My Adventures Making (And Researching) Turkish Delight

A friend of mine brought back some Turkish delight candy last week from her trip to Turkey. Real, authentic turkish delight: chewy, lightly flavored, and just sweet enough. This particular variety was pomegranate-flavored with pistachios. It was pretty delightful.

After that, I went on a mission to research Turkish delight and candy making in general. Out of all of my culinary exploits, candy making is one of those things that have eluded me. I could never get it right no matter what I tried. My pecan pralines never hardened and my fudge stayed goopy. But after a lot of research, I realized candy making had two ingredients that I lacked: patience and accuracy.

Cooking is easy despite what amateurs may say. There’s a lot of room for error in cooking. Measurements don’t always have to be precise which is why Food Network chefs like Rachel Ray can get away with the “palmful” method.

In baking, preciseness is a necessity. If it calls for 1 cup of cake flour, it implies one level cup of cake flour that’s been filled, not by dunking the cup in the bin of cake flour, but filled by using a smaller scoop to collect the flour and then pouring it into the measuring cup and then leveled off by using the straight side of a butter knife.

Candy making takes baking a step further and requires not only patience, preciseness, but in some cases, knowledge of weather and humidity. Various candy making references even say to prepare candy (especially candy that starts with a sugar syrup) on days with low humidity.

I could talk on and on about some of the stuff I’ve read on the science behind candy making, but I’m going to move on to the more interesting part of this post and that’s the recipe for Turkish delight. The nice thing about this candy is it has relatively few ingredients and steps, but it does require a lot of time (sometimes up to 3 hours from beginning to end, depending on how long it takes for your syrup to reach the required stage) and a lot of forethought if you’re a first-timer.

The candy that my friend brought only had a few ingredients listed: honey, flour, pistachios, pomegranate. In all my online research, I could not find a recipe that called for flour and honey. They all called for sugar, water, and cornflour (some even called for gelatin, but we will ignore those). Evidently, the very first recipe of Turkish delight was based on an Anatolian sweetmeat made with honey or grape molasses (pekmez) as sweeteners and flour and water as a binding agent. However, around 1777, a confectioner changed the recipe to the sugar, cornflour, and water mixture most modern recipes call for today.

I pondered the thought of using honey as the sweetener, but realized that considering the amount required for this recipe, Turkish Delight would truly be a confection fit for a king. Honey can be expensive in large quantities. I saved this thought for another day.

Important: Before even attempting this recipe, READ IT. Know it from beginning to end (this is an old home-ec trick I learned in high school). I give notes throughout the steps to help you. Make sure you have all of the equipment listed. Gather it all up and lay it out on your kitchen counter top. I’m almost never this precise with my food recipes, but because this is a candy recipe, I have to make an exception due to experience. There’s nothing more disheartening than starting a candy recipe and realizing halfway through that you’re out of an ingredient!

Turkish Delight Recipe

Equipment List and Recipe Tips

  • Various sized prep bowls, measuring spoons, and measuring cups for both dry and liquid ingredients. I have a complete set of glass Pyrex prep bowls my sister-in-law gave me years ago that I can’t live without.
  • 2 sauce pans (2 to 3 quarts each). I recommend 2 because it’s just faster. You’ll need 1 to cook the syrup and the other to cook the thickener and there’s nothing more annoying than having to wash a pot halfway through the cooking process.
  • 1 candy thermometer. Use the tall metal ones. This type is easy-to-read when in use and can sit in the sauce pan while the sugar cooks.
  • 1 9 x 13″ cake pan with straight sides. I bought a Calphalon pan like this several years ago when I made marshmallows. The straight edge just looks nicer.
  • 1 cookie sheet for curing the Turkish delight.
  • 1 (or more) wooden spatula with a flat tip and sharp corner. The flat edge of the tip lets you really scrape the bottom of the sauce pan and the sharp corner lets you get into the edge of the pan where sugar and starch can sometimes get stuck. If you have more than one, that’s great. It just saves you some time in various stages of the cooking process. I cleaned mine several times throughout as I went from the sugar stage, to the thickener stage, to the actual binding stage.
  • 1 pizza cutter or knife (something to cut the Turkish delight with)
  • 1 sturdy metal whisk. This is important for mixing the syrup into the thickener.
  • 1 metal sieve for dusting
  • 1 timer and lots of time. Don’t even bother starting this recipe if you’re in a rush.
  • Vegetable oil or shortening–to keep the candy from sticking to your pan. Vegetable oil does impart less flavor.
  • Be aware of the temperature changes noted in the steps. You will frequently switch between medium and low heat (NEVER high no matter how impatient you get)

For the syrup

  • 4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

For the thickener

  • 1 cup cornstarch (or cornflour depending on your neck of the woods)
  • 2 3/4 cup water, cold
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar

For the mix-ins and flavoring

  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons pomegranate juice (I used POM)
  • 5 drops of red food coloring

An alternate version: Rosewater scented Turkish Delight

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons rosewater
  • 1-2 drops of pink food coloring

For Dusting

  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch

Make the Syrup

Combine water, sugar, and lemon juice in one of the sauce pans on medium heat. Stir constantly until sugar dissolves and begins to boil. Turn down to low and insert your candy thermometer at which point the sugar will continue to cook at a low simmer. Continue to cook until the syrup reaches 240° F (also known as the soft ball stage). At this point, it’s ok to leave the sugar alone and do other stuff, but make sure to check it periodically. Once it reaches 240° F, take the sauce pan off the heat and set aside.

Make the Thickener

Combine water, cornstarch, and cream of tartar in the other saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly until mixture thickens to a very thick paste. At this point, I took it off the burner and gradually mixed in the syrup while gently stirring it with the spatula. Some recipes say to mix the paste into the syrup, but common sense tells me that mixing the runny syrup into the paste-like thickener is just easier (like mixing dry ingredients into wet when baking a cake).

At this point, I switched to the wire whisk, and put it back on the burner over low heat stirring briskly (but not vigorosly! The sugar syrup is still pretty hot and can be harmful if any of it spatters on you). Don’t fret–the mixture will look like runny goop with white lumps in it. Continue whisking until the lumps break up and the mixture thickens to a gel. In fact, at this stage I switched back and forth between the whisk and the spatula just because the spatula was great at getting the starch out of the corners of the pan while the whisk was great at breaking them up into the mixture. I highly recommend doing it this way.

Grab a Book or Your Laptop and Cook for 1 Hour, Stirring Frequently

At this point, keep your sauce pan on low. Continue to cook the mixture and stir it every 1-2 minutes, making sure to scrape the bottom and the corners (use the spatula). I’ve seen other recipes where it says to cook until your mixture turns a golden color, but in my experience, the mixture is already a golden color because the syrup already started to change when I cooked it to the soft ball stage. So I ignored color indicators and just cooked the mixture for 1 hour (I even used a timer!) on low heat.

Actually, if you haven’t already, now is the time to prepare your pan by rubbing the sides and bottom fairly generously with vegetable oil or shortening.

The Flavoring Phase

Once the gel mixture has cooked for 1 hour, it will be pretty thick–almost like a jam. At this point, mix in your flavorings. I stirred in the pomegranate juice until it was thoroughly mixed into the gel. Then I stirred in the walnuts and 5 drops of red food coloring (just for more oomph). I continued to stir everything and cook over low heat until it was all thoroughly combined (maybe for an additional 10 minutes).

Where Your Patience Is Tested: Time to Pour and Cool

When you’re ready to pour, place your cake pan flat on a trivet (the mixture is still pretty warm at this point and could scorch your countertops if you’re not careful). Armed with the sauce pan in one hand and your spatula in the other, pour the mixture into the pan, making sure to spread it evenly and into the corners. It’s ok to take occasional breaks to shake and tap the pan to make sure the mixture is evenly distributed.

At this stage, it’s important for the candy to cool and set overnight, and then to cure for one more day. We’re talking possibly 2 days total wait time for this stuff. According to my research, curing is important to allow the moisture to distribute throughout the mixture and prevent “sweating.” However, in the meantime, you can lick any remaining gel mixture from the spatula and the saucepan (making sure to wait until it cools thoroughly before enjoying it of course).

Store the pan of Turkish delight in a cool, dry place. Some recipes said to store in the refrigerator, but I opted not to. Refrigeration during the cooling process can cause the moisture to stay trapped rather than evaporate, which is what you want it to do anyway. Instead, I dusted mine with a light coating of cornstarch and lightly covered with plastic wrap to allow moisture to escape while preventing critters from landing in it and getting stuck. Sounds gross, but yes, I prepared for everything. If this didn’t turn out right, it would be because the candy fairies botched the results, not because I wasn’t well-prepared.

6-10 Hours Later…

Your gel should now be cool and firm to the touch. If you’re starting to see a little sweat appear on the surface of the jelly, or if some of the cornstarch you sprinkled on it is disappearing, time to give it some breathing room. Take a cookie sheet and cover it with plastic wrap. Then dust the plastic wrap with cornstarch. Take a butter knife and skim the outer edges of the jelly to loosen it from the edges of the pan. You may even have to loosen some of the bottom too and lift it up a little. Then carefully turn the pan onto the cornstarch and plastic wrap. You should hear a “plomp!” and see a cloud of cornstarch come out from the edges of the pan.

Now the jelly is no longer inhibited by the pan and is free to breathe. Dust the top with a little corn starch and again loosely cover the top with plastic wrap (loosely!). Let it sit for another day (or longer).

Slice and Cure: Stop the Sweating

Once the jelly has been able to sit overnight, start slicing it into 1″ squares. I used a pizza cutter sprayed with a little non-stick spray to do this and it worked well. Space out the individual candies evenly to give them enough breathing room.

I attempted to coat the squares almost immediately after slicing them and discovered something peculiar: the icing sugar would “sweat” off and disappear from the freshly cut sides within seconds while the sides that had been exposed to air were holding the sugar reasonably well. I think this is where everyone started experiencing the “sweating” problem with their finished Turkish delights. Look at the photo below–can you tell which piece had the generous coating of cornstarch before icing sugar? And can you tell which sides received cornstarch first?

So here’s what you can do to your Turkish delights to help mitigate the sweating. Lightly roll the Turkish delight in about 1/2 cup cornstarch. Don’t pack all sides with it, but make sure it’s evenly coated. Once it’s all coated, let it sit for about 30 minutes to allow the corn starch to form a “crust.”

The Easy Part: Dusting and Storage (Oh, and Eating!)

Once the little squares have had a chance to absorb some of the cornstarch. Dip a handful of squares into the dusting powder, generously coating every side. If you notice the icing sugar disappearing instantly off the sides of the Turkish delight, stop and re-roll them in corn starch and let them sit for another 30 minutes. If you want, you can continue to let the Turkish delight cure after being coated. Otherwise, store them in a container away from moisture (so in a cool, dry place). I’ve read conflicting reports about storing them in air tight containers and NOT storing them in air tight containers. In fact, one recipe recommended them storing them in layers of tissue paper in a cardboard gift box, thus allowing them to breathe and moisture to escape.

Tips to Prevent Your Turkish Delight from “Sweating”

  • Check the weather. Humidity can affect your sugar syrup. Try to prepare the sugar syrup during the least humid times of the day (noon to mid afternoon tend to be least humid). but check with wunderground.com.
  • Cook the gel a little longer than 1 hour, maybe an additional 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Lightly coat the Turkish delight in cornstarch first, let it cure and form a crust, then roll it in the final coating of icing sugar.

For Reference and Reading Pleasure

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17 thoughts on “My Adventures Making (And Researching) Turkish Delight”

  1. You have a lot of patience if you made these. I read the recipe and decided that I don’t have what it takes to make them.

  2. lol yes, A LOT of patience. It was a bit of a science project for me. I had a lot of fun with it, but I don’t know if I’ll attempt it anytime in the immediate future. But if I do, I think i’ll try a different flavor (like rose).

  3. I have had at least five attempts at this so far. I do seem to have the correct recipe but I haven’t stored it & cured it which is probably the problem! I have ended up with a slab of Vaseline pretty much, without any chew rather a waxy texture which is wrong!!! I will definitely try your ageing & storing method, as on another site (Turkish one) they say the secret of TD is the continual stirring & and ageing of the product. Is this your experience too?

  4. Thanks for your comment! Yes, I think aging and curing plays a huge part in the proper setting of Turkish delight. I noticed that the older my Turkish delight got, the denser and chewier it became. Also one thing I did notice after writing this post is the TD still continued to sweat even with the cornstarch. I don’t know if that’s because I’d previously used confectioner’s sugar to coat each piece, but it’s something to consider .

    One thing I do remember about the ingredient listing of authentic Turkish delight is it had cornflour listed instead of cornstarch. Cornflour is basically finely ground cornmeal and not the same as cornstarch. I haven’t made another batch yet to see if the cornflour makes a difference in the sweating issue, but I’m anxious to try it out now. Thanks again for your comment and please let me know if you make any breakthroughs in your next attempt! 🙂

  5. Thanks for your valuable feedback. I have always used cornflour & have had the sweating problem too. Whilst trying my numerous attempts at one point I did feel that there must be a secret ingredient that is used to give the TD its chew, as that seems to be the one thing that is missing ( although this could be mainly because I haven’t let it rest) but whilst researching I have read that in authentic TD a product called mastic is used, which is known as arabic gum, so I thought maybe it is this that gives the chew. Mastic is used to flavour too, but also as a binding agent, what are your thoughts on this? Anyway i’m determined to get it right! Good luck too

  6. Two different questions:
    First: I have tried a batch of Turkish Delight using the mideastfood.about.com recipe which is pretty much like the one above and uses 1 1/2 TBS rose water. I was disappointed with the lack of taste. I added the rose water just after I took the mixture off the heat. It was 221-225 on a digital thermometer. The rose smell bloomed throughout the two-story house. Should I have let the mixture cool a little before adding the rose water. (I wait till 110 deg to add vanilla to my fudge sauce.)
    Second Question: I took a trip to Oman in the early 80s and was treated to a traditional yogurt, rice and lamb dinner. Afterward they served a light brown confection in pieces about the size of small TD. Exquisite taste. It’s been a long time now, but I don’t think it was a hard candy. I think it was more of a TD consistency. I later thought the taste could be possibly cardamom. Have you seen any middle east candy recipes that use cardamom or similar spice for a confection?
    Thanks for all your hints.

  7. Thanks for your comment Bruce! In response to your first question, I would definitely wait until the mixture is a little cooler, especially for a flavor such as delicate as rose water. 110 degrees sounds like a reasonable temperature for adding it.

    I’m not familiar with a TD-like candy with cardamom in it, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if you could use a bit of cardamom in a batch of TD. It sounds like it would be a good variation. You could probably toss in some crushed pistachios into the mixture and have it be a cardamom/pistachio TD. It sounds delightful!

    Hope this helps and good luck!

  8. Thanks for having a trouble shooting section about the sweating. I just made my first batch of TD and I think I under cooked it. It set up ok, a little soft, but it sweated so much it dampened all the dusting sugar/cornstarch. I thought I would have to dump it and call it a lesson learned but then I did a search and found your article. So I just rinsed it off, let it dry for awhile and re-dusted it. Save!

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