Baklava Diplomacy

Turkish baklava

Nadir Güllü is known in Turkey as the King of Baklava. The shop down the street from his factory in the Karakoy section of Istanbul sells a royal selection of extraordinary pastries, including chestnut, chocolate, and walnut baklavas along with the traditional pistachio. These honeyed delicacies bear about as much resemblance to those overly sweet and soggy confections sold in U.S. supermarkets as does Beluga caviar to lumpfish roe.

Güllü is a fifth-generation baklava maker, from a family originally hailing from Gaziantep in south central Turkey, the center of pistachio cultivation. A long-dead ancestor learned the art of baklava-making from a master baker in Damascus.

Today, Güllü’s factory is the largest baklava producer in the world, creating more than 55 different kinds of baklava and related phyllo pastries such as kunefe and burmali kadayif. The factory is kept more sterile than most surgical operating rooms, and it takes a seven-year apprenticeship to become a master phyllo roller. Each sheet of phyllo is thin enough to perform a puppet show behind it; forty sheets make a single tray of baklava.

Güllü takes his role seriously, saying that he practices “baklava diplomacy,” forging alliances with suppliers in Greece, Israel, and elsewhere. He demonstrated to me how one should use all the senses when tasting his baklava: First plunge a fork into the top to hear that satisfying kssshh! sound that comes from fresh, crisply baked phyllo that is saturated with syrup but not sodden. Then there is the odor of pistachio, baked pastry, and (depending on the type of pastry) rose water. Finally there is the texture in the mouth: enhanced by a liberal slathering of rich, whipped sheep’s-milk butter, the whole confection is then rolled in freshly ground pistachio nuts to give added crunch and flavor.

Not planning a trip to Turkey soon? The next best thing to a visit to Karaköy Güllüoglü is to order the frozen pastries and phyllo from the company’s outlet in Brooklyn: Gollugo Baklava.

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