Rosewater Turkish Delight
Editors Note: The following recipe is excerpted from Anatolian Kitchen: Turkish Cooking for the American Table to be published by Burgess Lea Press, October 2016.
If you’ve ever eaten jellybeans, gummy bears, or cherry-red Swedish fish, you owe a debt to the nougat known by the romantic name Turkish Delight. The shimmery treat has spawned imitators in every culture around the world and was perfected in 18th century Ottoman Istanbul by a confectioner named Haci Bekir. Haci Bekir’s rose, orange, and pistachio-flavored confections gained the admiration of Sultan Mahmud II who anointed him with the esteemed title Helvacibasi, Chief Confectioner at Topkapi Palace.
The base for the Turkish Delight is a mixture of sugar, water, and cornstarch, slow-cooked and stirred until thick and translucent or glossy, depending on the added flavorings. Cool the mixture for several hours, cut it into squares, dust it with cardamom-scented powdered sugar, and voila! You’ve created an addictive, elegant sweet that stores and travels well. Traditionally, Turkish Delight is flavored with rosewater, but our nut-rich Turkish Delight makes a sophisticated treat that seduces even those who claim they never let sugar pass their lips.
In Turkey, the Middle East, Russia, Greece and the Balkans, Turkish Delight goes by the name rahat lokum, Arabic for comfortable or throat-soothing morsel, so called because in a hot and dusty landscape, a sugar-based candy with its humectant properties will calm a dry or sore throat.
In the 19th century, an Englishman who, like many travelers before him, fell in love with Istanbul and its hurly-burly streets, discovered rahat lokum in Haci Bekir’s shop hidden in one of the twisty lanes leading from Topkapi Palace down to the Bosporus. The Englishman so loved rahat lokum that when he shipped a case back to London, he gave it a new name, Turkish Delight. The jellied sweet captivated Londoners and novelists, including mystery writer Agatha Christie, and soon found its way into trendy households from Paris to Moscow. Haci Bekir’s Turkish Delight even made it to America in1893, debuting at the Chicago World’s Fair.
For thousands of years, the main ingredient in Turkish Delight – sugar – was considered precious and rare. Sugarcane was first cultivated in tropical New Guinea in the 8th Century BCE where its sap was gathered as a beverage and sweetener. By the 1st century CE, sugarcane was cultivated throughout India. Sacred Sanskrit texts included sugar as an essential ingredient in health tonics, where it was valued for, among other things, its store of magnesium, potassium and iron.
In 510 BCE, the Persian Emperor Darius invaded India and discovered “the reed that gave honey without bees,” bringing sugar cane to Persia. But it wasn’t until the Moors arrived in Spain in the 7th century that sugar was first cultivated and refined in Europe. The refining process removed any traces of molasses to create a pure white crystal. Later, in the 15th century, sailing under the protection of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain, the explorer Christopher Columbus brought sugarcane to the Americas establishing the first sugar cane plantations in what are now Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Our many trips to Istanbul would not be complete without a stop at Haci Bekir’s famous sweet shop listed as one of the 100 oldest companies in the world. Still owned by Haci Bekir’s descendants, the shop can be found in Sultanahmet a short walk from Topkapi Palace. In the window of Haci Bekir on Hamidye Street, squares of Turkish Delight, piled high on ornate silver trays, shimmer in pale shades of rose, orange, and lemon. We enter a world where the warm air sweetens our breath and try the samples arranged on the counter, letting a dusting of powdered sugar settle on our fingertips.
Back home in our kitchens, we blend floral rosewater into sugar syrup. And later, stir in toasted pistachios. And later still, after the mixture has set, roll the candy in confectioners sugar laced with sensuous cardamom, imagining that had we met him, our version of Turkish Delight would have pleased Haci Bekir.
Rosewater Turkish Delight with Pistachios
Makes about 70 1-inch squares
For the Nuts:
1 cup pistachios
For the Syrup Mixture:
2 cups cold water
2 cups plain white sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons rosewater
Grated rind of one lemon
¼ teaspoon salt
For the Cornstarch Mixture:
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup cold water
1 tablespoon rosewater
2 drops red food color, optional
For the Confectioner’s Sugar Coating:
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
¾ cup cornstarch
Prepare an 8-inch x 8-inch square pan. Spray the pan lightly with cooking oil and dust it with cornstarch. Or, line the pan with parchment paper and dust the paper with cornstarch.
Toast the pistachios. Place the pistachios in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Toast the nuts stirring constantly to evenly heat all sides until they are fragrant — about 3 — 4 minutes. Set aside.
Nuts can be prepared a day or two ahead and stored in an airtight container in a cool dry place, or in the refrigerator. If the nuts are stored in the refrigerator, bring them to room temperature before stirring them into the nougat mixture.
To prepare the syrup: In a separate saucepan with a heavy bottom, combine the water, sugar, lemon juice, rosewater, lemon rind, and salt.
Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium. Simmer for thirty minutes, stirring occasionally to create velvety, pale yellow syrup. Continue simmering the syrup until the surface is covered in bubbles or when a candy thermometer reaches 260 degrees.
Turn off the heat.
While syrup simmers, prepare the cornstarch mixture: In a saucepan with a heavy bottom, combine the cornstarch, cream of tartar, cold water, and rosewater. Mix until smooth.
To make the nougat, place the saucepan with the cornstarch mixture over medium heat. In a slow, steady stream, pour the sugar mixture into the cornstarch mixture, stirring to combine.
Cook the syrup/starch mixture for approximately 15 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent the mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pan. The mixture will become thick and glossy.
Remove the nougat from the heat. Add two drops of red food color, if desired, to create a pale rose color.
Add the pistachios, stirring until the mixture cools slightly.
Spread the nougat into the prepared pan. With oiled fingers, pat the nougat evenly to create as uniform a surface as possible. Allow the nougat to set at room temperature for 2 hours, but up to 12 hours.
To prepare the powdered sugar mixture: Combine the confectioner’s sugar, cardamom and cornstarch. Sift the powdered sugar mixture onto a work surface or a piece of parchment paper.
To finish the Turkish Delight, turn the nougat onto the powdered sugar mixture. With a sharp, oiled knife, cut the Delight into one-inch cubes. Liberally coat the cubes in the powdered sugar mixture.
Store the Turkish Delight in layers in an airtight container. Turkish Delight will keep in the refrigerator for up to two months, or in the freezer for six months.
In 2006, Joy E. Stocke founded Wild River Review with Kimberly Nagy, an outgrowth of the literary magazine, The Bucks County Writer, of which Stocke was Editor in Chief. In 2009, as their editorial practice grew, Stocke and Nagy founded Wild River Consulting & Publishing, LLC.
With more than twenty-five years experience as a writer and journalist, Stocke works with many of the writers who appear in the pages of Wild River Review, as well as clients from around the world.
In addition, Stocke has shepherded numerous writers into print. She has interviewed Nobel Prize winners Orhan Pamuk and Muhammud Yunus, Pulitzer Prizewinner Paul Muldoon, Paul Holdengraber, host of LIVE from the NYPL; Roshi Joan Halifax, founder of Upaya Zen Center; anthropologist and expert on end of life care, Mary Catherine Bateson; Ivonne Baki, President of the Andean Parliament; and Templeton Prizewinner Freeman Dyson among others.
In 2006, along with Nagy, Stocke interviewed scientists and artists including former Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman and Dean of Faculty, David P. Dobkin for the documentary Quark Park, chronicling the creation of an award-winning park built on a vacant lot in the heart of Princeton, New Jersey; a park that united art, science and community.
She is president of the Board of Directors at the Cabo Pulmo Learning Center, Cabo Pulmo, Baja Sur, Mexico; and is a member of the Turkish Women’s International Network.
In addition, Stocke has written extensively about her travels in Greece and Turkey. Her memoir, Anatolian Days and Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey, Land of Dervishes, Goddesses & Saints, based on more than ten years of travel through Turkey, co-written with Angie Brenner was published in March 2012. Her cookbook, Tree of Life: Turkish Home Cooking will be published in March, 2017 by Quarto Books under the Burgess Lea Press imprint . Stocke and Brenner are currently testing recipes for a companion book, which will feature Anatolian-inspired mezes from around the world.
Stocke’s essay “Turkish American Food” appears in the 2nd edition of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America (OUP, 2013). The volume won both International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) for Beverage/Reference/Technical category, 2014; and the Gourmand Award for the Best Food Book of the Year, 2014.
She is the author of a bi-lingual book of poems, Cave of the Bear, translated into Greek by Lili Bita based on her travels in Western Crete, and is currently researching a book about the only hard-finger coral reef in Mexico on the Baja Sur Peninsula. She has been writing about environmental issues there since 2011.
A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with a Bachelor of Science in Broadcast Journalism from the Agriculture Journalism School where she also received a minor of Food Science, she participated in the Lindisfarne Symposium on The Evolution of Consciousness with cultural philosopher, poet and historian, William Irwin Thompson. In 2009, she became a Lindisfarne Fellow.
Works by Joy E. Stocke in this Edition
AIRMAIL – LETTERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
AIRMAIL – VOICE FROM SYRIA
ARTS – ART
COLUMNS – THE MYSTIC PEN
FOOD & DRINK – ANATOLIAN KITCHEN
FREYMAN & PETERSON- Your Life is a Book: How to Craft and Publish Your Memoir
LITERATURE – BOOK REVIEWS
LITERATURE – ESSAYS
LITERATURE – MEMOIR
LITERATURE – POETRY
LIVE FROM THE NYPL
The Euphoria of Ignorance: Being Jewish, Becoming Jewish, The Paradox of Being Carlo Ginzburg
Fountain of Curiosity: Paul Holdengraber on Attention, Tension and Stretching the Limits of Conversation at the New York Public Library
Paul Holdengraber – The Afterlife of Conversation
2013 – Three Questions: Festival Director Jakab Orsos talks about Art, Bravery, and Sonia Sotomayor
Critical Minds, Social Revolution: Egyptian Activist Nawal El Saadawi
INTERVIEW – Laszlo Jakab Orsos: Written on Water
Tonight We Rest Here: An Interview with Poet Saadi Youssef
Georgian Writer David Dephy’s Second Skin
On the High Line: Diamonds on the Soles of Our Shoes
Car Bombs on the West Side, Journalists Uptown
New York City – Parade of Illuminations: Behind the Scenes with Festival Director Jakab Orsos
The Pen Cabaret 2008: Bowery Ballroom — Featuring..
Anatolian Days and Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey, Land of Dervishes, Goddesses and Saints
Daring Collaborations: Rolex and LIVE from the NYPL at the New York Public Library Composing a Further Life: with Mary Catherine Bateson
WRR@LARGE: From the Editors – UP THE CREEK
Up the Creek: Volume 1, Number 1
Up the Creek: Volume 1, Number 2.5
Up the Creek: Volume 1, Number 3.3
Up the Creek: Number 4.4
Up the Creek: Beautiful Solutions
Up the Creek: Blind Faith, July 2009
Up the Creek: Create Dangerously
Up the Creek: What Price Choice?
Up the Creek: Before and After: September 11, 2001
Up the Creek: Candle in a Long Street
Up the Creek: Crossing Cultures: Transcending History
Up the Creek: Man in the Mirror; A Map of the World
Up the Creek: Stories and the Shape of Time
Up the Creek: The Divine Road To Istanbul
Up the Creek: What It Means to Yearn
WRR@LARGE – WILD COVERAGE
UNESCO World Heritage Site Under Threat of Mega-Devlopment Sparks International Protests
The Other Side Of Abu Ghraib — Part One: The Detainees’ Quest For Justice
The Other Side of Abu Ghraib – Part Two: The Yoga Teacher Goes to Istanbul