TURKISH DELIGHT (LOKUM)

The story of the creation of Turkish Delight (lokum) begins in the late 1700s, when Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir, confectioner to the imperial courrt in Istanbul, listens to the sultan rant:

"Hard candy! I'm tired of hard candy!" the sultan growled as he cracked a tooth on yet another sourball. "I demand soft candy!" Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir had come to the imperial capital of Istanbul from the Anatolian mountain town of Kastamonu in the late 1700s to hear his emperor's plea. His mountain-man blood rose! His face turned grim with conviction! He set his jaw with determination! He was going to take bold and decisive action!

He marched into his confectioner's kitchen and thought up a recipe: he mixed water, sugar, corn starch, cream of tartar and rosewater, cooked it up, poured the mixture into a flat pan slicked with almond oil, and let it cool. Then he sprinkled it with powdered sugar, cut it into bite-sized chunks and...his hand trembling, his eyes bright with anticipation, his mind fraught with trepidation, his lips quivering to receive the morsel...he bit!

What? No crack of candy crunched by his mighty alpine jaws? No shower of sugary splinters scattering through his oral cavity? Why, this new confection was soft and easy to chew, a pleasure, a treat for both palate and teeth! It was... it was...a comfortable morsel!

Rahat lokum ("comfortable morsel"), nowadays called simply lokum, or Turkish Delight, was an instant hit, especially at the palace.
Ali Muhiddin became a celebrity overnight as palace bigwhigs (or, more usually, their lackeys and gofers) traipsed down the hill from Topkapi Palace to Eminönü on the Golden Horn to buy boxes of Comfortable Morsels to thrill the jaded palates of Ottoman potentates.

You can still buy lokum at Ali Muhiddin's shop in Eminönü today, almost 250 years since the intrepid confectioner saved his sultan from sourballs. It's on Hamidiye Caddesi at the corner of Seyhülislam Hayri Efendi Caddesi, two blocks east of the Yeni Cami (New Mosque).

Over the centuries Ali Muhiddin's descendants (the shop is still owned by the family) fiddled with the recipe, adding good things like walnuts, pistachios, oranges, almonds, clotted cream, and of course chocolate. (The plain rosewater original is still a favorite, however.)

Lokum (Turkish Delight) is now made and sold in thousands of shops throughout Turkey, and enjoyed with Turkish tea or coffee, or just by itself. A favorite place to buy it is Afyon, where the rich local clotted cream is used to make kaymakli lokum.

You can make your own Turkish Delight at home. Here's a recipe. When you visit a shop, don't be afraid to ask for a free sample: say Deneyelim! (deh-neh-yeh-LEEM, "Let's try some!") (For more Turkish words and phrases, see my Turkish Language Guide.)

RECIPE TO MAKE TURKISH DELIGHT

During your trip to Turkey you can easily buy excellent Turkish Delight (lokum), but after you return home you'll want more. Make it yourself! Here's a recipe to make several dozen squares:

Ingredients :

5-1/2 cups water
5 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup confectioners (powdered) sugar
1-3/4 cups cornstarch
1 cup nuts: pistachios, hazelnuts or walnuts
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon lemon juice

PREPARATION :

In a saucepan, mix 4-1/2 cups water, 5 cups granulated sugar and 1 tsp lemon juice. Bring the mixture to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes, dissolving the sugar to make syrup.

In a bowl, mix 1 cup water and 1 cup cornstarch, then blend in the cream of tartar.

Gradually blend the cornstarch mixture into the simmering syrup while vigorously stirring with a wire whisk. Stir frequently while cooking for 1-1/2 to two hours, until the mixture forms a soft ball with an internal temperature of about 235°F (113°C).

Test the mixture by dropping a small amount into ice water. It should form a ball. When picked out of the ice water and held between two fingers, it should easily flatten.

Stop cooking the mixture, and mix the nuts in well. Hazelnuts or walnuts should be broken into smaller pieces.

Pour the mixture into an eight-inch-square flat cake pan (greased) and spread it evenly throughout the pan. Sprinkle two tablespoons of cornstarch on top of the mixture and let stand for at least three hours, or preferably overnight.

Mix 1/4 cup confectioners (powdered) sugar and 3/4 cup cornstarch. Grease a knife with butter and cut the Turkish Delight into squares. Lift the squares out of the pan, sprinkle with the cornstarch and sugar mixture, and place on a rack to "cure" for 12 hours. Sprinkle again with the sugar and cornstarch, and serve, or keep in a box. Do not refrigerate.

TURKISH BAKLAVA

Baklava or Baklawa is a rich, sweet pastry featured in many cuisines of the Middle East and the Balkans, in other words, in the former Ottoman countries. It is a pastry made of layers of phyllo dough filled with chopped nuts, usually walnuts or pistachios and sweetened with sugar or honey syrup.

Today, baklava is a popular dessert at Middle Eastern restaurants throughout the Arab world and Israel. After the meal, an assortment of small pastries is typically brought to the table on a brass tray, accompanied by tiny cups of Turkish coffee.

Gaziantep, a city in Turkey, is famous for its baklava.
The history of baklava is not well-documented; but although it has been claimed by many ethnic groups, the best evidence is that it is of Central Asian Turkic origin, with its current form being developed in the imperial kitchens of the Topkapı Palace.

However, Perry (1994) shows that though gastris contained a filling of nuts and honey, it did not include any dough; instead, it involved a honey and ground sesame mixture similar to modern pasteli or halva.

Perry then assembles evidence to show that layered breads were created by Turks in Central Asia and argues that the "missing link" between the Central Asian folded or layered breads (which did not include nuts) and modern phyllo-based pastries like baklava is the Azerbaijani dish Bakı pakhlavası, which involves layers of dough and nuts, but not thin phyllo dough, which probably was developed in the kitchens of the Topkapı Palace. Indeed, the sultan presented trays of baklava to the Janissaries every 15th of Ramadan in a ceremonial procession called the Baklava Alayı.

Other claims about its origins include: that it is of Assyrian origin, dates back to ancient Mesopotamia, and was mentioned in a Mesopotamian cookbook on walnut dishes; that al-Baghdadi describes it in his 13th-century cookbook; and that it was a popular Byzantine dish. But Claudia Roden and Andrew Dalby find no evidence for it in Arab, Greek, or Byzantine sources before the Ottoman period.

The oldest known recipe for a sort of proto-baklava is found in a Chinese cookbook written in 1330 under the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty under the name güllach. (Buell, 1999) A similar dessert called "güllaç" is found in modern Turkish cuisine. Layers of phyllo dough are put one by one in warmed up milk with sugar. It is served with walnut and fresh pomegranate.
Güllaç is another example of dishes made with rolled out dough layers such as su böreği or baklava.

The word baklava entered English from Turkish; it is sometimes connected with the Arabic word for "bean" (baqlah), but Wehr's dictionary lists them as unrelated.
Buell (1999) argues that the word "baklava" may come from the Mongolian root baγla- 'to tie, wrap up, pile up' composed with the Turkic verbal ending. Baklava is found in many cuisines, with minor phonetic variations on the name.

Recipe to Make Turkish Baklava

Syrup :

2 1/2 cups water
3 1/2 cups sugar
2 Tbs lemon juice

Ingredients :

3 cups walnuts, plus extra for sprinkling (optional)
3 Tbs sugar
1 1/2 cups unsalted clarified butter (recipe follows)
2 packages of filo dough, each containing about 20 - 22 sheets of dough
Finely chopped pistachio nuts (optional)

Steps to make it :

Heat the oven to 375 °F
The syrup: combine cold water with sugar in a medium-size saucepan. Boil the mixture for 5 mins, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered for about 15 mins. The syrup is ready when it is light yellow, and when a small spoonful dropped onto a wooden surface and cooled is tacky. Stir the lemon juice into the syrup and set it aside to cool.

The clarified butter: Melt a pound of butter in a saucepan over low heat until white foam appears on the surface. Skim and discard the foam. Slowly pour the clarified butter in a bowl, leaving behind and discarding the milk solids that have collected at the bottom of the pan. It will keep for a few weeks stored in a cool place. Mr. Ozan suggests using this technique as the clarified butter lacks the impurities that cause butter to burn easily and turn black.

Place the walnuts and sugar in a food processor. Process until medium to finely ground – do not grind too fine. Set aside.

Brush the inside of a 14 x 18 x 1 inch baking pan all over with a little of the clarified butter. Place one sheet of dough in the pan. With a wide pastry brush, lightly brush the dough with a little of the clarified butter. Continue layering the dough and brushing with butter until one package of dough is used.

Spread the walnuts over the dough and lightly sprinkle it with water – using a plant mister is best — to help the dough adhere to the walnuts when the next layer is added, Using the second package of filo dough, layer the dough over the walnuts, brushing each sheet with a little of the butter. Trim the pastry edges to fit neatly in the baking pan. Brush the top layer and the edges with clarified butter.

Using a sharp knife dipped in hot water, cut through the dough halfway down the height of the pan. To make 48 pieces, make 4 lengthwise cuts and 12 crosswise cuts.

Bake the baklava in the center of the oven for 30 mins. Lower the heat to 325F and bake for additional 30 mins, until the top is light golden. Remove the baklava from the oven and let it sit at room temperature for about 10 mins. Recut the pastries along the lines all the way to the bottom of the baking pan and pour the cold syrup evenly over the cut lines. Sprinkle the baklava with ground walnuts or pistachio nuts, if so desired, and let it cool completely. Serve at room temperature.

Note: Baklava keeps for one week stored in a cool, dry place. That is, if you can stop yourself from eating it all!