Saturday, June 14, 2014

Cooking Historical Turkish Delight...for Edmund from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

I have recently joined a historical cooking group with bimonthly challenges, called the Historical Food Fortnightly. Our first challenge is literature. We have recently studied WWII, so of course I immediately thought of CS Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which intriguingly references Turkish Delight. In the book, the witch entices Edmund with the confection, who cannot seem to resist, and thus the plot thickened!


I've always wondered what this delicacy could possibly be, so this seemed perfect for the first cooking challenge. Of course many of us are most familiar with this confection because of the book and movie. About the time the movie came out I started seeing Turkish Delight for sale in boxes wrapped in plastic in the various stores. I wasn't sure how authentic it would be. I've read on some sites that most of that candy isn't any where near as tasty as homemade.

The authentic location to purchase Turkish Delight, or Lokum as it's called in Turkey, is a Turkish store that continues to be run by descendants of the creator of the enticing confection, Haci Bekir. They can even be ordered on-line. I've read that Haci Bekir, whose store bears his name, created Lokum in 1777. Lokum was previously made a bit differently, with honey, molasses, flour and water. However when the newly imported beet sugar arrived in Turkey, Haci Bekir (a name he earned after a pilgrimage), reworked the old recipe with a combination of water, sugar, and cornstarch. This "firm, chewy jelly" (as The Telegraph accurately describes it), so delighted the sultan that Haci Bekir became chief confectioner of the Ottoman Court. As a result he traveled the world and earned accolades that are now displayed at the Haci Bekir confectionary in Turkey, the family business that continues to operate five generations later.

In the 19th century a British gentleman traveled to Turkey, and brought some Lokum home with him. However he called it Turkish Delight. I can imagine why. It doesn't taste like anything I have tasted before. I am also delighted that in rereading my notes, that my homemade version perfectly matches the description of the Turkish confection, that of a soft geletin-like nature (although no gelatin is used) with a subtle flavor.

I chose to use rosewater, although I've read that orange and lemon are also traditional flavors. Today many more flavors abound such as cherry, mint, and pistacchio. I shared a plate with my neighbor and the baby wanted more! Although rosewater was a bit daunting during the cooking process, indeed it did smell like Grandma's bathroom soap, it takes on a subtle flavor in the end. As we tasted our work in stages, we thought, "Okay, that is doable." By the time we arrived at the final product, it was interestingly tasty. Not too sweet. Not too strong. Not chewy. My daughter said it melted in her mouth. However I must say, that as I write this report, I am intrigued by all the other flavor possibilities and want to make many more versions.
Here is a great article from The Telegraph about the family, history and confection. This delightful story from the Sidney Morning Herald Traveller shows a picture of the beautiful store, Haci Bekir, as well as close-ups of Turkish Delight in their beautiful packaging. This report from CNN discusses Turkish Delight from several Istanbul vendors but concedes that the most historic version is from Haci Bekir. For more on the history and various flavor combination ideas, read "The History of Turkish Delight" from the English Tea Store. However I used this recipe for Turkish Delight from this site.

My daughter helped me to make this. We started on Thursday afternoon and today we finished, on Saturday. This three day process obviously needs lots of patience! Also Thursday and Friday were high humidity days due to lots of rain. I feared starting it, so I did lots of research. It seems as though the key would be to give the candy longer time to dry out. At one forum, as one commenter mentioned, this is not fudge which is carefully kept under wraps to preserve moisture. Instead Turkish Delight is a confection that needs to dry out. If it's too humid, more time to dry out should fix the problem. Actually it was no problem for us even though I wasn't sure what to expect. I carefully read and reread the recipe that is linked above and below. I followed each step. Then in rereading the articles I had saved, all the pictures I see and descriptions I read are exactly like our Turkish Delight!

Here is the first stage, where the sugar water mixture needed to come to soft boil stage. I figured out my candy thermometer was not correctly calibrated,even when I thought I adjusted according to a boiling water test.


Instead we used the old fashioned ice water method. Can you see the soft ball stage candy at the 9:00 section of the ice water?


I picked it up and put it in my daughter's hand. This was definitely soft ball stage. It did not pick up in a perfect ball but it definitely and easily formed a ball when I laid it in her hand.


This was our cornstarch/water/cream of tarter mixture. It was so stiff the wooden spoon could stand straight up.


We had to switch to larger pots, but I stirred the syrup mixture into the cornstarch mixture.


This is what it looked like. To the mixture I added rosewater which I had purchased at the Colonial Williamsburg historic shop, The Greenhow Store. Rosewater is highly traditional to the Turkish Delight and to Turkey as well. In fact Haki Bakir's number one flavor of Turkish Delight that they sell is their most traditional flavor, dating back to the sultan's first taste in 1777... rosewater. I also added a few drops of red food coloring, with the goal to make pink...again like the sultan's.


I greased a large sheet cake pan.  I knew this would make more and thinner pieces, but I thought it would help the humidity problem by drying out quicker. The next morning, Friday morning, I could see the candy pulling away from the sides of the pan. It looked like it was losing excess moisture.


I resisted adding the cornstarch, but in desparation to meet this challenge deadline, by Friday evening after dinner I sprinkled cornstarch all over it because it was still sweating.


I used this to sift the cornstarch all over it


A few hours later when I went to bed, the top finally felt dry. You can see how some of the cornstarch had "disappeared." I had read that was to be expected.


I put a parchment paper length onto a large cookie sheet, inverted it on top of the pan and flipped it to reveal the bottom side. Pink! I think the color was easier to see with the parchment paper underneath! It was very damp. Therefore I dusted this with cornstarch, although I forgot to take a picture of that step. Then I covered it in plastic wrap and aluminum foil, since the plastic wrap didn't stick to the pan. I did this to keep from enticing ants.


Saturday morning I removed the plastic wrap and aluminum foil and felt the top of the candy. It was dry! You can also see how much of the cornstarch had been absorbed. It was completely white the night before.


I sprayed a dough scraper with Pam cooking spray then cut the candy into squares.


Then I dipped each candy into a bowl of cornstarch, coating each of the sides. I spread them apart to dry.


Here's a close-up of what's on the baking sheet.  Although the candy had felt dry, as I carefully pulled them off the paper, it was obviously moist underneath and inside.  I had to be super careful. Also this proves the benefit of coating each piece in cornstarch.


The directions of the recipe said the candy might be ready in 30 minutes to coat in sugar, however I had time so I gave it a couple of hours more. I noticed that very little cornstarch had been absorbed. Now I coated each piece, all over, in a confectioner sugar/cornstarch mixture. Again I let them out, spaced out, to dry. This made 106 pieces, however remember I used a large sheet cake pan instead of a regular cake pan which would yield larger and fewer pieces. These are thinner than usual but no one has complained.


My daughter's manager found out about the candy making last night and recognized the name from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. She asked if she could have a piece, so I sent some to work with my daughter tonight. My daughter is now home and said the manager asked about the subtle flavor...which oddly reminded her of...roses! She was quite surprised by the unexpected texture. It's indescribable because it's like nothing I've had in America, although I do think the above links described it as well as one possibly could. When I first read them I couldn't imagine what they meant, until I tasted it and reread the articles for writing this post. I do believe our homemade Turkish Delight is spot on!

I also took a plate over to our next door neighbor because they always share homemade candies with us at Christmas time. The baby wanted more!

And now for the Historical Food Fortnightly details:


The Challenge: #1 Literature

The Recipe: From the food blog post "My Adventures Making (and Researching) Turkish Delight I am so glad that she shared all of her tips and tricks which helped me enormously.  I'm sure my attempts would have failed otherwise. Instead our Turkish Delight came out perfectly!

The Date/Year and Region: Turkey, 1777

How Did You Make It: My daughter helped me make this. We boiled a water/sugar/lemon juice mixture to the softball stage. Into that we incorporated a cornstarch/water/cornstarch mixture. To that we added rosewater/red food coloring. We spread it out on a large sheetcake pan to dry. Then we sifted cornstarch on top, and later we flipped it to sift cornstarch on the bottom layer, to help it dry. Then we cut it in squares and dipped it in cornstarch to dry again. After that we dipped each square in a confectioner sugar/cornstarch mixture, to dry again. Then we ate it! 

Time to Complete: 3 days! Patience is required!

Total Cost: Less than $3

How Successful Was It?: Perfectly beguiling!

How Accurate Is It?: Very.


  1. What a wonderful challenge and you mastered it! I look forward to following your adventure along.
    Blessings, Dawn

  2. Wow! It's amazing. I don't think I'd have the patience to make this... and our house is humid. But ooooh. And it's great how one era took you to a completely different era in your research!

  3. Thanks! This was such a fun project! I have a lot of new literary appreciation for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe now!