Friday feeling: baklava

Crisp, buttery Lebanese-style pastry, chock-full of nuts

Like hummus or pizza, baklava is one of those foods which is so controversial, in terms of what it consists of and where it comes from, even the name is a sore point. Some scholars say it is of Turkish origin; others claim Persian, and still more Mongolian or Arabic. That’s before you even get to the recipe: a secret which is even today a closely guarded hand-me-down, passed from generation to generation of local pastry-makers—the designated keepers of the baklava keys.

Arabica’s baklava recipe is equally classified: James will confess to butter—“lots of butter”—as well as nuts, sugar and filo pastry, but quite how these ingredients come together into these burnished bronze gems remains a mystery. “There are many different styles, from all over the east-Mediterranean region,” the founder of Arabica continues. “The Greek and Turkish styles share a lot of similarities, whereas ours is more like Lebanese or Syrian baklava.”

Crisp, buttery pastry
Not for Arabica the sticky, teeth-screaming lashing of sugar syrup you’ll find hugging more commercial pastries. “These are just more to my taste. Lots of sugar syrup makes them dense and soggy”—nectar to some baklava lovers, but James prefers his “crispier”.

The flavour comes from the nuts—cashew, almond, walnut or pistachio—and from the butter, which brings a malty, creamy, sweet-savoury base note to the whole thing. “What you end up with is a crisp, buttery pastry, stuffed with nuts, which you can taste above the sweetness of it,” he continues. Combined with fresh mint tea—“or any simple black tea”—it’s the perfect pick me up.