Turkish Delight

People keep asking me for a Turkish Delight recipe. Must be the creeping fingers of the Snow Queen; I am the only person I know who’s not been to see the Narnia film, and while I remain relatively unmoved by sweeties, everybody else is begging for chunks of fragrant goo.

CS Lewis was on to a good thing when he had the boy Edmund betray Narnia for little cubes of this scented, sticky sweetmeat. Lokum, or Turkish Delight, is undeniably delicious, and it’s a recipe with history. According to the story, five hundred years ago, Sultan Abdul Hamid called all his sweet-makers together, and ordered them each to make a new and delicious confectionary to keep the women in his harem quiet and happy. One came back with a tray of petal-soft, flower-scented Turkish delight, and the Sultan was so pleased with it that he immediately appointed the man as his Chief Confectioner, and served the sweet daily.

History does not relate whether the women became quiet. My guess is that whatever happened, they probably became quite plump.

The craze for things Turkish which spread around Europe in the 1770s and 1780s (just think about the entertainment at the time, like Mozart’s Die Entfürung aus dem Serail, with the executions and the gauzy Turkish ladies running around the seraglio pursued by manly Janissaries with curving swords and even more curving moustaches. You don’t need to be awfully perceptive to see why things Turkish had such appeal) made sweetmeats like this all the more popular, and Turkish Delight was swapped by courting couples and given as a fashionable gift.

Unlike some quicker recipes, this old-fashioned recipe doesn’t use gelatine. Instead, the Turkish Delight is thickened with cornflour and caramelised sugar (and is suitable for vegetarians, if you’re feeling full of festive goodwill and wish to feed the poor afflicted things). Try this recipe rather than one with gelatine. It takes a bit longer, but the texture is more authentic and so much better than the texture you get with gelatine that it well justifies the extra fiddle.

For 80 pieces (40 orange-flower flavour, 40 rose flavour) you’ll need:

4 cups sugar
4 1/2 cups water
Juice of 1 lime
1 cup cornflour (cornstarch for Americans)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar (this stops the mixture from crystalising)
1 tablespoon essence of rose water
1 tablespoon essence of orange-flower water (both of these ingredients are made by the English Provender Company and are available in the UK in supermarkets)
1 cup icing sugar (confectioners’ sugar for Americans)
1/4 cup extra cornflour

Begin by boiling the sugar with the lime juice and 1 1/2 cups of water. Use a jam thermometer and remove from the heat when the syrup reaches the soft ball stage (115C).

While you are boiling the sugar syrup, combine the cream of tartar and a cup of cornflour with three cups of cold water. (Using cold water should prevent lumps.) Mix well and bring up to a simmer, stirring all the time. Continue stirring at a simmer until the mixture has made a thick, gluey paste. Stir the sugar syrup into this paste. (If you end up with lumps at this stage, push everything into a saucepan through a sieve with the back of a ladle.)

Simmer the sugar and cornflour mixture, stirring every few minutes, until it’s a golden-honey colour and about 120C (this is halfway between soft and hard ball on your jam thermometer, and will take about an hour). Divide the mixture into two, and pour it into two prepared trays lined with oiled cling film (American readers – this is what we call Saran wrap over here). Add a tablespoon of rose water and a few drops of pink food colouring to one and stir, a tablespoon of orange-flower water to the other, and stir. Cover and chill for a few hours until set.

Turn out the wobbling sections. You will be glad for that oiled cling film. Slice the set Turkish Delight into cubes, and roll in a mixture of 1 cup icing sugar and 1/4 cup cornflour so that they don’t stick together. Set before the ravening hordes. If, unaccountably, they don’t raven their way through the whole lot in one go, store in airtight boxes between layers of greaseproof paper, well-dusted with the icing sugar/cornflour mixture.

29 Replies to “Turkish Delight”

  1. I have a problem…. I made turkish delight using a recipe exactly like this one, When I dusted it in the icing sugar/cornflour mix, the turkish delight kept ‘sweating’ so now I just have lots of shiny turkish delight with lots of rose-flavoured icing around them! I have decided just to coat them all with chocolate instead, but what did I do wrong??!

  2. Hi there
    I had the same problem when I put my turkish delight made from this recipe in a plastic container.
    When I left it out on a plate with air around it, it was fine. Not sure if that was any help 🙂

  3. A couple of helpful tips – firstly, make sure you turn out the turkish delight onto a surface dusted in icing sugar, or it might end up glued to it!

    Secondly, store the turkish delight in a container lined with greaseproof paper, and leave it sat in the icing sugar mix used for dusting. This should absorb the ‘sweating’ and stop it sticking.

  4. Hi Anon. Cup sizes are actually a standard volume measurement (particularly in America) – I’m not using one I’ve picked out of the cupboard at random! Long story, but it’s from when the settlers were moving into remote areas and couldn’t afford the space and weight on their travels that a set of scales would take up; they’re useful when you’re cooking because you can operate by volume rather than by weight.

    The cup in question is the same size as a traditional English teacup – if you have an old Wedgwood, Royal Doulton or similar service in the family with teacups and saucers, they’ll be exactly the right size. You can also buy standard measuring cups in any cookery shop (some come in sets so you have dinky half-sized cups as well so you don’t have to guess at measurements in recipes which call for half or third cups). This is a very useful set of cup volume/weight conversions if you don’t have a suitable measuring cup.

  5. Hi there, I would like to make Turkish delight as a present for a friend – How long can it be stored for & how should it be stored?

  6. i do not have a sugar thermometer but figured i would know when the soft ball stage was occuring, however, my mixture turned very dark very quickly and turned into caramel, how do tou know when its at the right temperature without a suger thermometer?

  7. The way they used to do it was to get a bowl of cold water and drop small amounts of the sugar mixture in it to test. I’ve seen someone place their hand in ice water until they can’t stand it and then grab the hot sugar with their bare hands and put it back in the ice water. You must be quick though. When you can roll the sugar mixture into a ball and it is soft you are there.

  8. Made some last night, mine really condensed and only managed to make enough for half of what is listed so I may double it next time… but then I may end up with way too much….. what am I talking about! you can't have too much!!!
    It's GORGEOUS! I've never liked it until now!

  9. I just made this turkish delight. but a problem arose. After I had combined the sugar syrup and the flour/cream of tartar paste and stirred for only 15 minutes it had already turned a honey colour and also was thickening up so much it was very hard to keep stirring. It also tasted really good and felt, in my mouth, like the right consistency (if slightly softer than the cooled version would be).

    I stopped cooking it and poured and set it. what is the problem with cooking it for such a short time? and is there a risk of overcooking it if I just keep up the heating and stirring beyond the honey coloured stage?

    I wondered if this indicates i had overcooked the sugar in the first place.

  10. The sweating is really a problem!

    I've tried:

    1) letting the jelly sit for 2 days before coating it with the icing sugar (as they apparently do in Turkey)

    2) coating it with corn starch powder, prior to coating it with icing sugar

    3) coating it with corn starch powder, THEN coating it with 1 measure of icing sugar to 3 parts of corn starch powder (again, what they apparently do in Turkey)

    4) I've even tried baking the damn jelly prior to coating it (the result was quite good, actually… ah the joys of serendipity!)

    … all to no avail. I'm starting to wonder if I'm cursed!

    I doubt the tropical climate I currently live in has anything to do with it, as the store bought ones I get don't sweat.

    I'm starting to suspect witchcraft.

    I am in despair!

  11. I find that when I made hard candies, they would become sticky if I took the sugar off the heat too early. This is why a sugar thermometer is good, and I suspect this might be why you get the 'sweating'.. I have never made turkish delights, but I just thought I'd let you know..

    by the way, 1 cup = 240 ml.

    It's much easier than trying to convert a volume to weight. And easier to calculate with when fractions are used. 1½ cup = 360 ml.
    When cooking 'American' recipes I used to use only my 1 dl, teaspoon (5ml) and tablespoon (15ml) measures, and just calculate thecups to ml. By now though, I've invested in some american measureing cups. But it's a good idea to get the ones with ml. measures on them as well(I have those). they're good for halving recipes as well ("half of 3/8 of a cup" is easier measured as "half of 3*30ml" – unless you have a 1/16 cup measure…)

  12. It's even easier if someone who's doing the recipe weighs their ingredients and tells us the weights for the dry ingredients 😛 Then I'd have less worrying and less washing up to do, and could have measured the ingredients into the pan quicker.

    Honestly, the amount of cornflour in a cup varies fairly significantly depending on how packed it is and how filled the cup is. Do you fill it to rounded, like with teaspoons? Do you fill it to level, like with level teaspoons? Do you fill it as much as you would fill it with tea?

  13. Great recipe. Too bad most of the essences available in my country seem to have artificial colours or flavours. I found rosewater essence, owing to its clear colour, fit the criteria. But I wanted to do strawberry, and perhaps a lemon or lime. If you hail from Australia too, make sure you read the side of the Queen “natural” flavouring essence they sell in supermarkets if this is the brand you find. A few of the flavours are indeed natural, but seemingly most have propylene glycol and a raft of three digit artificial colours. There’s no distinction on the packaging, they are all labelled “natural”. There is another range of “imitation” essences that Queen carry, not sure what they put in those if this is their definition of natural.

  14. In case anyone is still interested i just read an article that says it should be kept in a paper bag/box or it will continue to sweat

  15. I find if you keep it in the dusting mixture in a cardboard or wooden box so it can breathe a little it doesn’t sweat. The problems arises when the container is TOO airtight. 🙂

  16. Could you clarify something for me please? By “essence of rosewater” do you mean attar of roses (the pure form, which is not easy to find) or rosewater (the dilute form, which just about every Asian food shop stocks)? It makes quite a difference!

  17. Hi Anon – yes, the dilute form. Those labelled “essence of” in the UK are actually distilled from the petals; labelling laws here mean that things called just “rosewater” may not actually contain any actual rose at all.

  18. Hi, Whenever I have bought Turkish Delight in a Turkish Supermarket they have allways coated it in Ground coconut and very delicious it is too.

  19. I tried to make this one without cream of tartar. Thought that just will put more lime juice and citric acid. But while sugar was boiling I was making water+cornstarch. But in this proportion (1 vs 3) I get just white water. May be cream of tartar make it more “thick, gluey paste”.
    So nothing again. I will try again with gelatin.

  20. Hi, I made a mistake when making my turkish delight tonight. I forgot to bring the sugar to soft ball stage. I added my sugar mixture to the cornstarch which was really thick on the stove. It had a few lumps I stirred it as much as I could but just left it, hoping the lumps will cook out. I cooked gently for one hour but it never reached desired temp on a sugar themometer only 140degrees Farenheit. However it did thicken considerably so that it was difficult to stir it was definetely not pourable. Consistency was very thick without too much noticible lumps and seemed like the real texture. I scooped it into a tin and am presently waiting for it to cool and see if it is any good. My question is, does it need to reach soft ball stage temperature to be turkish delight?

  21. Ah no – 1 cup = 250 ml this is the standard size.

    We use it in Australia, and I have American & European recipes that I have converted all with this standard & no failures yet. & yes – the English stand is also 250ml for 1 cup.

    Can I suggest that there are some really cute cup measures at Kitchen stores & department stores [the one that starts with a K or T even] and this takes the guess work out of it all. Mine looks like a matriuska doll and has the measures nested inside each other.

    teaspoon = 5 ml
    tablespoon = 15 ml

    I get my rosewater & orange flower water from a Persian deli/specialty store where it is really inexpensive – but it the best you can get. But most health food stores have it here too.

    I wonder if you could also use pomegranate to flavour the TD?

  22. When we were in Turkey we bought lots of lovely white opaque lokum, some with pistachios, some with almonds and some plain. I would love to try making it but can’t find a recipe. What is it that makes for the thicker, less jelly-like lokum? Can anyone help please? Thanks

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