There are certain desserts that some pastry chefs fall back on at a typical modern Asian restaurant. We all know them: the lychee sorbets, tropical fruit tarts, and matcha cheesecakes of the world. If I never see another chocolate spring roll it will still be far too soon. There are usually two pitfalls for such dessert menus. If you’re lucky, you might find a few watered-down versions of more traditional desserts, the chef likely hoping to temper some of the flavor profiles some diners may be unfamiliar with, like mung bean, anko (red bean paste), ube (purple yams), and the like. Otherwise you’re likely to see desserts that incorporate Asian flavors pushed through the sieve of French technique, a formula[…]

The blend of cultures and flavors that is seen across the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean regions is a product of ancient trade routes, proximity, and, ultimately, conquest. That same mix gave birth to baklava, the crisp, syrupy dessert whose exquisiteness derives from the kitchens of sumptuous Ottoman palaces in 15th- and 16th-century Istanbul. The art of making baklava dates back to the nomadic Turks of the 11th century. Between the dessert’s butter-drenched layers of phyllo dough is the taste of fallen empires—Assyrian, Roman, Persian, Byzantine, Mongol, and Ottoman. While the flavor of baklava is different in every country that makes it—Greece, the Levant, Iran, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and beyond—the debate over who is the rightful owner of baklava ignores[…]