BĀQLAVĀ (or Baqlavā)
The etymology of the word bāqlavā, found in Arabic (baqlāwa), Turkish (baklava), and Greek (mpaklabâs), has not yet been determined. According to G. Doerfer (p. 255), the word does not seem to be from Turkish. A Persian origin is suggested by the suffix -vā, perhaps the Persian suffix -vā/-bā found in terms for food and cuisine and deriving from -/βāγ < pāk, cf. poḵtan “to cook” (cf. Grundriss I/2, p. 79; and EIr., s.v. āš); however, the first element of the word is of unknown origin (a derivation from balg, a common dialect form of barg “leaf,” or from Ar. baql “herb” is unlikely).
Bāqlavā is a sweet pastry known throughout the Middle East which in Iran is commonly made with almonds (bādām), less frequently with pistachios (pesta), and, in the past, with lentils (ʿadas). In Turkey and Greece it is made with walnuts and covered with a kind of dough which forms a harder surface than that of the Persian bāqlavā. The Turkish bāqlavā is the one commonly used in the West. The pistachio bāqlavā is considered more elegant than the other kind. The finest quality bāqlavā in Iran is reputed to be that which is made in Yazd, where it is packed in tins and prepared for sale throughout the country. Tins of bāqlavā are frequently given to friends and relatives as gifts at Nowrūz.
In Iran the almonds and sugar are pounded or ground together, then mixed with melted butter or fine quality shortening, and flavored with cardamom (hel) before being spread over layers of very thin filo dough (nān-e lavāš or nān-e tonok). Alternate layers are then built up, the top sprinkled with slivered almonds or pistachios; it is then baked until golden. When cool, it is cut into lozenge-shaped pieces. A sweet syrup made with boiled sugar and water, frequently flavored with rose water (golāb), is then poured over the pastry.
Traditionally, bāqlavā is not made in the home, but in bakeries and special factories. In recent years, as ovens and baking facilities have become more prevalent in Iran, increasing numbers of women have taken to preparing bāqlavā at home, particularly for special occasions such as weddings.
Although traditionally bāqlavā is lozenge-shaped, when made at home it is sometimes cut into squares, and sometimes rolled into individual, cigarette-shaped rolls,
N. Ramazani, Persian Cooking, Charlottesville, 1982, pp. 219-21.
C. Roden, A Book of Middle Eastern Food, New York, 1972, pp. 397-98.
(W. Eilers, N. Ramazani)
Originally Published: December 15, 1988
Last Updated: December 15, 1988
This article is available in print.
Vol. III, Fasc. 7, p. 729