The first item that comes to mind in Turkish confectionery is Turkish Delight (Turkish: lokum). However, there are many more items in this category and my favorite one is not Turkish delight. It is Pismaniye. Then there is macun, akide sekeri, candied almonds and chickpeas, and many more.
I am writing this again on a cold day right after lunch. And I have the ingredients to make some of these. Let’s see how long I can write before I go to the kitchen and start making a delicious dessert. Unfortunately, it is my weakness. I can skip dinner and just eat dessert tonight.
Pismaniye (Turkish Cotton Candy): Although, pismaniye looks like cotton candy, the ingredients are different. It has sugar, butter, and flour and many times is sprinkled with pistachios. There is also a chocolate variety.
What I love about pismaniye is its texture: silky strands of cloud-like candy with a definite buttery taste. It surpasses cotton candy many more times. It is addictive; just keep pulling strands holding the plate close to your mouth so that you do not lose even a single piece while eating.
Making pismaniye at home is almost impossible (that is, for me), since it requires heavy muscles and a lot of pulling (see video). You better just buy a box of it and indulge yourself as I do whenever I go to Turkey. Instead of bringing Turkish delight as a souvenir, I usually opt for pismaniye.
The dessert appears in the poem by the Iranian poet Ebu Ishak in 1423 or 1427 as pashmak, meaning “wool-like” in Persian. The dessert might have also come from Egypt.
You can purchase great pismaniye at:
Macun (meaning “paste”): During my elementary school years in Ankara, every time we left the school, there would be a line of street vendors with their trays filled with desserts or savory foods meeting hungry and happy children. The most colorful dessert display was the macuncu’s (meaning “the vendor selling paste” in Turkish). With our few coins in our pockets, we needed to pick and choose. And macun was one of my favorites because of its delightful brilliant colors and the aromatic sweet taste. And, of course, the instant sugar rush I need after a long day at school.
The ingredients of macun include sugar, water, cream of tartar, citric acid, some spices or fruit essences and natural fruit coloring. Unfortunately, nowadays, the bright colors come from food coloring. The macuncu’s tray has five sections and each one is filled with brightly colored aromatic glistening sugar candy. He uses a spatula or a knife to help swirl the colorful candy, one color at a time around a wooden stick. These colorful swirls on the wooden sticks look like individual art works of the artisan macuncu. He is the maestro. There is one macuncu in the Sultanahmet area. You can find him if you take a walk down from Sultanahmet towards Eminonu on the main street where trams operate.
The origins of macun go back to Sumerians. During the Ottoman period, the macun was called “mesir macunu”, also known as the “Padisah macunu”, and became a cure for many illnesses in addition to be celebrated as a libido enhancer for the Sultans.
In 2015, the Annual Manisa Mesir Festival will celebrate its 475th year. Hundreds of chefs replicate mesir macunu with 41 herbs and spices (from ginger to cinnamon to Indian flower to turmeric to saffron to mustard seed) and produce many tons of it. All wrapped in shiny papers, imams toss them to the crowds from the Manisa’s Sultan Mosque’s minaret and domes. Mesir Macunu is recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Akide Sekeri (Akide Candy): Another childhood memory! When I was in high school, we used to live in Kizilay, smack in the center of Ankara. Around the corner of our street, on the main boulevard, there was a confectionery store: Hacibekir. They had jars lined up on the glass displays filled with colorful Akide Sekeri and candied almonds (“Badem Sekeri in Turkish).
Akide sekeri are hard bite size Turkish candies made from sugar, water, citric acid, cream of tartar, and flavored with cinnamon, orange, lemon, mint, rosewater, and fruits. Some of them are filled with hazelnuts and sesame seeds.
Akide means “fidelity” in the Turkish dictionary. During the Ottoman period Akide Sekeri was distributed to Janissaries on the salary day, which is quarterly, as a sign that the Sultan is pleased with their service.
Later in Ottoman periods, and into today, there are traditional Sekerci stores that continue to sell Akide Sekeri in their large glass jars.
Leblebi Sekeri (Candied Chickpeas) and Badem Sekeri (Candied Almonds): This is where my grandfather Kara Mehmet’s memory pours in. Just read the section about him in my book Pomegranates and Grapes, then you will know why and how I loved him so much. There was a little grocery store on the narrow dusty main street of Tasucu, the little Mediterranean fishing village where my grandfather lived, and the owner was probably a relative of us or one of my grandfather’s hundred or so friends. I would go to the store and buy a handful of candied chickpeas and leave without paying for it. I knew my grandfather would pay him somehow. Every roasted unsalted chick pea was covered with while starchy sugar. The best way to eat it is to bite each one in half to feel the change of taste from crunchy sugar coating to melting-in-the-mouth chickpea taste.
Badem Sekeri is even better especially if they are made with almonds that have been toasted to perfection that you can still taste the burnt almond inside. Make sure you buy them at the traditional confectionery stores, not at a supermarket. They make the best ones.
If you attend any Turkish wedding ceremony, it is guaranteed that you will be receiving a thank you gift of tulle-wrapped Badem Sekeri.
Lokum (Turkish Delight): Lokum is the well-known star of the Turkish confectionary red carpet. There are many stories about the origin of these little morsels and I could not find any reliable information about it as I search my way through the Internet gossip columns. Some claim Haci Bekir invented it around the year he opened the first confectionery store in Istanbul in 1777. Haci Bekir’s store in Bahcekapi, near Eminonu, is still functioning as the oldest store in Turkey and the one of the 100 oldest stores in the world. Deniz Gursoy, in his book “Turkish Cuisine in Historical Perspective” talks about a dessert called “abhisa”, and later called “rahat’l hulkum” (meaning “comfort of the throat ) as the grandfather of lokum created during the reigns of Sasanian Empire in Persia (226-652 BCE). Of course, many of the countries around the region claim that they created lokum.
Lokum was introduced to Europe, as Turkish Delight, in the 19th century by a British merchant visiting Istanbul. He probably purchased them from the same store where I bought boxes of it. It became very popular, especially in England, with C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe from the Chronicles of the Narnia.
Lokum has simple ingredients: sugar, corn starch and gelatin. What makes it so delightful is what you add to these simple ingredients: rose water, lemon, nuts (my favorite: pistachios), orange, pomegranates, mint, and many more. Then, you get these sweet soft gelatin-like fragrant morsels in many flavors covered with powdered sugar or coconut flakes.
I never tried it, but here is a recipe from Ozlem’s Turkish Table.
Prep time: 15 minutes (plus setting overnight) Cooking time: about 25 minutes
Makes about 64 small squares
25gr/1oz icing sugar
100gr/3 1/2 oz corn flour
700gr/1 1/2lb caster sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tbsp powdered gelatine (* see for a vegetarian gel option)
Roasted pistachios or walnuts or hazelnuts (optional)
Red or pink coloring – optional
2 tbsp rose water
Directions: (follow Ozlem’s step by step instructions with visuals on her website)
Line a 20.5 cm (8in) square baking tin with a cling film. Sift icing sugar and 25g (1oz) of the corn flour into a small bowl. Sprinkle a little over the base and sides of the tin. Set bowl aside.
Put caster sugar, lemon juice and 400ml (14fl oz) water into large pan. Heat gently until dissolved – do not boil. In a small bowl, mix the remaining corn flour with 100ml (3 1/2 fl oz) cold water, and then stir into sugar syrup. Sprinkle gelatin over liquid and stir with balloon whisk to break up lumps. Bring to boil, then simmer over medium heat for 20 minutes, whisking often. The mixture should thicken and turn pale yellow.
Remove from heat and whisk in a little food coloring to turn mixture into light pink (optional). Set aside for 5 min. Stir in rose water and pour into tin. Leave to set in a cool place overnight.
Dust a board with some reserved corn flour mixture, and then invert Turkish Delight on to it. Remove tin; peel off the cling film. Cut into cubes, and then roll each gently in corn flour mixture to coat.
Store in an airtight container with remaining corn flour mixture at cool room temperature for up to one month. To pack as gifts, sprinkle a little corn flour mixture into a bag to stop sweets sticking.
Lokum is best when served with Turkish coffee. And, you need only a couple of morsels to appreciate the richness.
Bon Appetite! Afiyet Olsun!