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Turkish sweets - a lucky dip

"Let's eat sweet, talk sweet" Turkish saying

My lucky dip book this time is one of Claudia Roden's, and actually one of my favourite books of hers - Arabesque - which introduces us to three Mediterranean cuisines - Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon - arguably the pick of the Mediterranean - well if you ignore France and Italy. No, let's not go there - virtually all of the cuisines of the Mediterranean are wonderful, each one distinctive, and yet culturally related to all of those around them.

This is never more so than with the cuisine of Turkey - the country that straddles two continents and a host of cultures, and which ruled the Eastern end of the Mediterranean for literally centuries. I have never been there. The closest I ever got to it was a glimpse from an aeroplane window on our way home from a holiday in Italy and France. I had been asleep - well as asleep as one ever is on an aeroplane - woke up and looked out of my window to see this magical sight of a lit up Istanbul. Well I think it was Istanbul although admittedly it does not look big enough here - but is that the Hagia Sophia shining in the centre?

A final touch of magic at the end of a holiday anyway, almost an other worldly experience. As colourful and jewel like as Turkish desserts.

Of course we all know about baklava and Turkish delight. Turkish delight is genuinely a specific Turkish dessert, although baklava is also Greek, Cypriot, Syrian - well it's everywhere now. Halva is another well-known one but there are many others.

It seems that although they are indeed served at the end of a meal, with tea or coffee to signify that nothing more is coming - said one writer, they are also largely consumed as an afternoon snack between meals - like Nigel Slater and his biscuits. Not 'Me time' though - it's a chance to socialise with friends and family. They also are hugely important at every festival, celebration and religious ceremony.

"sweets are the first item of food that is decided upon when a celebration is planned. They symbolise hope that a marriage will be happy, that a child will be healthy, that a family will prosper. They also signal that a guest is welcome." Claudia Roden

"Every social occasion had a dessert associated with it: When infants were born, their mouths were smeared with syrup to assure a future filled with honeyed words; funerals brought pudding like flour or semolina helva, as they still do today ... Because Muslims are not allowed to drink wine or alcohol, syrupy fruit juices called sherbets and other confections were created for religious ceremonies and royal gatherings." Melissa Clark - New York Times

I must admit I rather like the idea of the new-born infant and honey to 'assure a future filled with honeyed words.' I wonder if they do it in hospitals too, or is it a tradition that is only continued in villages and homes?

Melissa Clark's article on Turkish sweets by the way is an interesting read, and there is also a video in which she demonstrates one of those puddings - one of the milky variety - Turkish sweets are the essence of a nation. For Turkish desserts seem to divide into four basic categories - pastries like baklava, fruit dishes, halva and milky puddings. Today, because this is a lucky dip I am just dipping my toe into this with three fruit desserts.

The actual page that I chose just had those brief words on dessert from Claudia Roden and a still life of some quinces - a very popular fruit in Turkish cuisine. On the next two pages are three desserts - two from apricots and one from oranges. The BooksVooks site has reproduced the three recipes here.

But let's look at them to see what's interesting - if anything - about them.

The first is Kaymakli Kayisi Tatlisi - Apricots stuffed with cream, and these do look rather good.

This recipe used dried apricots Turkey is famous for its dried apricots - I think you will find that many of the dried apricots on the supermarket shelf are from Turkey. Maybe the dried apricots are used because you have to poach them in a syrup. I suspect that, nevertheless the recipe could be made with fresh apricots. You would just have to omit the overnight soaking and probably the poaching time would be shorter.

This is the only one of my three recipes that has an 'amateur' trying it out - in this case - Karl and Philip of Feral Cooks and because it is not Claudia Roden herself, they have added some tips and things to watch out for. The last picture above is their version. They recommend the toothpicks for example because they are sticky. The cream they use in Turkey is water buffalo cream, so good luck with getting your hands on that here, although maybe one day. You can certainly get Australian buffalo mozzarella now, so maybe cream will follow. So Claudia Roden suggests using mascarpone instead - or clotted cream - also not really available here, although the Meander Valley pure cream sold in Coles is pretty close.

The other apricot recipe - Kayisi Kompostosu - is a version of a spoon sweet and really is just a fruit compote - apricots (1kg) poached in 500ml water and 200g sugar, and finished off with the reduced syrup and some nuts - almonds, pistachios, pine nuts. These are various pictures I found on the net. Very, very simple though. Almost boring, but cooked apricots are just lovely. Apricot time is coming soon.

My last recipe is, I think Claudia Roden's version of a pumpkin or quince paste-like confection called Kabak tatlisi (on the left) and Ayva tatlisi (on the right).

Alas although the recipes are online in that BooksVooks site, there are no pictures. She describes it as "orange jelly with orange slices ... It is set with cornflour and is not as firm as a jelly set with gelatine." So I really do not know that it is at all the same as the two deserts shown above. What she does is boils 1 litre orange or mandarin juice with 125g sugar. 70g of dissolved cornflour is stirred in vigorously until thick, then cooked over low heat for 15 minutes. 3 oranges, are peeled and sliced, then each slice cut into four and added to the cooled juice. Pour into serving bowl(s) cover with plastic film and chill. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and whipped cream. I really don't know that they are at all the same thing as the above because she does have a recipe for Ayva tatlisi - which to her is roast quinces - and I guess the quinces in the picture above could be just roast quinces.

But sweet - that's what Turkish desserts are and best enjoyed with some Turkish coffee probably. I could fancy some now, but all I have are Nigel Slater's biscuits that I made yesterday. They are Ok but not quite like the ones in his picture - much chewier on the inside, and I certainly couldn't roll them into a ball - far too runny for that. And very sweet. Not sure what I did wrong. But I could fancy one with a cup of espresso.

If you ever find Claudia Roden's book in an op shop though - grab it. There is so much more in it than Turkish sweets. She has a wonderful creamier version of spanakopita for example. That's Turkish too.

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