Of all the sweets that come from Turkey baklava is probably the most famous and delicious. Although there is no consensus on the history of the dessert, it is believed that baklava descended from an Assyrian dessert consisting of dried fruit in between two layers of pastry. There are numerous debates about the "original origin" of baklava, most famously between Speros Vryonis, professor of Greek and Byzantine history, and Charles Perry, food historian and journalist. While Vryonis claims the dessert has Byzantine roots, Perry insists on its Turkish/Turkic origin.
Regardless of its origin, baklava, a closer version to the one we know today (with multiple layers of thin pastry), came from Damascus to the Turkish city of Antep (Gaziantep), and from Antep to the rest of Anatolia. By the end of its journey it came to perfection at the Ottoman palace kitchens. It became so prominent in the palace tradition that by the end of 17th century a ceremony called "baklava alayi (parade)," during which janissaries walked to the palace on the 15th day of Ramadan to fetch trays of baklava--one for every ten soldiers-- prepared by the palace cooks, was already established.
Today baklava is still a specialty and sold at stores that specializes only on baklava. In these baklava stores one can find different versions of layered thin pastry desserts with different ingredients and different cuts. Turkish baklava is made by very thin layers of pastry made from wheat starch and a sugary syrup that does not contain honey or spices.
Antep being the city that spread baklava to the rest of Turkey preserves its prestige over the dessert. Almost all baklava store owners/chefs in Istanbul or elsewhere claim to be from Antep, the baklava and pistachio capital of Turkey.
Among the Turks the biggest debate over baklava seems to be the stuffing: some like walnut and some pistachio, and it can be a heated one. However, the hazelnut baklava from the Black Sea region is also noteworthy.
Being totally on the walnut camp, I will give you an easy-to-make walnut baklava recipe that you can make with store bought phyllo dough.
1 box store bought thin phllyo dough (every brand has different number of sheets in box. As long as you have ~20 sheets, it fine)
2 1/3 sticks of butter
3 cups of walnut, chopped (not coarse and not minced)
for the syrup
3 cups of water
3 cups of sugar (if you like it really sweet go for 3 and a half cup)
2 tbsp lemon juice (to prevent crystallization of sugar)
-Thaw the phyllo dough following the instructions on the package.
-Grease the baklava tray. The tray can be slightly smaller than phyllo sheets.
-Melt the butter.
-Place a layer of phyllo sheet at the bottom and drizzle 1 tbsp butter on top.
-Spread the half of the phyllo sheets on the tray, buttering them one by one.
-Sprinkle the ground walnuts on top of the middle layer.
-Cover the walnuts with the other half of phyllo sheets, again buttering every single one.
-When the sheets are finished, with the help of a knife push the edges inwards onto the try.
Now the hardest part: cutting the baklava. Baklava has to be cut before it is baked. The most traditional cut is the diamond cut. But you can go for triangles or simple squares.
-For diamond cut. First find the sharpest knife in your kitchen and cut baklava into 4 or 5 equal pieces lengthwise. Then cut it diagonally at 1 inch intervals.
-Drizzle the remaining butter on top.
-Bake baklava in a preheated oven at 350F until golden brown.
-For the syrup, mix sugar and water and cook stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. First bring to a boil then let it simmer on low for ~20-25 minutes.
-Add lemon juice 10 minutes before you take it off the stove.
-Turn it off, and let it sit for 10-15 minutes.
Baklava has to be cold when you pour the syrup. So, you can bake it before hand or start making the syrup as you take baklava of the oven. And on the other hand the syrup should neither be boiling hot nor cold. It will be at a good temperature to pour after 10-15 minutes off the stove.
-Pour the syrup on top and let it soak. Wait at least 1 but better 2 hours to cool and absorb the syrup.