x0x Every morsel a delight: Sweets
By VEDAT BASARAN
A sine qua non of social life in the Middle and Far
East, sweets gradually began to find their way into
western cuisines from the 14th and 15th centuries. But
there are significant differences between eastern and
western cuisines in the variety and consumption of
Whereas in the West sweets tend to be light and are
served at the end of the meal, in the East they are
served at any hour of the day and are fragrant and
flavourful and drenched in syrup.
THE DISTINCTIVE POSITION OF BAKLAVA
Everyone knows that sweets are a staple of Turkish
cuisine. Take "baklava", for instance, the Turks' most
important contribution to the world of sweets. It
absolutely cannot be made from a mere recipe; only long
years of experience can impart its special flavor.
Although many theories have been advanced concerning
the invention of baklava, none is certain. According to
Charles Perry, however, a researcher on the history of
Middle Eastern cuisine, the technique of rolling out
paper-thin dough originated in this part of the world.
My own professional experience has led me to believe
that baklava must surely have developed out of the
technique of rolling thin dough. The authoritative
Larousse Gastronomique explains that this technique,
under the name of "strudel", appeared in the
Austro-Hungarian Empire during the Ottoman period.
THE SECRET LIES IN THE THINNESS OF THE DOUGH
But who invented the technique of rolling thin dough?
Due to their nomadic lifestyle, the Turks of Central
Asia carried their cooking equipment with them on
horseback. The only stove that can be carried on the
back of a horse is a thin metal brazier, and the food
prepared on such a brazier has to be thin too so that
it will cook quickly. The technique of rolling fine
dough, which was born of the exigencies of nomadic
life, would develop eventually into baklava. The
baklava unique to the Middle East and Eastern
Mediterranean today is compared in some sources to
"strudel" or "yufka" (Greek phylo leaves).
But yufka is rolled out in single sheets while strudel
is stretched and pressed by hand on a piece of cloth.
In the case of baklava, ten layers of dough at once are
rolled out paper-thin with a special rolling pin called
an "oklava". Baklava is actually another technique for
producing the multi-layered pastry known in French
cuisine as mille-feuille and in Turkish as "yagli
hamur". The moisture in the butter spread between the
sheets of yufka escapes as steam during baking, causing
them to puff up and separate, while the hot butter in
between ensures that they are baked to a crisp. The
crunchy sound you hear when you bite in, the dough that
melts in your mouth and the flavour that spreads on
your palate are the key criteria of quality in baklava.
BAKLAVA BY THE TRAY
The words "yupa", "yoka" and "yufka" all derive from
the Turkish "yubka", meaning "thin, friable". But
clearly a lot of ground had to be covered before the
technique of cooking layered dough over a flat metal
sheet on a brush fire evolved into the sophisticated
baklava of the Ottomans.
The Turks' transformation of yukfa, a product of
nomadic culture, into baklava developed hand in hand
with the high level of culture achieved by the Ottoman
The highly skilled chefs employed in the magnificent
Topkapi Palace kitchens naturally provided the optimal
conditions for progress in the culture of cooking. This
crucial relationship between baklava and the palace was
manifested in the tray after tray of this crispy
layered pastry that was distributed to the Janissaries
every year in the middle of the month of Ramazan.
So is baklava the Turks' only contribution to the world
of sweets? Certainly not. And some of the most
delectable are Sultans' Milk Pudding, Almond Delight
and Baked Quinces, whose recipes are given below. Be
sure to try them.
[TurkC-L editor's note: Only one of the recipes is
Serves 8 for dessert, plain or with whipped cream or
1 cup water
Juice of ½ lemon (save the lemon half)
16 whole cloves
1 cup sugar
Pour the water and lemon juice into a shallow baking
dish that will accommodate the quinces when cut into
quarters for instance a 9 by 12-inch Pyrex.
With a large, sharp knife quince is hard -- cut each
quince into quarters from stem end to bottom. Rub the
cut sides of the quarters immediately with the
juiced-out lemon half.
With a paring knife, carve out the core of each
quarter, saving the seeds. With the paring knife or a
vegetable peeler, peel each quarter. As you complete
coring and peeling each quarter, immediately turn it in
the lemon water in the baking dish, leaving it in the
When all four of the quinces have been cored and
peeled, press a clove into the center of the rounded
side of each quarter. Arrange the quince quarters,
still in the lemon water, with their rounded sides up.
Sprinkle them with the sugar. Scatter some of the
reserved quince seeds around the quarters.
Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for about an hour,
turning the quinces after 30 minutes, then turning them
back, clove side up, for the last 5 to 10 minutes. The
quince should be fork tender actually soft. The water
and sugar should have cooked down to a syrup. Give them
a few more minutes in the oven, if necessary.
Baked quince will keep in the refrigerator, in a
container where they are just covered by their syrup,
for several weeks.