10 Best Traditional Turkish Desserts in Six Categories – 1. Nuray’s favorites

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Delicious Maras Ice Cream

Delicious Maras Ice Cream from Flickr by hkbzhkbz

Maras Ice Cream – Turkey’s famous “Maras Dondurmasi”

There is a universal saying: “Music is the food for the soul” – In Turkish: “Muzik ruhun gidasidir.” And my previous post, Turkish Music 101: An Introductory Course covers the Turkish music for the soul.

Another universal saying goes like this: “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” In Turkish: “Erkegin kalbine giden yol midesinden gecer.” I think the same saying should be applied to women too. But, I like my version: “The way to a woman’s heart is through gifts and desserts.”

I dream about entering into a sweet smelling pudding and dessert shop in Istanbul after staring at their window filled with all kinds of Turkish desserts. The best time to do this is after a long day of sightseeing. Your legs are tired, you are dragging your body for that one more step to complete your tour. You love the tour, but you cannot wait until it is over since you need a replenishment. I wish all sightseeing tours around the world would include a quick stop in the afternoon for a “pick-me-up” dessert for the poor souls like me who are dying to inject some sugar into their veins. And this should be accompanied with a nice cup of coffee, or my preference, a nice glass of Turkish tea. I believe Turkish tea helps digest all that fat and sugar invading your body when you are downing a beckoning dessert.

It is hard to fit the top Turkish desserts into one post. Instead, I grouped them into five categories. I will be describing the top 10 (this is totally my personal taste, no competition required) in each category in my future blog posts.

If you visit Turkey or a Turkish restaurant nearby your neighborhood, try some of these and you can let me know your order of preference. You may end up struggling a lot to decide which ones come first and second. I, long ago, decided two of my favorites: Profiterol (Profiterole in English) and Maras Dondurmasi (Maras ice cream). And I am not including these two in any category. They form their own category: It is “Nuray’s Favorite Turkish Desserts category” and it has only two items in it. And every time I go to Turkey, within a few days, I satisfy my heart and the soul.

I will cover these six categories of Turkish desserts in separate blog posts, including this one on my favorites:

  1. Nuray’s Favorite Turkish Dessert Category
  2. Puddings
  3. Confectionary
  4. Flour or Semolina based sweets
  5. Phyllo Dough (Baklava types)
  6. Fruit Desserts

I. Nuray’s Favorite Turkish Dessert Category

Profiterol(or Profiterole in English) is not originally Turkish. One story says it originated from France, in the 16th century, created by an Italian chef working for Catherine de Medici (member of the famous Medici family in Florence), wife of the French king Henri II. This Italian chef started the new concept of filling the puff pastry with cream. Later, other chefs added whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and eventually ice cream. However, the gourmet.lovetoknow.com website considers this just a myth. Cream puffs, originally filled with cheese and served as savory bites around 1300s in Germany and France, became the favorite of French pastry chefs around 1700s as choux à la crème, choux meaning cabbage in French, since the puff pastry looked like a small cabbage.

Profiterol, photo courtesy of Rumeli Muhallebicisi, Istanbul

Profiterol, photo courtesy of Rumeli Muhallebicisi, Istanbul


I tried profiterole at many French restaurants, both in France and in the United States, but nothing came close to the profiterole I taste in Turkey. They serve profiterol in Turkey with an abundance of dark chocolate sauce, not just a drizzle of it. Every spoon you fill, you get a morsel from the puff pastry filled with cream and covered with chocolate sauce. It feels like they immersed the puff pastry pieces in chocolate soup. Some desserts shops add tons of pistachios to this concoction. And you can request to have it topped with Turkish Maras ice cream. Then you are in heaven. I tried to make it several times and it came close to my dream one. I hope you get to try too.

Here are two great recipes:



Maras Dondurmasi (Maras ice cream)

My grandfather loved traveling and food. He always created some work reasons to go to places and try their regional food. I remember his stories of visiting the city of Maras. One day, he was telling us about a special ice cream that was available only in Maras. He said, in the heat of summer, there were ropes of white creamy ice cream hanging off the large hooks right in front of the sweet shops. And there was no sign of the ice cream melting. He had to try it. The store owner took a large butcher knife and cut him a two-inch slice. The store had small tables and chairs in the front. My grandfather had to sit down and eat this ice cream with a fork and a knife. I was only five, and that blew my mind. After many years later, Maras dondurmasi became available in every city.

Cutting a slice from a Maras Ice Cream Stalactite (photo from http://www.kahramanmaras46.com/)

Cutting a slice from a Maras Ice Cream Stalactite (photo from http://www.kahramanmaras46.com/)

Maras dondurmasi has four main ingredients plus a lot of patience (if you are making it yourself): milk, sugar, salep, and mastic. Mastic is a resin sap from the mastic tree (from Greece). Salep is the powder made from the bulbs of wild orchids, genus Orchis (including species Orchis Mascula or Orchis Militaris) in the Taurus mountains. Actually hot salep milk is a drink long esteemed in Turkey and Europe for boosting virility (“salep” comes from the Arabic for fox testicle”) 

The bulbs of the orchid contains glucomannan, a long-chained mucilaginous carbohydrate. When dissolved in milk it binds up with water molecules in the milk and block the movement. This thickens the milk. Mastic helps this thickening by giving the ice cream a slight gummy feeling and adds a slight refreshing pine flavor.

If you would like to see how stretchy Maras ice cream is, then just watch this video.

There is a great article in Scienceline about the students from Kent Kirshenbaum’s Lab and the food studies department at New York University making Turkish Maras ice cream with clear explanations of how the polymers work. 

Scientific Study of Maras Ice Cream at New York University

Scientific Study of Maras Ice Cream at New York University

Here is a recipe I tried before and it was delicious:

  • 4 cups of Whole Milk
  • 1 cup of Salep Drink Mix (or Sahlep drink mix) (order online from www.tulumba.com)
  • 1/4 cup of Sugar
  • 2 Pieces of mastic (order online from www.tulumba.com)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla (optional)

Freeze the pieces of gum mastic. Mix it with little sugar. Using a mortar and a pestle or your spice grinder, grind the mastic pieces into powder.

Heat milk to almost boiling point over low heat. Add salep drink mix, gum mastic mixture, and the remaining sugar. Whisk frequently to prevent burning until the milk starts to thicken and gets bubbly. It is even better, if you use a ladle and scoop the mixture and pour back into a pan from a height which helps the stretchy molecules form.

Remove the mixture from the heat and pour into a bowl. Add vanilla. Either using your stand mixer or hand mixer, start whisking on low speed to prevent spattering of hot contents and slowly increase it to the highest speed. Continue whisking for 15 minutes. Cool mixture to room temperature. Transfer to the freezer or you can use your ice cream maker to make it more stretchy.  ENJOY!

Maras Ice Cream with Pistachios

Maras Ice Cream with Pistachios  (www.sahibiantepte.com)

Profiterole with Maras Ice  Cream - The ultimate gift

Profiterole with Maras Ice Cream – The ultimate gift (www.eksitarif.com)


If you are want to make your own traditional Turkish desserts, check out the recipes at Binnur’s Turkish Cookbook website.

If you want to check out the famous dessert shops in Istanbul, there are great recommendations in timeoutistanbul.com 

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2 thoughts on “10 Best Traditional Turkish Desserts in Six Categories – 1. Nuray’s favorites

  1. Pingback: 10 Best Traditional Turkish Desserts in Six Categories – 2nd : Puddings | Landscapes from Turkey

  2. Pingback: Turkish fruit desserts | Landscapes from Turkey

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