift us some around the holidays and I would often hog it all to myself, saving one last piece for my mom. I figured it was impossible to make.

I knew I wanted to put a tiny bit of my own spin on the flavor, so I added cardamom and vanilla beans. Freaky.

I also used mostly pecans, then almonds and pistachios. Pistachios are funny. They are green.

Um, let’s talk about how I often do things wrong. Like, everyday. I used salted pistachios. Dude… totally okay. I was nervous, but not nervous enough to go buy a bag of unshelled pistachios and then spend a few hours of my life shelling a pound of them. I’d rather paint my nails. So… I had salted pistachios on hand and I used them. They rocked.

Tyler Florence’s (yes, we are BBF’s now) recipe called for a sh*tton of nuts. I am not even kidding. This recipe would be incredibly affordable if not for the raw, unsalted nuts that cost an arm and a leg. I didn’t read the reviews online before chopping mine up (uh, I mean, why would I do something smart like that?), but you could easily get away with about half of the called-for amount. More on this later.

I also used vanilla beans!

I love spending my life’s savings on food related items.

I chopped everything in my trusty lil’ food processor, including adding the vanilla beans in spurts so they’d be somewhat evenly distributed.

I was afraid that I ended up chopping the nuts too fine, but again… I wasn’t afraid enough to have patience and press pulse 42 times while chopping. Regardless, they ended up being perfect for me.

Oh. Oh oh oh! Something else I did?

I REDUCED THE BUTTER. Yes. I REDUCED THE BUTTER.

I know. Wasn’t sure you heard me the first time. This isn’t necessary, but butter is quite a precious (read: expensive) commodity around here and I figured I’d start with two sticks as opposed to the four that the recipe called for.

Maybe I’ve been abducted by aliens.

Oooooh and another thing? Remember when I made croissants? And before that, how I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why croissants were supposedly soooo unhealthy? Then I rolled a pound of butter into between the dough? Well. This is sort of like that.

There is (almost) a pound of butter in this pan. I freaking love it.

Also like the croissants, I figured that this would be quite a challenge. Turns out it wasn’t very challenging at all, just time consuming. I ended up using my 9吉 Calphalon pan, after Tyler’s recipe (see? BFF’s fo’ life.) suggested refrigerating the layers for 30 minutes before baking. I didn’t need anything shattering in my oven, so this worked great.

First up – you brush the entire bare pan with melted butter. Then, you layer 8 sheets of phyllo dough, each brushed with melted butter, like above and below.

Now would be a good time to talk about the phyllo.

Hmmmm. Me? No patience? Yes. You know this. It would probably be wise to read the instructions first. I opened both packages and hurriedly “unrolled” them to let them thaw. Then I ended up with a giant, flakey mess. Eventually (and four boxes later) I learned to be patience and let them completely thaw, and I did follow the directions by placing a slightly damp towel over top. Even though I did all of that, let me just say that almost every single one of my sheets ended up ripping one way or another in this process, no matter how gentle I was. Moral of the story? Keep going anyway.

Since I had all of those nuts, I knew that two layers (as the recipe suggested) just wasn’t going to suffice. I didn’t want super thick nut layers (that’s what she said?) and I didn’t want to waste the nuts, even though I was already angry because sitting in that food processor up there may as well have been a new pair of shoes. So I did four layers of nuts.

Here’s how it went: 8 sheets of phyllo -> 1 layer of nuts -> 4 sheets of phyllo -> 1 layer of nuts -> 4 sheets of phyllo -> 1 layer of nuts -> 4 sheets of phyllo -> 1 layer of nuts -> 8 sheets of phyllo. With EVERY SINGLE LAYER BRUSHED WITH BUTTER.

Then, as Tyler (my love… darn this relationship is moving fast) suggested, I dumped the remaining butter over top. He’s my kind of guy. I also followed his instructions and threw the whole pan in the fridge for exactly 30 minutes, then brought it out and cut it before baking.

What’s that? You think my slices may look nice?

But guess what? It didn’t even matter! I baked it for exactly 42 minutes, rotating the pan once in between.

The recipe called for removing a piece (that was awesome. I ate it.), tipping the pan to the side and draining the butter. Uh, come again? I am not ever going to “drain the butter.” But whatever. Luckily, there was no butter to drain, which reinforces my decision to use less than the recipe called for. I ended up with 2 3/4 sticks rather than four. Go me.

While the baklava was baking, I made a honey vanilla bean syrup. Holy smokes. I wanted to drink this.

Just check out those vanilla beans.

The millisecond this comes out of the oven, you dump the syrup all over the top.

Then you’re supposed to let it “sit for several hours.” Ha! What a freaking joke.

Just do what I did: make it in the late afternoon, then let it sit overnight. However, during the time it is “sitting,” pick off about 17 flakey layers from the top. Works like a charm.

In all seriousness, I did do that, but letting it sit overnight was key. It was so easy to slice and remove from the pan.


12 Classic Lebanese Foods Everyone Needs to Try

Lebanon is a small country in the middle east located off of the Mediterranean sea. Beirut, its capital, is known as the “Paris of the Middle East” because of its beauty, charm and culture.

As Barbara Masaad explains in this video for SO Beirut, food is in all aspects of a person’s life in Lebanon. This country is known as the melting pot of the Middle East because over the course of history many civilizations gathered here, bringing their own recipes and their own way of creating food.

The Lebanese people have gathered this culinary knowledge and used it in their cuisine. Because Lebanon is a melting pot, the countries that surround it have similar cuisines. Consequently, Israeli food and Greek food are noticeably similar to Lebanese cuisine.

I come from a huge family in Lebanon where food is the center of each gathering. Making food is an outlet for women to socialize and dining brings the whole family together, no matter what the occasion is.

Lebanese dishes are cooked with olive oil, a substance that has no saturated fat. It has proven to lower your risk of heart disease, cancer and strokes. Coincidentally, populations from the Middle Eastern region have longer life expectancies. Other popular ingredients used in Lebanese dishes include bulgur, garlic, parsley, and mint.

Below, we’ve narrowed down some our favorite Lebanese dishes and drinks.

1. Baba Ghanoush

Photo courtesy of Antonio Tahhan

If you like hummus, baba ghanoush is a must-try. It’s a dip that’s served with pita bread and drizzled with olive oil. It tastes very similar to hummus because it’s made with tahini. The main difference is that baba ghanoush is made from eggplant instead of chickpeas, and sometimes it’s topped with pomegranate. The variance of flavors is delicious.

2. Shish Taouk

Shish taouk (or chicken kebab) is a Lebanese staple. What makes it so delicious are the spices. Shish taouk is marinated overnight in lemon juice, garlic, paprika, yogurt and tomato paste. It’s usually served as a platter, or wrapped in hubbus (pita bread) with garlic sauce on the side to create a sandwich.

Sandwiches are quite common in Lebanon, surprisingly. There’s a small pub in Beirut called The Orient Express that cooks up a pretty unique version of this classic dish. They call it “The Ranger.”

3. Kibbe Nayeh

Ahhhh. Kibbe nayeh… When I was little my dad used to sneak me platefuls of this because my mom didn’t want me eating raw meat. Yeah, you read that right. It’s raw beef (Lebanese sushi?).

Kibbe Nayeh is made from raw beef or lam blended with bulgur, pureed onion, and spices. It is recommended that if you are going to make this you grind the meat yourself in a food processor to avoid disease. Like most Lebanese dishes, it’s served with pita bread and fresh vegetables.

4. Manakeesh

Manakeesh is like Lebanese pizza. It can be made with meat, cheese, zaatar (which is a strain of thyme), or kishik (a cracked wheat paste). Made on fresh dough and baked in an oven, manakeesh is typically served with tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh mint leaves, and olives.

5. Falafel

If you haven’t tried falafel yet, you’re living under a rock. Falafel is made from crushed chickpeas that are deep fried. It’s served in a pita sandwich with vegetables and tahini sauce (tahini is the same stuff they put in hummus and baba ghanoush).

6. Tabbouleh

Tabbouleh is a salad made of bulgur, tomatoes, onions, and parsley. It’s mixed with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. It is served with lettuce on the side.

7. Fattoush

Fattoush is a traditional Lebanese salad. Instead of croutons, we bake or fry pita bread and then crush it up and mix it in. The dressing is a mixture of olive juice, garlic, lemon, and salt.

8. Shawarma

Photo courtesy of pitaking.net

Shawarma is traditionally made on a rotating spit and the meat is shaved off. It is served (as you would expect) on pita bread with vegetables. Shawarma is also served with tahini sauce. It is typically paired with tabbouleh or fattoush. Basically, it’s a Lebanese gyro.

9. Kofta

Kofta is the beef on the left in this image. Kofta are balls of minced meat mixed with parsley, spices, and onions. It can be served on its own, or with potatoes in a tomato sauce. Kofta (otherwise spelled Köfte) has made its way to as far as Turkey, where they eat it with a yogurt dip.

10. Kunafeh

Kunafeh is a Lebanese delicacy, made of a cheese pastry topped with pistachios and served with a sugar syrup. It can be made in a million different ways. Depending on how it is made, it is served as a breakfast or a dessert. When it is placed on bread, it is eaten as a sandwich at breakfast time. I took this photo at a bakery last summer when I was in Lebanon.

11. Baklava

Photo courtesy of Sea Sweet

Baklava is not Greek — it’s Lebanese. What is it? Baklava is a pastry made from layers of filo dough, honey, and assorted nuts. The Lebanese people think of baklava as gold. When I travel to Lebanon, I bring empty suitcases only to fill with boxes of baklava to bring back home.

12. Wine and Arak

Last but not least, alcohol (you probably were not expecting that). I come from a small region in Lebanon that is recognized globally for its wine. Lebanon is one of the oldest sites of wine production.

Another thing that is produced here is arak, an alcoholic drink that is made from anise seed. Arak is extremely strong, at about 63% alcohol. It is also colorless.

It’s ironic that alcohol is one of Lebanon’s biggest exports because Lebanon is a Muslim country, and Muslims don’t drink. Pictured above are the beautiful vineyards of Cave Kouroum in Kefraya.

Hopefully I didn’t make you too hungry after reading all of this. I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and go into a Mediterranean restaurant next time you have the option to. Even better, make a trip when you get the chance.


Baklava has layers of deliciousness at Baklava Factory in North Hollywood

Here in the San Fernando Valley, we sure do love our mini-malls. This is not to say that mini-malls are not a significant part of life throughout Southern California. But there are streets in the Valley that stretch many miles from east to west, from dawn to dusk, as it were, lined with nothing but mini-malls — often offering a uniquely quirky section of services.

Take, for instance, the nameless mini-mall at the northwest corner of the intersection of Sherman Way and Coldwater Canyon Avenue. The elevated sign in front — and there’s always an elevated sign! — announces the presence of iPhone Repair, Baklava Factory, LA Shawarma, Mr. Smokes, AA Pawn Shop, Jewelry Repair, Super Ninja Japanese Sushi Cuisine and Blue Eye Optics. That’s quite an assortment, and it doesn’t even cover all the options.

Well mentioned is Super Ninja Japanese Sushi Cuisine (12913 Sherman Way, North Hollywood 818-503-3080, www.restaurantji.com/ca/north-hollywood/super-ninja-japanese-sushi-cuisine-/) and LA Shawarma (12925 Sherman Way, North Hollywood 818-765-4424). No mention is made of Urban Grill Indian Tandoori Restaurant (12907 Sherman Way, North Hollywood, 818-759-9288, www.urbangrillnoho.com), Pho 999 Vietnamese Restaurant (12905 Sherman Way, North Hollywood, 818-982-9370, www.newpho999.com), Boba Loca (12901 Sherman Way, North Hollywood 818-503-9933, www.restaurantji.com/ca/north-hollywood/boba-loca-/), Taron Bakery (12901 Sherman Way, North Hollywood 818-765-7722, www.restaurantji.com/ca/north-hollywood/taron-bakery-/) and the obligatory Domino’s (12901 Sherman Way, North Hollywood, 818-759-0000, www.dominos.com).

But right in the middle of the sign, just above LA Shawarma, is the Baklava Factory (12909 Sherman Way, North Hollywood 818-764-1011, www.baklavafactory.com) — one of my favorite places in the whole of the Valley, a fantasy land for those of us with a sweet tooth that endlessly craves satisfaction, and with a taste for something wonderful that’s both exotic and familiar at the same time.

Baklava comes, of course, with a history — though that history is open to much debate. It refers, traditionally, to a filo dough pastry of many layers, filled with chopped nuts, but more notably sweetened with honey, or some manner of aromatic sweet syrup. It’s one of the great pastries of the world, dating back to the Ottoman Empire, which these days is universally devoured in Iran, Turkey, the Balkans, Central Asia — a big culinary chunk of the world. And, of course, at the corner of Sherman Way and Coldwater Canyon Avenue. (There are branches as well at 1415 E. Colorado St., Glendale, 818-548-7070 and 17540 Ventura Blvd., Encino, 818-981-3800 — the Valley is a hotbed of baklava obsession!)

It’s been suggested that the word “baklava” comes from the Mongolian phrase meaning “to wrap up, tie up or pile up” — making the roots of the dish run even deeper. It was a dish revered by royalty, who would serve it as a reward on special occasions. But these days, it’s a reward for all of us. And thanks to the wondrous selection at the Baklava Factory, a reward with many forms and fillings. The glass-front counters at the Factory display an assortment of baklava that transcend anything else found at local bakeries.

Tray filled with Ballourieh at Baklava Factory (Photo by Merrill Shindler)

Bassma is ground Kataifi dough with ground pistachio and caramelized sugar at Baklava Factory. (Photo by Merrill Shindler)

Some of the baklava options at Baklava Factory. (Photo by Merrill Shindler)

Baklava Factory is a modest storefront in a North Hollywood mini-mall. (Photo by Merrill Shindler)

There’s so much baklava, and so many tasty choices at Baklava Factory in North Hollywood. (Photo by Merrill Shindler)

I was truly a kid again, staring in through a candy store window at a selection that ran to almond caramel baklava, bird’s nest pistachio and bird’s nest walnut, choclava, Greek-style kataifi pistachio and kataifi walnut, marble pistachio, cashew rose, sare burma walnut and nutless as well. There’s pistachio bassma and ballourieh. There’s mushabak, makarom, awa mat and namoura. The pastries are sold as well in pre-assembled gift boxes, dozens of variants, packaged for holidays, mixed and matched. And the shelves are lined with enough sweets to satisfy even the greatest of sugar obsessives. A box of baklava is one of the best gifts imaginable.

My wife likes to bring boxes from See’s Candy. Which are fine, even better than that. But for me, a mixed box of baklava is a gift from the gods, fit for the gods.

The Sultans served baklava to very special courtiers. Thanks to the Baklava Factory, baklava, as good as it gets, is available for all of us, in flavors the Sultans never imagined. And finding a branch in a nameless mini-mall is as unexpected as would be a four-star restaurant.

It sits just a few doors from Domino’s. The folks at Domino’s don’t know what they’re missing.


Why People Travel Far and Wide for Shatila Bakery's Baklava

The best baklava I’ve ever had arrived in a board-game shaped box emblazoned with a golden palm tree crowning the word “Shatila.” They were the standard gift from my aunt and uncle when they made their yearly visit from Michigan to my family in Dallas. Before even carrying their suitcases upstairs, we’d tear open the box, unearthing the assortment of walnut-laced baklava, mini puff pastry roses triple-glazed with honey, and crumbly ballourie (baked, shredded phyllo dough) topped with rosewater-kissed pistachios. I’d had baklava before, but nothing like this. They were delicate wisps of tissue-thin phyllo and honey and nuts rich and complex, each one in its own distinct way.

Shatila is a pastry icon—a 38-year-old Middle Eastern bakery tucked away in the suburb of Dearborn, about eight miles from downtown Detroit. Today, Dearborn is home to one of the largest communities of individuals of Arab descent outside the Middle East, and Shatila is among of the city’s most famous food landmarks. But fifty years ago, things were very different. Dearborn’s then-mayor, Orville Hubbard, was an outspoken segregation advocate who ran on the platform, “Keep Dearborn Clean” (widely accepted to mean: keep Dearborn white).

Riad Shatila, landed in Dearborn in the 1970s, when a growing number of Middle Eastern refugees fled civil wars and conflicts in their home countries, coming to the Detroit area due for jobs in the auto industry. Shatila immigrated by himself from Lebanon, where he was a bike messenger with a love of baking. He found a small, tightly-knit community of Middle Eastern immigrants in Dearborn, but realized there were no businesses that catered to their interests.

As sweets are such an important part of Middle Eastern holidays and social gatherings, Shatila, who’d never baked or cooked professionally before, decided he would open a bakery on a dusty stretch next to a movie theater and a local supermarket. Through a lengthy process of trial and error, he developed a short menu highlighted by pistachio and walnut-filled baklava and fingers of phyllo wrapped around cashews, whose recipes were inspired by the offerings at Al Samadi Sweets, the popular bakery in Lebanon.

When the bakery opened in April 1979, Riad Shatila didn’t have enough money for his own housing — so he installed a shower in the warehouse and slept there. He worked 20-hour shifts, only sleeping while his pastries were baking. “He refused to sell anything until he was totally satisfied himself,” recalled Osama Siblani, the founder of The Arab-American News and a close friend of Riad Shatila’s (Shatila passed away in 2013). “He was always trying to do better than the week before.” To drum up business, he went through the phone book and called up every name that sounded vaguely Arab, inviting people in to try his sweets, offering to personally hand-deliver them to houses. The idea of a Middle Eastern-focused business, much less a bakery, was completely novel at the time, and the local community came to purchase in droves.

The burgeoning Middle Eastern population in Dearborn didn’t go unnoticed. Another of its mayors, Michael Guido, ran his 1985 campaign on a promise to rid the city of what he called the “Arab Problem,” carrying on the racist rhetoric of previous decades. But this didn’t stop people from all over the tri-state area from taking a major interest in Shatila. In a 1988 review of the bakery, The Detroit Free Press wrote, “How good are Shatila's pastries? We brought a box back to the Free Press to be photographed. Funny thing, though. They must have melted under those hot lights. Just disappeared.”

Other Middle Eastern families started to follow Shatila’s lead, opening their own shops in the area, and the Arab and Arab-American population exploded, accounting for an estimated 25 percent of Dearborn residents by the late ’90s. Dearborn became a destination for authentic Middle Eastern goods, from groceries to clothing. “Shatila attracted people from around the country to come to Dearborn and make a day of it,” Siblani said.


Costco Is Selling A $10 Dessert Tray Full Of Baklava

Costco has everything you need at all the right times, and the retailer&rsquos latest win for us all is a giant dessert tray that&rsquos full of baklava&ndashyou know, that sweet dessert pastry made of many layers of filo dough filled with nuts and held together with honey, syrup, or frosting. Better yet, the tray only costs $10.

The Mediterranean baklava tray is more than two pounds and features various flavors of the fine dessert. They&rsquore all made with honey and either cashews, pistachios, or both. Each dessert has a different dough form. The Bilbol Nest Pistachio one, for example, is made of a fine stringy dough wrapped around pistachios to look like a little bird&rsquos nest. The Kitaa Cashew With Pistachio Sprinkles comes in a traditional square shape with a dusting of pistachios on top. Instagrammer @costcobuys spotted the massive tray full of the desserts at Costco for about $10.

People shared their excitement about the Costco find in the comments. &ldquoWe used to get a different box of baklava at Costco every year, and then for a couple years, they haven't carried any,&rdquo one person commented on the post. &ldquoI'm glad to see they brought it back.&rdquo

Others chimed in to share their love of baklava: &ldquoMy mom makes the best baklavas,&rdquo one person wrote. &ldquoI might have to try this to compare.&rdquo

If you ever find yourself in the mood to treat yourself in the near future, just know the giant $10 tray of baklava is waiting for you at Costco.


Youssef Akhtarini Fled Syria. His Baklava Recipe Came With Him.

When Youssef Akhtarini landed in Providence, three years ago, his first instinct was to go to the local mosque. His second was to make baklava. So he took out his rolling pin—one of the few possessions he brought from the Middle East—and started to layer phyllo, cook down a lemon-kissed syrup, and chop walnuts. Soon he and his wife, Reem, were inviting the people they had met at the mosque and the volunteers at the Dorcas International Institute, the nonprofit that helped resettle the Akhtarini family in Rhode Island, and feeding them buttery, flaky sweets.

Those gatherings turned into a stand-alone restaurant and bakery, Aleppo Sweets. It’s one of our 50 nominees for our list of America’s best new restaurants, and it’s become one of the more popular spots in town—a haven for homesick Syrians, including the refugees he hires to work there, and anyone who dreams of baklava that crackles like a potato chip.

“There are other Middle Eastern restaurants in Providence,” says Jenna Pelletier, a former staff writer at the Providence Journal who first wrote about Aleppo Sweets, “but as far as I know, none of them sell baklava like this.”

Akhtarini began baking in his hometown of Aleppo when he was 15, as a trainee at the famous Syrian bakery Diab. He started at the bottom, sweeping the floors and placing the pistachios in the center of the bird’s nest pastries, whose base is shredded baked phyllo. He was constantly observing. “I figured out how to read the mind of the person next to me and figure out, What does the person need next?” he says, speaking through a translator, his friend Abdullah Kanaan. “I would run and give it to him before he asked for it. That is how I proved myself.”

He eventually opened a few successful bakeries with his brothers. He was known in his neighborhood for his pistachio fingers—rich nut-coated rolls of phyllo—and bride’s bracelets (similar idea, different shape).

In 2012 there was a civilian uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, resulting in violent conflict that spilled over into everyday life, including Akhtarini’s. “Regime planes bombarded the neighborhoods, and there were weapons all over the streets,” he recalls. “Sometimes when we wanted to get bread, we had to dodge snipers on buildings.”

A year later, he, Reem, and their six children fled Syria for Turkey. Not long after he arrived in Turkey, his bakery was completely destroyed. Suddenly he knew there was nothing to go back to. It was time to start anew. After three years, he sought asylum in the U.S. through the U.N.

Eventually the family ended up in Providence, a city that they had never heard of. Thanks to Dorcas International in Rhode Island, which is devoted to providing resources to immigrants, the city had a strong infrastructure for accepting and resettling refugees.

Youssef and Reem Akhtarini at home in their new space

Akhtarini soon started renting out a commissary space in a local pizza shop for $500 a month. Either at 5 a.m. or after midnight, he’d make baklava and pistachio fingers to take to a nearby farmers’ market, where they nearly always sold out. “But I was very happy doing this,” he says. “Very happy.” As he brushed syrup over sheets of phyllo and carefully arranged walnuts into each layer, he would take video and send it to his family on WhatsApp. “It makes me feel that everything is okay.”

As a refugee, it’s hard to start a business without a credit history. But with the financial backing of Sandy Martin, a volunteer at Dorcas International, Akhtarini took over a space on a quiet tree-lined block of the city in 2018 and started to build Aleppo Sweets. Martin and her husband, Victor Pereira, bought the building that would house the restaurant as an investment property.

At Aleppo Sweets, the design is not meant to mimic his bakery in Aleppo, Akhtarini says. That’s in the past. Instead he wants people to feel like they’re in a Syrian home. There are intricately patterned windows, a small fountain, many plants and copper teapots, and a handmade Syrian backgammon board (a lot of it sourced from Etsy).

On the morning I visit, he is laser-focused on mabrooma, a shredded phyllo pastry with an intensely complicated process. He carefully rolls up the noodle-like bits of phyllo into a log, deep-fries the entire thing in ghee, drains off the excess oil, and then brushes each side with syrup made of lemon, water, and sugar. The pastry drinks up the syrup like a sponge until it glistens. Then it’s baked until the syrup starts to caramelize. What distinguishes a Syrian pastry from other Middle Eastern pastries, Akhtarini repeats, is that Syrian ones are not too sweet. He’s judicious about the amount of sugar he uses and relies heavily on citrus, so the pastries aren’t cloying but balanced.

A platter of pastries: baklava of all sizes and shapes and bird’s nests

What also distinguishes Syrian pastries are the varieties of ingredients people use. Akhtarini gets his ghee in a large green tin from an Arabic market outside Boston and his pistachios from Turkey. Still there are certain things he hasn’t been able to find, like the exact strain of bright, spicy Aleppo pepper or ghee made of sheep’s fat (“the minute it touches your mouth, it tastes like heavy milk,” he says longingly).