The tan-coloured walnut is the common walnut of Europe, introduced by the Persians into ancient Greece. Ancient Romans brought it to the rest of Europe.

The Persian walnut (also known as the English and Italian walnut) has a high oil content, and is used as a salad dressing because of its pungent nutty flavour.

Walnuts featured heavily in the traditional foods of ancient eastern Mediterranean civilisations, from the Aegeans and Phoenicians to the Greeks, but it was the Ottoman Turks who introduced walnut cookery to Europe, evidenced by the amount of walnut pastries baked daily from the Balkans to the Caucasus.

Pakhlava – 1


The sweet walnut pastries eaten throughout the Balkans, the Caucasus, Greece and Turkey are older than the hills.

Cut into exquisite diamonds or shaped into delightful parcels they are still thought of as the food of the gods, just as they were 3000 years ago when the Assyrians decided to coat their flatbreads with date molasses and crushed walnuts.

The layered pastries we know today as baklava were refined over centuries of improvisation.

The Arabs and Armenians added cardamom, cinnamon and cloves to improve the flavour. The Greeks invented the thin leaf-like dough known as filo. The French enriched the dough. And throughout the Ottoman empire – in Armenia, the Balkans, Egypt, Greece, the Levantine, the Mediterranean, northern Africa, Persia and Turkey – cooks worked their individual culinary magic on these pastries.

Pistachio rivalled the walnut, sugar syrup replaced date molasses and honey seduced those who believed it was an aphrodisiac.

This is the original, made by the Assyrians eons ago.

500 g chapati flour
250 ml mineral water
250 g date molasses/Basra date syrup
250 g walnuts, crushed, chopped
50 ml water

Make a firm dough with the flour and mineral water. Shape into small balls, roll each one on a floured surface to the size of a tea-plate, 20 cm diameter.

Put a flat iron pan on a high heat for five minutes. Adjust heat, place a disk on the pan, cook for two minutes, flip over and give the other side two minutes. Repeat until all the dough is used up.

Dilute date molasses/syrup in water if necessary.

Spread each disk with a thin layer of molasses, sprinkle with walnuts, roll tightly into a cylinder, and smear molasses over the top. Finish with walnut dust.

Pakhlava – 2


In Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Crimea, Georgia, Russia and the Ukraine, walnut pakhlava is a sweet multi-layered pastry.

500 g pastry flour
150 ml milk, lukewarm
150 ml sour cream
2 eggs
50 g butter
15 g yeast
1 tsp sugar
Salt, pinch

250 g butter
250 g icing sugar
250 g walnuts, crushed, chopped
Cardamom, large pinch
1 tsp cinnamon 
1 vanilla pod, deseeded

1 egg, beaten
Walnut halves

150 g honey
100 ml water

Dissolve yeast in milk and sugar.

Sieve flour into a large bowl. Mix in butter, eggs, sour cream, salt and yeast liquid.

Form into a dough on a floured surface, knead for 10 minutes. Leave forban hour.

Put the walnuts into a bowl, mix with sugar and vanilla, then cardamom and cinnamon.

Grease a large deep rectangular baking tray.

Preheat oven to 180°C.

Cut dough into 13 pieces, form two pieces into one ball.

Roll the large ball out to cover the surface area of the tray and each of the four sides. The dough should be thin, no thicker than 1 mm.

Using the rolling pin, fold the thin sheet over the tray, push down into the corners, leave an overlap.

Melt the butter and brush the dough.

Roll a ball of dough to the size of the surface area of the tray, and, using the rolling pin, lay it on the bottom sheet. Brush with butter and sprinkle the walnut mixture over it.

Repeat with remaining balls.

Bring the sides of the bottom sheet over to enclose the layers. Brush with butter, sealing the edges with the egg.

Brush the top with the egg and cut squares, stopping the knife before the bottom layer. Press one walnut half into each square.

Bake for 15 minutes.

Make honey syrup, remove tray from oven, and brush top with butter. Spoon some of the syrup over the top, allow it to seep into cracks between the squares.

Put back in the oven until it takes on a reddish colour.

Allow to cool, remove from tray and cut into squares.

Dip each square into honey syrup. Give each side of the square three seconds to absorb the syrup.

Leave to cool.



In the Balkans they are faithful to the Ottoman tradition of using shredded filo pastry dough, using margarine instead of butter.

1.5 kg sugar
1.5 litres water
750 g tel kadayif (wire pastry dough)
360 g margarine/butter
300 g honey
150 g walnuts, crushed, chopped
50 g vanilla sugar
1 lemon, juice

Flake kadayif over a large rectangular baking tray, sprinkle walnuts on top, then another layer of kadayif, finally the margarine or butter.

Bake at 160°C for 35 minutes, until golden.

Cover and cool.

Dissolve sugar in water, bring to the boil, simmer until the liquid forms into a light syrup.

Heat honey, vanilla sugar and lemon juice.

Pour syrup evenly over the pastry.

Cut into squares.

Dip each square into honey liquid.

In Sarajevo, tradition calls for the kadaif to be served with olives and radishes.




A Greek interpretation.

1.5 kg sugar
1.5 ml water
750 g filo pastry sheets
375 g walnuts, ground
350 g butter
30 g breadcrumbs, toasted
15 g cinnamon
1 lemon, juice
1 vanilla pod, deseeded

Preheat oven to 160°C.

Combine breadcrumbs, cinnamon and walnuts.

Grease baking tray.

Lay a sheet of pastry on a damp linen towel, cover with one tablespoon of walnut mixture, roll into a sausage shape and place in tray. Repeat until pastry and filling are used up.

Heat butter, drizzle one tablespoon on each sausage.

Bake for 40 minutes, until golden.

Allow to cool.

Dissolve sugar in water, bring to the boil, simmer until the liquid forms into a light syrup.

Add lemon juice and vanilla.

Pour syrup over sausages.

Cevizli Çörek


These walnut parcels from Turkey evolved out of a desire to produce a simple variation of the walnut baklava.

1 kg pastry flour 
500 g walnuts, ground
200 g butter
20 g yeast
15 ml milk, lukewarm
15 g sugar

Disssolve yeast in milk and sugar.

Sieve flour into a large bowl, incorporate butter and yeast mixture.

Form into a dough on a floured surface, knead for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200°C.

Roll dough out and cut into 4cm diameter rounds, 5mm thick.

Spoon some walnut into centre of each round. Fold into a parcel.

Place each pacel on a greased baking tray.

Bake at 160°C for 45 minutes, until the crusts are golden.



A modern Assyrian interpretation, albeit not a pastry. That’s evolution for you.

1.2 litres water
250 g flour
250 g grape molasses
250 g sugar
250 g walnuts
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp ginger

Blend flour, molasses, sugar and water. Boil on low heat until the mixture reaches a thick consistency. Stir in spices, pour into bowls and garnish with chopped walnuts.


Traditional Walnut Dishes