Baku as a destination can be said to have it all. In the Azeri, there is a people that were formed by about one-third Turkish culture and tradition, and part of that one-third is the baklava, one of the most iconic desserts in the world outside Europe.
I recently went on a quest, rigorous of nature, in that it left me sprawled on my back in a hotel room trying not to be sick, to find the best baklava in Baku. I believe truly that I found it, for when the eventual perfect diamond was christened by my incisors, I felt as if everything across the three days of searching was swept away; not by much, but as clear as makes one immediately convinced of it.
Like all great and noble quests, the journey was equal to the destination. Along the way, I became intimately familiar with this dessert in all its myriad forms, and a pantheon of bakers and baristas that help make up Baku’s charming population and urban-civic character.
Many baklava are delightful to eat just as they are, but mastering its production is a trying task. It must be moist with honey, but not runny or soggy, it must have layers but also synergy, it must be consistent but not uniform, and perhaps most difficult of all, the best baklava will display the tastes of the Eastern Mediterranean—of pistachio, walnut, honey, the slightly burnt edge of the flaky filo, and in some cases also the spices, without one overtaking the others.
Against this near-impossible standard, few succeeded. For the adventure, I targeted one dozen baklava and pastry shops that are the most reachable, and for that, it cannot be considered a truly conquered subject, for no doubt there are many shops in the vast metropolis of Baku that were simply unknown or too distant—a hole in the wall kind of place, beyond the reach of the metro and of Google besides. No doubt the finest chefs in the country operate in Baku, and their finest restaurants are also likely haunts for the best baklava.
But part of the baklava’s nature is the scope of the manufacturing. Baked in large trays and cut into dozens of pieces, it is perhaps ideal, more so than any other dessert, to buy in bulk to take home for a week’s supply, or bring to a get-together as a dinner contribution. For that reason I let the quest end at baklava and pastry shops.
Sirr Cake House—the best Azeri baklava
The best baklava in Baku, it being the capital of Azerbaijan, should be judged by the national standard. The Azeri baklava is something unique in the face of the wide variety of Turkish baklava. Shaped like a slender diamond, representing the national symbol of fire, it’s denser, with a thicker dough, more nuts, and a glaze on top that’s typically—though not always I would learn—heavy on the cardamom or other spices of the like.
Under these conditions, Sirr Cake House produces the finest Azeri baklava in the city. Located at #68 of the main drag in the city, but away from the boardwalk, old town, and the hipster heart of Nizami, and instead up toward the business districts, Sirr Cake House, managed by Mr. Raphael, can be reached on foot 6 minutes due south of the Nariman Narimanov metro station. A classic case of Google Maps proving unhelpful in my quest, it is listed as permanently closed, which it most certainly isn’t.
The interior is both chic and desperately romantic. Sirr Cake House is unique in that it was the only shop I found where there were many varieties of Azeri baklava, varieties of nuts, and one with pistachio in the dough mixture. It delivered the perfect forkful of crunch, spice, nuttiness, sweetness, moisture, and balance without a doubt. 10/10.
BalBadem—the best on average
Quite near to the Sirr Cake House lies the almost industrial baklava shop of BalBadem, which produces dozens of trays of baklava, breads, and other pastries, mostly for bulk sale and takeaway. In this sense, I walked in and imagined the quality would be low, but after a short tasting, I judged BalBadem to be the best shop in Baku when averaged out across all their offerings.
Their Azeri baklava was very good, probably the second or third best I had in Baku, and it’s produced with a variety of nuts. BalBadem had the best cold baklava in Baku in my judgement, out of only two shops that even offered cold baklava. Among their Turkish baklava selection, the small baklava was good, while the classic was underwhelming. The Sarma baklava, which is the roulade-baklava, was also very good, and their Midye baklava, or the ones shaped like seashells, were the best in town.
All were very well-constructed, and neither fell apart nor fused together. This is very good baklava, but it came at a cost I marked as noticeably higher than other shops. To get to BalBadem, it’s enough to go to the Nariman Marimanov metro station, take the right-hand exit out of the metro station, and cross the road.
Anadolou Paxlava—best Turkish baklava
Located in the city center on the street surrounding the Molokan Gardens, Anadolou Paxlava is a little baklava shop about a 4-minute walk from the Sahil metro stop. Inside there are but two tables, each with only one chair, yet the atmosphere is nice—brown wood, white marble, gold trim, and green baklava.
The manager, whom I saw only and never anyone else, was very conscious of selling me only the baklava that was freshest—he presumably sent trays of the older ones out to restaurants or grocery stores or something. The Azeri baklava here was well-constructed and had a good flavor. Nothing really to complain about, but nothing to remember either.
Anadolou Paxlava (baklava in the Azeri language) has a selection of excellent Turkish baklava. Their use of chocolate and pistachio was very good, especially as regards the balance of sugar. When baklava is baked, the water of the honey inside and outside the confection expands, and can often leave the bottom half tasting soggy. This was not the case. Their “small Turkish” and Dolma baklavas were exceptional, with the latter being the best Turkish recipe I had.
Mono Cakes–best Sarma baklava
I thought it worthwhile to take a moment and highlight an important variant of baklava, not least because I found a shop in which it was quite clearly the best. Mono Cakes, called L`Appetite Şirniyyat on Google Maps, is just 1 minute from the Nizami metro stop, and along with great Sarma baklava offers a street-side Gutab vendor—a savory Azeri pancake typical of street food vendors.
Sarma baklava is the roulade shaped baklava. The interior of the loaf is mostly walnuts, and it makes an excellent baklava to bring back home because the round shape deflects force from the impacts of the luggage you stored it in. It also keeps better because there is less honey than classic Turkish baklava.
Mono Cakes has the feel of a real neighborhood spot, and when I was eating there, there were all kinds of people getting breakfast in the morning. I had to share a table with a man who tried to buy me a Gutab. It’s worth mentioning also that their Azeri baklava among all others was totally unique with its flavor profile—no nuts, no spice, but almost citrusy and bright; a real curiosity.
Honorable mention—Elkhanoglu Pastry
Amassing enough distinction as to win the honorable mention, Elkhanoglu Pastry was a beautiful little baklava spot amid a lot of official-looking government and business buildings. Located on the boulevard behind the giant government house seen from the bayside road, it has a real vintage look, with vintage crockery and old Azeri and Turkish jazz music playing in the background.
There was no Turkish baklava here, just Azeri baklava and other Azeri pastries like the Şəkərbura, or Shekarbura, traditionally eaten at the Persian new year of Novruz. Elkhanoglu’s Azeri-style baklava was bold; it was a whole layer taller than all the other Azeri baklava I was given. The flavor was intense and delicious in every way, with a rich cardamom glaze. However, it was poorly constructed, and when I attempted to stab into it with my fork, each layer slid off the layer below it until I was left with a pile of component parts and left to try and scrape together the pastry chef’s idea.
So these I believe are the best baklava shops in central Baku, and I was loathe to exclude two or three other shops whose employees demonstrated a courtesy and enthusiasm for my project matched only by the wonderful flavors and textures of their baklava. It’s representative of the city at large—a very friendly place filled with hospitable people who display it with courtesy and gentleness. WaL