While shopping for edible holiday gifts this Christmas season, I came across Turkish Delights. It seems that this treat has become a Christmas special ever since The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe presented the sweet meat stemming from the Ottoman Empire as an enchanting treat that Edmund Pevensie could not get enough of when offered to him by The White Witch. Like all of her magical food, it was highly addictive, making those who ate it want more and more, thus making them easy for her to control. Perhaps symbolic of the addictive allure of sugary treats.
Children in theaters everywhere were bound to start yammering for the candy, especially on Christmas morning or Hanukkah nights. It’s quite popular across the pond and although it did not become such a sensation in the United States, it does come around in specialty shops during the holidays. The colorful glossy candy dusted with powder sugar imbues a wintery spirit, making it aesthetically ideal for holiday gift giving, particularly when it is encased in pretty packaging glinted with gilded minarets. I selected more western sweets that my American friends have a preferential taste for, but the aromatic sweets of the East have a mysterious allure and captivated me to create my own.
What Are Turkish Delights?
Christmas had passed and having a week to indulge in my musings I set off to create these treats for New Year’s Eve. These sugar-dusted cubes of thickened milk or fruit syrup often made with dry nuts are also called lokum. The treat has been known since the Ottoman times when it was eaten for digestion after meals. I think the magic in Turkish Delights is its freshness, which you can only find in confectionary shops of Istanbul. The packaged stuff at the Duty Free Shops in airports are probably more like what we have access to in the United States and they simply can’t hold the value of a true Turkish Delight. So there was only one thing to do, make it at home and give out small fresh portions for tasting as party favors on New Year’s Eve.
Turkish New Year
Did you know that New Year’s Eve is the most popular holiday in Turkey? And gift giving is a large part of the New Year’s celebrations. Turkey is a Muslim country and most Turks do not celebrate Christmas, however after the modernization of Turkey, the Gregorian calendar was adopted and with the start of New Year’s celebrations on December 31st in the late 1920s came many New Year’s Eve traditions from western celebrations of Christmas and Thanksgiving. Turks put up the New Year’s tree (a decorated fir tree) that usually stays up from the beginning of December until the End of January. Families sit down to a roasted turkey dinner on New Year’s Eve and visit each other as well as exchange small gifts. That gave me the notion of gifting sweet Turkish Delights in homage to this sweet Turkish New Year’s tradition.
How to Make Turkish Delights
I have seen many easy recipes for Turkish Delights, some are even microwave versions which involve gelatin. Now keep in mind that the origin of Turkish Delights is from the Muslim culture and the Ottoman Empire, where they would never use gelatin (as gelatin is a collagen obtained from various animal by-products, most commonly pork). It is forbidden for Muslim people to eat pork or any animal products that are not Halal. So, true Turkish Delights are not made with gelatin but rather a gel of starch and sugar. Premium varieties consist largely of chopped dates, pistachios, and hazelnuts or walnuts bound by the gel. Traditional varieties are mostly gel, generally flavored with rosewater, mastic, Bergamot orange, or lemon. Rose water is the most popular, so here is a recipe for the delightfully soft and chewy sweet that’s better than any store-bought version you’ve encountered.
Rose Water Pistachio Turkish Delights
3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup water
Pinch of cream of tartar
1 cup cornstarch
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 1/2 teaspoons rosewater
2 cups shelled roasted unsalted pistachios
2 or 3 drops red food coloring (optional)
Cutting and dredging
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, for dusting the cutting board
1/2 cup cornstarch sifted together with 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
Small (9″ x 13″) rimmed baking sheet
Heatproof spatula or wooden spoon
Large cutting board
Cooking spray or vegetable oil
- Generously coat the baking sheet with cooking spray, and set it aside.
- Make the sugar syrup by combining the sugar, honey, water, and cream of tartar in a medium-size (4-quart) saucepan, and mix with the heatproof spatula to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, and insert the candy thermometer. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook, without stirring, until the temperature reaches 260°F, about 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile (keeping an eye on the sugar syrup), make the cornstarch mixture. In a large (6-quart) saucepan, whisk together the cornstarch, confectioners’ sugar, water, and cream of tartar to combine. Once the sugar syrup reaches 250°F, place the cornstarch mixture over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly with the whisk. It will thicken and boil quickly, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn off the heat, but leave the mixture on the hot burner. Stir well a few times with a whisk, and set aside.
- When the sugar syrup reaches 260°F, remove it from the heat and carefully pour it into the cornstarch mixture. Stir well with the whisk to combine. Bring everything to a low boil over medium heat. Then reduce the heat to low and cook at a low simmer, stirring frequently with the spatula, until the mixture is thick and gluey and a light golden color, 30 to 45 minutes. Keep a close eye on it and make sure to scrape the bottom of the pan with the spatula every few minutes to prevent scorching and lumps.
- Remove the pan from the heat and add the flavorings. Stir in the rosewater, pistachios, and food coloring (if using).
- Wearing oven mitts, immediately pour the candy into the prepared baking sheet. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the candy to prevent it from forming a skin as it cools. Allow it to cool until it has set and is firm and cool to the touch, 6 to 8 hours.
- Gently peel off the plastic wrap. Dust the cutting board with the confectioners’ sugar. Run the tip of a paring knife between the candy and the sheet, and gently turn the candy out onto the prepared board.
- Place the cornstarch mixture in a medium-size bowl. Generously coat a sharp chef’s knife with cooking spray, and use a gentle slicing motion to cut the candy into 1-inch squares. Dredge the pieces in the cornstarch mixture until well coated.
Serving Suggestion: Serve in a candy dish with Turkish Coffee or give as gifts in antique like tin containers.
Note: Turkish delights can be stored for up to 1 month layered with wax paper, in an airtight container at cool room temperature.