After days of experimentation, I discovered how to make turkish delight that is chewy and has an exotic rose flavor like the one I bought in Turkey.
You may have noticed though Instagram that I recently made a stop in Turkey. My family had taken a long needed vacation by going for a one week Eastern European cruise that started in Venice, Italy, and stopped in Croatia, Greece and Turkey.
On a cruise, you only make short stops in each country and only in touristy areas at that, so I can’t proclaim myself to be an expert in Turkish anything of course. That said, rather that picking up an “authentic fake watch,” I couldn’t help but buying a couple of boxes of Turkish delight and two beautiful hand painted dishes on my stop in Kusadasi.
Turkish delight has had my interest piqued ever since I used to watch The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe at my grandparent’s house as a kid and saw how the witch lured in Edmund with promises of this delectable treat. With my love of trying new things, and my obsession with unusual flavors (especially anything with a “perfumed” type flavor like litchees or flowers like roses and lavender), I knew I had to give it a try.
I suspected that I would like turkish delight, but wasn’t prepared for how much I would like it. You see, the only candy I really have a hard time passing on is licorice. Whether it be black, red, or any other new strange version of it, something about the chewy texture has me hooked.
When I ate the first bite of turkish delight, I felt that same sort of instant attraction to its exotic flavors combined with that chewy texture that I adore. Unfortunately, the boxes I had bought were a bit deceiving. The boxes were quite large, but were highly padded inside. I was a bit disappointed to see that I had really only brought back a few pieces of this new treat I loved so much.
If you know me well enough by now, you know that I will try to make anything I see from scratch. So, I was determined to learn how to make turkish delight, and was excited to see so many recipes for it floating around the internet. After comparing a few of them, they all seemed to be pretty similar so I figured it was going to be easy to make, and I excitedly got out my ingredients and had a try at it.
Perhaps I should give bit of a disclaimer before continuing. This is by no means a healthy recipe!! It is much higher in sugar than anything I would normally make, and I’m not a huge fan of cornstarch either, even when organic. I should just say that I was on a vacation, and was a lot less strict about what I ate, and this just seemed like a fun experiment for me afterwards. If I had known what I was getting myself into, perhaps I wouldn’t have done it. But, since I did, you may as well be able to see the results. 🙂
While it is true that a lot of the recipes out there use similar ingredients to those listed on my box of turkish delight and their flavor was also pretty spot on, the texture was a lot lighter and softer, not at all chewy like my box of Turkish delight.
That’s when I realized that the texture was a deal breaker for me! The soft versions of Turkish delight have a lovely perfumed, rose flavor, but I’m overwhelmed by how sweet they are, and not at all attracted to their gooey texture. (It’s not that licorice isn’t sweet, of course, but somehow the texture makes it less overwhelming.)
So, I proceeded to give another recipe a try…
…and then tried to modify a combination of several recipes. I decided that I was armed with knowledge and ready to figure out how to make turkish delight on my own.
I wish I could say that the third time was the charm… or the fouth, or the fifth, for that matter.
I’m almost embarrassed to say how many times I tried to make this Turkish delight.
On the sixth try, I was ecstatic with the texture, and was pretty sure I had finally gotten it right. It was, after all, sweet and chewy and lightly rose flavored. It seemed to be just like the turkish delight I had bought. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the fact that I had some fresh turkish delight from Turkey to try at the same sitting, I would have been convinced that my recipe was spot on.
The problem is I DID have some turkish delight to compare with mine, and while my last attempt was my favorite by far, I still preferred the store bought; not acceptable!
I’m stubborn that way, so I decided to give it one last attempt.
Here are some tips I learned along the way.
First of all, most recipes I found used cream of tartar and stated it was very important for the recipe. After a bit of investigation, I decided that the cream of tartar is probably being used to make an invert sugar at the beginning of the recipe which helps keep your final candy from crystalizing. Here in Spain, though, cream of tartar isn’t very easy to find; nor was it listed in the ingredients on my box of turkish delights.
So what did I do instead?
I used citric acid just as was listed on my box of Turkish delights. To make invert sugar you slowly cook your water, sugar, and citric acid (or cream of tartar) until you end up with a syrup around 236º. Don’t have citric acid or cream of tartar? You can get away with using lemon juice instead. (You’ll have to use a little more lemon juice than you would with citric acid, of course, to account for the fact that lemon juice isn’t purely comprised of citric acid.)
Incidentally some recipes actually added the cream of tartar to the cornstarch mixture rather than to the sugar syrup. I’m not really sure what they were intending to do, but I feel like they sort of missed the point of what the cream of tartar was actually meant to do.
Another thing I found interesting was that most recipes online first made the sugar syrup, which makes sense because you are making an invert sugar to keep your candy from crystalizing, but then they made a separate paste out of cornstarch and water before mixing everything together and cooking for longer. I tried that method at first, but didn’t really see any benefit to making the paste out of the cornstarch and water; instead, it only made for difficult blending later on. I found it much easier to add in the mixture of water and cornstarch and add this “starch milk” to the sugar syrup afterwards, letting it thicken as they are heated together. From what I found by reading about turkish delight production, it seems to me like that is the usual way of making it anyway. I may give that method one last try, though, this time using the sugar syrup heated to a higher temperature than last time. If I do it, I’ll let you know how it goes.
The other problem I was having when it came to texture was trying to get the right combination of chewy and gummy.
When you rely on the cornstarch to thicken the candy, you end up with a semi-solid mass of candy, but it is more like a solid gel and not at all chewy. The original candy has a chewy sort of texture, though, which relies on achieving a certain temperature with the sugar and water.
During my first attempts, I brought the sugar to 240ºF, just above the point where the sugar is inverted, and then added in the cornstarch solution (or a paste made from heating the cornstarch solution with water as I mentioned earlier). I ended up with a sort of rose flavored jelly treat that wasn’t at all chewy, but was more gelatinous in texture (although that doesn’t really describe it well either.)
I then tried heating the sugar solution to the hard ball stage before adding in the cornstarch solution, and I ended up with a chewy turkish delight that wasn’t so powerfully sweet, but instead had a bit of a browned sugar taste reminiscent of flan.
The challenge was to get something in between.
While I would love to say that after 7 attempts, I finally made the “perfect” turkish delight, exactly the same as the box I had bought, I have to admit that it’s close, but slightly different. The texture of my last trial is very, very similar, but the flavor, while close, is very tricky to get just right. Let me explain…
The problem is that there is a lot of room for huge variations in the recipe, even when monitoring temperatures and checking the stages along the way. During my trials with heating the sugar syrup to 260ºF, I found that there was still a lot of variation in the final result dependent upon how long you heat and mix everything together. Once you add in the cornstarch solution, and you mix everything together over low heat, your mixture will become very thick and you’ll probably think you’re done. I made that error once, and molded the turkish delight only to find that once it had cooled, it really hadn’t firmed up much more, and I ended up with a slightly chewy somewhat solid mass that didn’t completely hold up its shape when outside of the fridge. In the fridge, it was close to being perfect, actually, but since the original turkish delight holds its form at room temperature, and I’m quite stubborn, I wasn’t happy with that result.
I actually reheated that batch of turkish delight, and, after “melting” it over low heat, and stirring it for a while longer, I remolded and ended up achieving a turkish delight with great texture. The only problem? I didn’t re-flavor it at the end, and relying on the flavoring from before wasn’t really enough. The rose syrup I used seemed to caramelize a little, and the rose flavor was much more subtle.
Adding the flavoring at the end also has its issues. If you use rose water, you are adding more moisture to the final stage, which, of course, inevitably changes the final texture. I think the trick of the boxed turkish delight is that a mix of natural and artificial flavors is used and added at the end. I did find a recipe from a Turkish girl who was originally from the area in Turkey where rose products are made, and she flavored her turkish delight with rose oil. While that sounds like a great solution, it’s also an expensive one for most of us.
For me, that final stage of deciding when your candy is ready, when to flavor it, and if it needs any further heating after that point, is the decisive part of how your candy will turn out. Even if you follow the recipe exactly, there is a lot of room for variation in your final result.
After trial and error, I found that the best way of pinpointing the point in which the candy was ready is to dip a spoon in the final gel, and then dip it into some ice water to cool it off and check the final texture. When you reach the desired texture, add in the flavorings and check one last time. If necessary, heat the flavored gel a little more over very low heat to regain the texture, but don’t heat it for very long or your flavor will change and become much more subtle.
I hope that explanation didn’t scare you from trying this recipe because even if you don’t end up with a result exactly like mine, the process itself is quick and easy and with subtle variations you can end up achieving all sorts of tasty candies of different textures. My last two trials ended with candies that were slightly different from each other, but both were quite good and similar to my boxed turkish delight in their own way. If you play with the flavorings, the possibilities are endless.