EPICURIOUS: THE DELIGHT FROM TURKIYE

Published May 12, 2024
Photo by the writer
Photo by the writer

Turkish delight or lokum is the most popular sweet in Turkiye and one of the country’s most famous exports. But it must also be the only candy that is symbolic of geopolitical tensions: Greece, which was part of the Ottoman Empire until the Greek War of Independence of 1821, also claims lokum as its own (where it is called loukoumi).

Greeks may be reluctant to recognise lokum as Turkish in origin due to their tense history, but the recipe for the sweet most probably travelled from the heart of the Ottoman Empire to Greece via Greek residents living in what is now present-day Turkiye and traders.

While the candy most likely has its roots in Pelte, an Ottoman version of Palude or Persian fruit jelly, the Turkish delight that we know today can be traced back to 18th century Constantinople — the then capital and business centre of the Ottoman Empire — and to an inventive confectioner, Haci Bekir Effendi.

Effendi opened his first shop selling lokum in 1777 in present-day Istanbul. When cornstarch was invented in the 19th century, the confectionery chef changed his recipe to use the new ingredient, creating the famous chewy and soft Turkish delight in the process.

Bekir’s new sweet creation proved so popular that it earned him a position as chief confectioner in the royal kitchens of the court of Sultan Mahmud II, the ruling Ottoman sultan at the time. Bekir’s family continued to serve as chief confectioners until the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1920.

A candy created during the Ottoman Sultanate continues to charm people centuries later

Even today, you can eat the same Turkish delight that was enjoyed by Ottoman sultans — two centuries later, the fifth generation of Bekir’s family has continued to sell Turkish delight made from the original recipe, making Haci Bekir the oldest company in Turkiye. There are five Haci Bekir cafes in Istanbul that sell a wide assortment of sweets, including lokum, and they also export the famed candy.

If you don’t feel like travelling so far to satisfy your sweet tooth, there is also a version of Turkish delight that can be found closer to home: Karachi halwa or — as some Indians have dubbed it – Bombay halwa. Invented in Karachi and made with corn flour, ghee and nuts, it was popularised across the border in Mumbai by a halwai who moved there post-Partition and opened the Chandu Halwa shops. Rest assured, lokum’s confectionery cousin is also a delight to eat.

Turkish Delight

This pillowy soft and chewy candy makes for a great sweet treat or something to peck on alongside chai or coffee. While the rose water flavour is the most popular, feel free to experiment with other conventional ones, such as bergamot orange or pistachio, or even unusual ones such as mango or peanuts. Any flavour can be added to Turkish delight — fruity or nutty — as the base is simply a very sweet jelly that provides a blank confectionery canvas.

Superfine or baking sugar is needed to make Turkish delight but, if you can’t find any, it is still very easy to make: simply take granulated sugar and grind it in a blender until the sugar is very fine and powdery. If you like your sweets on the less sugary side — go with the granulated sugar option and cut down on the dusting sugar.

Lokum can be stored for up to a month, so it can be made way ahead of any festive occasion — just make sure to store it in an airtight container.

Turkish Delight (Makes 50 cubes)

Ingredients
For the Turkish Delight

3 cups superfine/baking sugar or blended granulated sugar 1 ¾ cup of water 1 medium lemon 10 tablespoons cornstarch ½ cup cold water 4 ¾ tablespoons powdered gelatin 1 ½ teaspoons rose water/Jam-e-Shirin/Rooh Afza 1 cup chopped nuts (pistachios, walnuts etc), optional

For dusting

3 ½ tablespoons powdered sugar 3 ½ tablespoons cornstarch

Method

  1. Line parchment paper in an 8×8-inch baking dish. Set aside.

  2. Make the dusting mixture — mix the cornstarch and powdered sugar in a bowl. Dust the baking pan with a couple of spoons of the mixture.

  3. In a saucepan, add the sugar and water. Squeeze in the lemon juice and stir continuously on low heat until the sugar completely dissolves and a syrup forms.

  4. In a separate bowl, add the cornstarch. Slowly add the cold water, stirring and whisking till a thick mixture forms.

  5. Add the cornstarch mixture and the gelatin to the sugar syrup in the saucepan. Cook on low heat. Stir until everything is combined well. Continue stirring until the mixture comes to a boil and is thick and yellow in colour. Remove from heat and set aside.

  6. Once the mixture has cooled, add the rose water/Rooh Afza/Jam-e-Shirin. Add any chopped nuts if desired. Pour into lined baking tray. Put in a cool place to set for 12 to 24 hours: since it is the summers, put in the fridge; during the winters, it should set at room temperature.

  7. Dust a flat surface or tray with dusting sugar. Flip the baking tray with the set Turkish delight on to it. Cut the ‘jelly’ from top to bottom into cubes. Repeat till you have done the entire length and width — if you run the knife through, the pieces will be jagged and broken.

  8. Spread the dusting mixture on to a plate. Take the cut cubes and roll in the mixture. Serve with hot tea or Turkish coffee.

  9. To store Turkish delight, dry the cubes — this prevents the candy from ‘sweating’ — by placing the cubes slightly spaced apart on a lined tray for a day in open air. Store in parchment-lined or wax-paper-lined air-tight containers. Place parchment paper between layers of the cubes.

Published in Dawn, EOS, May 12th, 2024

Opinion

Editorial

China’s concerns
23 Jun, 2024

China’s concerns

Pakistan has no option but to neutralise militant threat to Chinese projects, as well as address its business and political stability concerns.
War drums
23 Jun, 2024

War drums

If it is foolish enough to launch another war in Lebanon, Tel Aviv will be solely responsible for setting the Middle East on fire.
Balochistan budget
23 Jun, 2024

Balochistan budget

BALOCHISTAN’S Rs955.6bn budget for the fiscal year 2024-25 makes many pledges to the poor citizens of Pakistan’s...
Another lynching
Updated 22 Jun, 2024

Another lynching

The chilling alternative to not doing anything — which appears to be the state’s preferred option — is the advent of mob rule.
Tax & representation
22 Jun, 2024

Tax & representation

THE taxation measures outlined in the budget for the incoming fiscal year have triggered a lot of concern among ...
Life of the party?
22 Jun, 2024

Life of the party?

THE launch of Awaam Pakistan, a party led by former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and former finance minister...