Growing up in a Persian family, there was always a small dish of Turkish delights alongside fruit, nuts, and cookies on our coffee table welcoming our guests at family gatherings. But for many of my friends, growing up in the UK in the 80’s, the first time they came across Turkish delight was when they read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the children’s fantasy novel by C. S Lewis set in the magical land of Narnia. Young Edmund Pevensie is lured by the Witch to betray his family after eating enchanted Turkish delight!
What Is Turkish Delight?
Considered to be the oldest confectionery in the world dating back 500 years, Turkish delight, known as lokum in Türkiye, is the name given to a range of soft-chew candies made with sugar and cornstarch. The most familiar is the traditional rose-flavored Turkish delight, which is usually cut into squares, dusted with a mixture of powdered sugar and cornstarch, and reveals a bright pink color when you bite into it. If you have ever traveled to Türkiye or have been given a souvenir from a friend returning from the country, you may very well be familiar with Turkish delight in this form.
These candies come in many different flavors, fillings and shapes. Walking through the streets of Istanbul is eye-opening due to the variety, all piled high on display in shops and the Spice Bazaar, with sellers enticing you in with free samples to try. Lemon, lime, orange, and mint flavors are but just a few I have tried during my travels. Turkish delight filled with pistachios, hazelnuts, almonds, and/ or wrapped with nougat or rolled in desiccated coconut have also been delicious discoveries.
Origins of Turkish Delight
Whilst Turkish delight has become synonymous with Türkiye, there is some debate as to its origin. The Turkish origin story is connected with Haci Bekir, who opened a confectionery shop in the district of Bahçekapı in 1777, where he began the production of candies made with starch and sugar. Bekir’s Turkish delight production is still in business today and run by his descendants.
Another origin story is that Turkish delight dates back 500 years when candies made with sugar and starch were being made by Persians and Arabs. The Turkish name lokum is derived from the Arabic word luqma, meaning morsel and mouthful, so it may very well be the case that they originated from the Middle East.
The reach and influence of the Ottoman Empire between the 18th and 20th centuries saw Turkish delight making homes in other European countries such as Bulgaria, Greece, and Cyprus, where individual recipes have been evolved over hundreds of years.
Ingredients in Turkish Delight
The list of ingredients to make Turkish delight is brilliantly simple and you may already have all or most of them in your store cupboard. If not, your local supermarket is likely to have all you need.
- Sugar: You can use either extra fine sugar or granulated.
- Lemon juice and zest: This helps to stabilize the sugar syrup by preventing crystals from forming and adds a lovely flavor to the Turkish delight, a little contrast of sharpness to the sweetness.
- Cream of tartar: A stabilizing agent that is a by-product of wine fermentation and used primarily in baking powder, cream of tartar will also prevent crystals forming.
- Cornstarch: This is used both as the agent to set the Turkish delight and mixed with powdered sugar to store the final product.
- Vanilla extract: The recipe below includes vanilla to balance the floral tones of the rose water, but you can leave it out.
- Rose water: The classic and most familiar flavor for Turkish delight. If you are not a fan of rose as a flavor, then see alternative suggestions below.
- Pink food coloring: Absolutely optional but I love the bright pink color of the rose-flavored Turkish delight. Use as little or as much as you want to obtain the perfect color for your candy.
How to Make Turkish Delight
The sugar is combined with lemon juice, zest and water and boiled to make a sugar syrup. This is then mixed with a paste made from the cornstarch, cream of tartar and water. The mixture is then heated for approximately an hour, until it reaches the correct consistency with the flavoring and color being added before being poured into a dish for cooling and setting. Once set, the Turkish delight is dusted with the powdered sugar and cornstarch, cut into bite-size pieces and stored in an airtight container.
The recipe below follows a more traditional homemade version of Turkish delight and for this reason the final product will be a softer chew as it neither contains gelatin or preservatives as commercially made ones often do.
Specialty Equipment and Tips
A candy thermometer is a great aid in this recipe as the sugar syrup has to come to a temperature between the soft-ball stage (240°F) and firm-ball stage (250°F).
A pizza cutter is very useful for cutting the set Turkish delight into even strips and then squares, as it can be a little sticky and difficult to achieve even shapes with a knife. Oil the pizza cutter or knife blade with a little neutral foil to make cutting easier.
Do not try setting or storing the Turkish delight in the fridge, as it will draw water into it and not set. Leave the Turkish delight out a minimum of 12 hours, uncovered, in a dry area until it has set.
Turkish Delight Variations
Once you are comfortable with the process, I encourage you to experiment with different flavors and add-ins. Below are some suggested variations to the Turkish delight recipe.
- Lemon, lime, or orange zest added to the sugar mixture before preparing the syrup allows for a citrus finish to the Turkish delight. Couple these flavors with the matching food coloring (i.e. yellow, green, or orange). You can also use extracts of these flavors as well or instead of using the zest as directed at Step 6 in the recipe below.
- Mint extract coupled with green food coloring makes a refreshing Turkish delight. A great post-dinner digestive candy!
- Try peach essence coupled with an orange or peach food coloring.
- Add whole or coarsely chopped nuts such as pistachios, almonds, or hazelnuts to the mixture before pouring into the dish for setting at Steps 6 and 7 below.
- Dip the rose-flavored Turkish delight in melted dark or milk chocolate to have chocolate covered Turkish delight (my personal favorite).
Classic Turkish Recipes
- Mercimek Çorbası (Turkish Lentil Soup)
- Menemen (Scrambled Eggs With Tomatoes)
- Turkish Braised Green Beans
- How to Make Turkish Coffee
Prepare the pan:
Prepare a metal 8×8-inch pan by greasing it with a little neutral oil or cooking spray and lining it with baking parchment. Once lined, lightly oil or spray the lining and set the pan aside.
Make the sugar syrup:
Place the sugar, lemon juice, zest, and 1 1/2 cups of water in a medium saucepan (at least 2-quart capacity) and stir over low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Turn the heat to high, cover, and bring the mixture to a boil. Boil, covered, for 5 minutes to help dissolve any crystals clinging to the sides of the pot. Then uncover, place the candy thermometer in the saucepan, and let the mixture boil until it reaches a temperature between 240°F and 250°F (this could take anywhere from 7-10 minutes). The final sugar syrup will have a golden hue to it.
Make the cornstarch paste:
Whilst the sugar syrup is boiling, place the cornstarch, cream of tartar, and 2 cups of water in a deep, wide pot or saucepan (at least a 4-quart capacity) over medium heat and whisk until it forms a thick paste, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from the burner and set aside.
Combine the sugar syrup and cornstarch paste:
When the sugar syrup hits between 240°F and 250°F, remove the saucepan from heat.
Place the pan with the cornstarch paste back on low heat and pour in the sugar syrup slowly and in small batches, whisking until it is fully incorporated and ensuring there are no lumps.
Cook the mixture gently for 1 hour:
Increase the heat to high until the combined mixture starts to bubble, then reduce heat to low and let the mixture gently bubble for approximately 1 hour, stirring every few minutes with a wooden spoon throughout this whole process. The mixture will go from a pale straw to a golden color. The markers for it being ready is that the mixture will leave the sides of the pan, can be pulled into the middle and is thick enough to see a clear line when you draw a spoon through it.
Add flavor and color:
When the mixture is thick enough, add the vanilla essence, rose water, and food coloring. Stir until fully incorporated. Turn off the heat.
Mold and set the Turkish delight:
Swiftly pour the mixture into the lined dish. Using the back of a spoon, spread the mixture into all corners of the dish. Oil the spoon if the mixture sticks to the spoon.
The mixture is still very hot at this point—don’t touch it!
Leave uncovered somewhere dry to set overnight.
Cut, finish, and store the Turkish delight:
Take a large bowl and sift 1/2 cup of powdered sugar and 1/4 cup of cornstarch into it. Sprinkle a little of the powder mixture on your work surface. Flip the Turkish delight onto the dusted work surface and peel off the parchment. Sprinkle more of the powder mixture onto the top of the Turkish delight slab.
Take a pizza cutter and oil the blade with a little neutral oil and cut the Turkish delight into 6 equal strips. Then cut the strips into squares (6 per strip, totalling 36 squares) and toss in the bowl with the powder mixture.
Once all squares have been cut and dusted, serve immediately or store in an airtight container in a cool and dry area. The Turkish delight is best enjoyed within 1 week.
Did you love the recipe? Leave us stars below!