Updated: Apr 17, 2020
I still remember the deep impact of the Turkish TV drama, Yabanci Damat (The Foreign Groom) on me when I was still adjusting to life in America. The show tells the love story of Nazlı, a daughter of a famous baklava maker in the city of Gaziantep, Turkey and a Greek man Niko. Families first oppose marriage and disagree over various issues because they are from different backgrounds, but finally, they get closer. I was terribly homesick and I watched this soap opera because I deeply missed the family bond, the sense of community, friendship, and Turkish food. I especially enjoyed watching Nazli's father making baklava. I was dreaming of myself in that kitchen. Also, it was the right time to watch this show because I met with Greek, Armenian, Lebanese, Algerian, and Palestinian people for the first time and was astonished by the common food, music, and folk beliefs shared by all these cultures.
Another step that brought closer to starting Simurgh Bakery was writing my dissertation about 17th-century Ottoman Turkish manuscripts while teaching a course at Saint Mary's College in Moraga. I realized that teaching and research in an academic setting was not my passion. I was looking for a possible career shift. I volunteered for a field trip at my son's school to the Berkeley Kitchens. We visited the kitchen of a parent and check what other small companies produce. The kitchen that has inspired me the most was La Noisette Sweets, wherein I ate one of the best croissants in my life. They were heavenly crispy, flakey, and buttery, which reminded me of the best croissants I ate in Paris.
When I was back from the school trip, I dreamed how wonderful it would be if I could make baklava that will be delicately crispy and lightly sweet using traditional techniques. Yet, I did not know where to start. I did not know what types of flours I should use and how to make a paper-thin dough by hand. To find answers to my questions, I watched many videos on YouTube. But none of these videos were fully satisfying. I got in contact with several baklava makers in Turkey. Despite some useful information, it was a real frustration when some of them recommended that I should use glucose or corn syrup to reduce the cost of ingredients. That was not what I was looking for, and I needed to make authentic baklava using the finest ingredients. So, I was on my own.
One of the first failed baklavas on April 16, 2017.
Finally, I was satisfied with the recipe on August 20, 2017.
After six months of trial and error, I was finally able to make baklava as good as the ones I ate in Istanbul. The next challenge was to scale up production without sacrificing quality. Frozen phyllo was not an option, but hand-rolling the phyllo dough was also quite laborious. I decided to purchase a dough sheeter from Turkey to make fresh phyllo dough myself. It was a risky investment because I was not able to go to Turkey and see the machine before purchase because of my teaching at Saint Mary's College in Moraga. It was not clear if the machine could meet my expectations since the Turkish company did not provide a user manual. I took the risk and the machine has arrived at the shared commercial kitchen in Richmond. The machine was an industrial grade. It was operated with 380 V three-phase electricity. It was also enormous, much larger than the entire space I had in the shared kitchen. After much trouble with electricity and space, we were able to make fresh phyllo dough and begin mass production of our baklava.
That's all for now. I will tell you more about the journey of Simurgh Bakery soon.
We also make chocolate phyllo dough.
That is how our baklavas look like in 2020.