Monday, January 25, 2010

Baklava at Athan's Bakery

Baklava is one of my all-time favorite sweet treats.  I have loved it ever since I was a kid.  Believe it or not, Greek and Middle Eastern cuisine was a very big deal in Baton Rouge where I grew up.  Arzi's Restaurant still has a special place in my heart when it comes to gyros sandwiches and stuffed grape leaves.  My dad is probably right in saying that folks down there love it because of the garlic and the onions which are also so common in Cajun and Creole cooking.  Who wouldn't?  Those are some of the best flavors on the planet.

Louisianians also have a vast appreciation for nuts.  Pecan pie recipes are a much guarded family secret in many cases.  It's not such a stretch that Baklava is appreciated as well.  It's a delicious pastry from Greece and the Middle East.  Typically, Phyllo dough, nuts, and honey are used, but the list of ingredients can vary widely depending on who's making it.  Recipes that I researched on the internet called for all sorts of interesting things: rose water, allspice berries, cardamom, as well as just about every sort of nut out there.  One rule holds true for me anyway and that is, I've never met a baklava I didn't like.

Historically, Baklava can be traced back to the 9th century and the Assyrians are credited with its invention.  Back then, it was a crude layered bread with nuts and soaked in honey.  The Greeks, who invented phyllo, refined the concept and were likely responsible for spreading it to Europe via the Romans.  In the 18th century, it was served only to royalty and the wealthy in Turkey and became a delicacy for the privelaged.  It was widely regarded as an aphrodisiac, spiced with cinnamon for women and cardamom for men.  It wasn't until the 19th century that it became an affordable luxury for the middle class.  Thank goodness we can all afford to eat it with some regularity, if not for the calories!

The best baklava I've had in Boston comes from a little bakery near my apartment called Athan's.  It is a Boston-based business with two locations.  There is one in Brookline and one in Brighton.  They specialize in delicious European-style cakes soaked in booze and dusted with cocoa powder, sugar-glazed fruit tarts, and of course, baklava.  The shop that I frequent here in Brookline glistens with sweet temptations everywhere.  There are tiered tables piled high with chocolates, assortments of cookies in baskets, and a freezer full of excellent gelato - the rose petal flavor is my favorite.

I especially love the variety of baklava they offer.  Everything from little nest-shaped ones, to cigar-shaped with chocolate, traditional diamonds, and sliced rolls.  There are also some filled with walnuts, pistachios, and almonds and mixtures of the three.  The one consistent thing is that they are drenched in delicious honey and the box never stays full for long... Well, I guess that's two things.

Today I brought a box of assorted baklava to my friends at work.  I missed the train just as I was arriving at the stop, so instead of waiting out in the cold for the next one to come, I ventured in to Athan's and was reminded of how wonderful of a place it is.  My friends were all very excited about the delicious treats that I brought them and everyone enjoyed eating the delicious honey-soaked nut-filled pastries very much.  Maybe I'll miss the train on purpose tomorrow and pick up some more treats on my way to work.  It's sure to get a round of smiles again, and what better way to start an evening of work.


  1. I am SO with you on the baklava. (...and am jealous of your find.) That's one area where Baton Rouge is sorely lacking. (Although "Cafe Mediterranean" has a fantastic one.) BTW - can I come work with you?

  2. yes - come work with me! we can have a culinaray tour of boston!