04 March 2016

5 Turkish Desserts That Are Not to Be Missed

I have a serious sweet tooth. Which is probably no surprise given the number of baked good recipes I've posted and the dessert bonanza I threw for my 31st. When I moved to Turkey I knew I was looking at a few pretty good domestic desserts but I did not realize the vast array available. Turkey may not have a large variety of some things but it does desserts like no body's business.

One of my favorite places for dessert is Hafiz Mustafa. There are at least four branches in Istanbul and I visit them all pretty regularly. The menu needs to be seen to be believed. They have just about every Turkish dessert in existence: baklavas, candied fruit, Turkish delight (lokum), puddings, cakes, mastic ice cream...it's pretty insane. My favorites are the puddings, particularly the profiterol, sütlaç
and tavuk gümüsü. I usually eat around the profiterols in the profiterol pudding. I don't like them but the hazelnut pudding they're drowning in is amazing. Tavuk gümüsü is often off putting to newbies because the main ingredient is chicken breast. Don't be scared, eat it. It's glorious. Sütlaç, simply described, is rice pudding (served without raisins thankfully). Usually served cold here it's milkier than rice pudding in the States and goes beautifully with cup of Turkish tea.

Choc-pistachio (back) & profiterol pudding

Another famous dessert here is künefe, a dessert Turkey shares in common with the Middle East. I do a bad job describing this dessert which is like cheese filled shredded wheat, baked, and drowned in simple syrup. It's nummy.


This next dessert you have to travel for a little bit. I've only ever found it in Selçuk, home of Ephesus. It doesn't even have name beyond whatever the restaurant calls it: Artemis something something. I don't even like pistachios and I love this thing. It's like a cross between the afore mentioned künefe and baklava. I call it künaklava. Tracing paper thin layers of pastry wrapped around ground pistachios in the manner of kol bureği, then circled in a dish, baked with simple syrup, and served hot with kaymaklı ice cream (we'll talk more about kaymak eventually). If Ephesus doesn't 'flip your Twinkie' as a friend of mine is fond of saying, it's still worth the trip for this dessert which I've only ever seen at the Agora Restaurant in Selçuk.


Dessert is not just a restaurant thing here. Street food vendors also play their part. Lokma are one of my favorite desserts here and it's probably a good thing that there aren't any vendors in my neighborhood, or even the surrounding neighborhoods that sell them. Sometimes there's someone selling them near the spice market, there are a couple vendors in Ortaköy, and one in Eyüp. Personally though, the best are on Büyükada which is the only reason I ever agree to go out there. Lokma are like donuts but are really so much more. Dough balls are piped out of a pastry bag into hot oil where they're fried until golden and crisp. They're then scooped out and swirled around in some sort of honey syrupy goodness. Sometimes they're topped with pistachio powder (ick) but I prefer a dash of cinnamon (tarçin). You will never know the heaven that is a fresh batch if you're lucky enough to get one. After the initial crunch of the outer layer they basically just melt in your mouth.

Beautiful lokma goodness.

Last, but certainly not least-baklava. Baklava is nearly as ubiquitous as tea here and there are so many kinds! Baklava is really kind of fascinating. Like "Turkish" coffee there are a lot of regional arguments between the Turks, Greeks, and Arab countries over who invented it and each country does baklava differently. Lauren I think prefers Iraqi baklava. We both agree the stuff they make in Dearborn, MI should never be eaten and that the Greeks need to pull back a little on all the honey they dump all over theirs. I prefer Turkish baklava. Unarguably the best comes from Gaziantep, Turkey (frankly all food in Turkey gets better the farther East you go) but in lieu of flying to Antep you can get some pretty decent baklava in Istanbul. My favorite places to go are Ali Usta (several branches in the Sultanahmet area) and Göllüoğl, one of the most famous baklava places in Turkey. 

As I said there are so many kinds of baklava using not only pistachios but hazelnuts and walnuts (my favorite). You can even find chocolate baklava made with chocolate pastry and oozing chocolate sauce. 

Those on the far right are my absolute favorites.
There are so many more desserts than this; this is merely an overview of some of my favorites. Don't take my word for it though! Visit Turkey, try all the desserts, and find your own favorites.

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