After all those mezze plates, some Turkish desserts are definitely in order! Ayran, as I now know, (but did not know on my first day in Turkey), is not a dessert. It is the opposite of a dessert. What I was right about, is that it is served chilled and made from blended yogurt. But, what I didn’t know, is that this is flavoured with salt, and sometimes, raw garlic. So, when I confidently ordered my first ayran, expecting a sweet little beverage with which to end my very first meal in Istanbul, I was alarmed to get a mouthful of thick and salty natural yogurt. Thankfully, I was fortunate enough to have been spared the garlic!
So, this recipe is not for ayran, but for my ‘fantasy ayran’ – the sweet and spiced chilled drink I had imagined I was ordering. (If you want to try the authentic stuff, thin some natural yoghurt with iced water and stir through salt and crushed garlic. I suspect it is less alarming if you are expecting it, though probably still something that it is fair to politely call an ‘acquired taste.’) My ayran is more like lassi but minus the fruit; it capitalises on the myriad yogurt options on offer in my new Middle-Eastern home; and is a wonderful excuse to raid the spice cupboard. Serve it as a little sweetener in Turkish tea cups after a mezze feast, or any time, accompanied by some little squares of homemade Turkish delight.
As a recent convert to Turkish delight (following an epiphany-like moment in Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar - see the earlier '33 hours in Istanbul' post), I was pretty excited to dig out the sugar thermometer and try making some of my own. The possible flavour combinations are pretty mind-boggling when you get to thinking about them, but, for my first attempt, I decided to play it safe and stick with the classic rosewater.
You should be able to pick up a bottle of rosewater from a Middle Eastern supermarket, (or any decently stocked supermarket nowadays). Unfortunately, there is no getting around the sugar thermometer in this recipe, so, if you don’t have one, beg, borrow, steal, (or buy!). It is definitely worth it - homemade Turkish delight is much softer than the rubbery store bought stuff, and much more delicious too.
(Makes four small glasses)
- 720 mls of plain laban (drinking yogurt) or 500g of natural yogurt, blended with water to make 720mls.
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 20 cloves - crushed with a pestle and mortar
- 5 cardamon pods – seeds extracted (discard the pods) and crushed with a pestle and mortar
- 5 tsbp Acacia honey
- 100mls warm water
Dissolve the honey in the warm water and put aside to cool.
Take the chilled laban from the fridge and pour into a jug. Mix through the majority of the crushed and ground spices (reserving just a little to sprinkle atop the individual serves). If you are using set yogurt instead, place this in a blender with 220mls of cold water. Blend on high until you have a drinking consistency. Add the spices and blend together briefly.
Add the honey, and vigorously mix or blend through thoroughly.
To serve, pour into individual glasses, and sprinkle the reserved ground spices on top
Turkish Delight Ingredients
- 675g caster sugar
- 800 mls water
- 120g cornflour (cornstarch)
- 1 tsp cream of tartar
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 1½ tbsp rosewater
- A couple of drops of red food colouring
- Small block of cold butter for greasing
- Icing sugar to dust
Start by lining a sandwich pan with aluminium foil. To do this, measure out an ample amount of foil and place it flat on the bench. Take the block of butter and rub this carefully across the surface of the aluminium foil until it is well-greased, leaving a border of ungreased foil around the edge. Taking care to crease as little as possible, line the tin with the greased foil, leaving the ungreased sections overhanging the pan edges. These will act as handles later on.
In a medium saucepan, heat the sugar, lemon juice, and 270mls of the water, over medium heat. Stir the sugar until it dissolves, place the sugar thermometer in the pot, and proceed to bring the mixture to a boil.
Continue to allow the mixture to boil, without stirring. Keep an eye on the sugar thermometer - as it reaches 105˚C, begin to prepare the rest of the ingredients. Pour the remaining water (530mls) into another, slightly larger, saucepan. Add the cornflour and cream of tartar, and stir vigorously to combine, until you have a smooth lump-free paste. I find the texture of cornflour really challenging, so this is a bit like nails on a blackboard for me. Such a relief when it stops being so fine and squeaky, and is finally fully incorporated into the water.
Now, place the saucepan over a medium heat and keep stirring until the mixture comes to a boil, becoming very thick and paste-like as it does so.
When the sugar reaches 112˚C (soft ball stage), remove it from the heat. Set the thermometer aside, and then, very slowly and carefully, pour the hot sugar into the cornflour paste, stirring all the while, until the two are fully combined.
The mixture now requires an hour or so, on a very low heat to allow it to thicken. Keep an eye on things while it does so, and give it a good stir every ten minutes. After an hour, the mixture with become yellow-ish in colour, gloopy, and much thicker.
When this has happened, remove from the heat and stir in the rosewater (don’t be tempted to go to nuts with this as a little goes a long way). Next, add the food-colouring drop by drop, (mixing thoroughly between each), and stopping when you’ve reached a shade that you find pretty. Carefully pour the mixture into your lined sandwich tin, and then put aside, uncovered, to set overnight.
The following day, lift the delight out of the pan very carefully by gripping onto the foil ‘handles.’ Ease the edges of the delight away from the foil a little by hand, before turning this over, onto a bench-top dusted with a generous amount of icing sugar. Peel the foil off the top of the delight slab, and then use a sieve to dust more icing sugar over its surface.
To cut, dig out the largest knife you have and carefully grease its blade, (once again employing our little block of butter). Cut the delight into small squares, re-greasing the blade after each slice. Roll each square in icing sugar until coated and no longer sticky to the touch.
Eat immediately, or at least the same day, as homemade Turkish delight does not store like the shop-bought stuff.
Happy with the results of this first foray into Turkish confectionary, I am very tempted to try out some different flavour combinations… Especially exciting I think, is the idea of incorporating puréed fruit – raspberry, mango, date (is date insane?). How about green-tea delight for a Japanese twist? Or, if this is too extreme, mint-tea in the very least? It may have to wait for another day now though as, with cupboards still full of delight purchased from Istanbul, and my latest concoction to eat now as well, I sense a serious sugar-low coming on…
If you have a higher tolerance, and are keen to do some experimentation, all the very best of luck, and do let me know how you get on.
Some pictures of the bazaar-bought delight for inspiration and comparison!