Anatomy of Baklava with Rocio Gutierrez and Hussein Chahin of Middle Eastern Bakery

Anatomy of baklava from Middle Eastern Bakery & Deli.
Anatomy of baklava from Middle Eastern Bakery & Deli.
Mabel Suen

See also: Tastemakers 2012: Isam Saed See also: Eating the World: Middle Eastern Bakery & Deli See also: Lebanese Chicken from Middle Eastern Bakery and Deli

When you're cooking, it's all about a dash of this and a splash of that. But baking is another matter, an exact science. In this series, we're going behind the bakery case and into the kitchens of some of Phoenix's finest purveyors of sweets (and some savories). Fresh out of culinary school, Chow Bella contributor Mabel Suen will work with local chefs to learn their tricks for making perfect pastries, baked goods and desserts. Stay tuned for findings once the flour settles.

The Baked Good: Baklava The Bakers: Rocio Gutierrez and Hussein Chahin The Place: Middle Eastern Bakery & Deli

Middle Eastern Bakery & Deli makes baklava three different ways -- regular, finger-style, and bird's nest.
Middle Eastern Bakery & Deli makes baklava three different ways -- regular, finger-style, and bird's nest.
Mabel Suen

The bakers at Middle Eastern Bakery & Deli don't need recipes. They've made baklava the same way innumerable times over the years and have the formulas completely committed to memory.

The bakery case in the sunlit storefront contains a variety of fresh, colorful treats including mamoul, halvah, kanafi and, of course, trays of ready to eat baklava.

In the kitchen, baklava gets crafted in three different forms -- traditional, finger-style, and bird's nest -- on a near-daily basis. While pouring iced cups of honey-sweetened lemonade, consistently cordial owner Isam Saed insists that the baklava baked by Rocio Gutierrez and Hussein Chahin is the best he's ever tasted all the way from Nazareth, Israel.

Gutierrez has been making baklava for twelve years, and Chahin has been making it for twenty. Neither of them speak completely fluent English. Luckily, the lingo of food never fails to transcend verbal barriers. Chahin's son Mostafa accompanies him in the kitchen, attempting to bridge the language gap.

The baklava at Middle Eastern Bakery & Deli comes out golden on top with a light dusting of crumbled pistachios. The bottom layer of fillo dough soaks up a not-too-sweet injection of rose water and orange blossom infused syrup that results in a moist but not soggy nor overly sticky mouthfeel. A layer of spiced and toasted nuts gives the dessert another layer of depth, tying all the paper-thin, flaky layers of fillo together.

Read on to see a video of Gutierrez and Chahin demonstrating two different baklava assembly techniques.   The Tools: Half-sheet trays, a paring knife, a wooden stick, a pastry brush.

Terminology: Phyllo, filo or fillo dough is a commonly used component in Middle Eastern baking. The paper-thin sheets can be purchased in pre-made packages.

Technique/s: Gutierrez demonstrates how to assemble traditional baklava, while Chahin demonstrates how to assemble finger-style baklava:

Tips & Tricks: Work as fast as you can before the fillo has a chance to dry out. Have melted butter or margarine at the ready to moisten sheets as soon as they are laid down.

Troubleshooting: Find the right balance of sweetness you like in the syrup. Avoid using too much, or the resulting pastry will come out too sugary and sticky.

Try this at home: Baklava from Emeril Lagasse, Baklava from The Orgasmic Chef, Chocolate Baklava from, Baklava from

See what else The Baker's Lab has examined: Anatomy of a Cheesecake with Beth Goldwater of Bertha's Cafe Anatomy of a Fondant Covered Cookie with Tammie Coe of Tammie Coe Cakes Anatomy of a Marshmallow with Tracy Dempsey of Tracy Dempsey Originals Anatomy of a Chocolate Chip Cookie with Brady Breese of Urban Cookies Anatomy of a Polvorón with Minerva Orduño Rincón of Muñeca Mexicana Anatomy of a Vegan Cupcake with the Sizemore Sisters of Treehouse Bakery Anatomy of a Brownie with Eileen Spitalny of Fairytale Brownies Anatomy of a Scone with Candy Lesher of Baci d'Amore Truffles and Scones

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Middle Eastern Bakery & Deli

3052 N. 16th St.
Phoenix, AZ 85016


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