Milky Way with puddings

Milky Way with puddings

Milky Way with puddings

AA Photo

No Ramadan is complete without sweets! However, one rarely opts for sticky syrupy treats on sweltering summer days. A great option to satisfy the sweet tooth is to reach for cool and pleasant milk puddings. Milk puddings create a whole genre of deserts in Turkish cuisine, otherwise known for its syrupy baklava and the likes. Based solely on milk with no eggs or cream, they are so light compared to their western counterparts.

Milky ways of making sweets are numerous in Ottoman heritage. Milk puddings are plain and straightforward, with names matching their self-confident simplistic approach. The archetypal milk pudding is muhallebi, literally meaning “made of milk” in Arabic. It is as simple as just milk, sugar and starch (originally ground rice) cooked to a creamy consistency, with only a sprinkling of cinnamon for flavoring. The second most common milky delight is the rice pudding sütlaç, again originally meaning “milk dish / sütlü aş” which was eventually combined into sütlaç. There is never room for improvisation with these basic recipes, only few alterations are possible. Muhallebi has a denser variation without sugar, served cut into rectangles, dusted liberally with powdered sugar and sprinkled with rose-water.

Sütlaç is also baked to have a leathery skin on top. Both are sometimes flavored with mastic gum, the resin of the wild pistachio tree.

Turkish rice pudding made quite an impact in the high tables of Italy in the early sixteenth century.

Cristoforo di Messisbugo, a celebrated Renaissance cook, known for organizing grand banquets and princely feasts, mentions several times riso turchesco made of rice, milk and sugar in his book on banquets published in 1549. Bartolomeo Scappi, chef to Pope
Pius V, describes it as “Riso turcheso con latte, servito con zuccaro, canella sopra” (Turkish rice with
milk, served with sugar and sprinkled with cinnamon).

Apparently not only rice pudding, but also muhallebi made with shredded boiled chicken found its way into European kitchens. This recipe is actually a very early form of milk pudding combining mutton or chicken with sweetened milk. Nowadays simply called tavukgöğsü (chicken breast), muhallebi made for Ottoman Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror was always with chicken. The royal pudding swiftly made its way to Italy as bianco mangiare, to France as blanc-manger, and to Spain as manjar blanco. Funnily it is only in Turkey that chicken is still used, its flavor not noticeable, only giving a highly chewy stringy texture. When the bottom of the pan is further passed over a flame to have a burnt bottom, it becomes kazandibi, meaning plainly “cauldron bottom.” The flavor achieved is very complex, not only the caramel-like burnt sugar, but also the scorched flavors of milk sugar – lactose – milk proteins and casein.

However the queen of milk desserts is none of the above. When Ramadan comes, the ultimate milk dessert is definitely and surely güllaç. It is also referred to as the “rose of Ramadan.” The etymology of güllaç is again quite uncomplicated, meaning “food with roses,” a combination of two words gül (rose) and aş (food/dish). The dessert itself is very rosy, with generous splashes of rose water, and the starch wafer layers are reminiscent of white rose petals. The otherwise wrinkly, bland-looking dessert gains a jewel-like elegance when garnished with ruby-like pomegranate seeds and emerald-like pistachios set on mother of pearl. The pleasantly rose-scented silky pudding takes you on a magic carpet ride through the Milky Way… A true delight fit for sultans!

Bite of the week

Recipe of the Week: The Istanbul episode of the documentary “Diary for a Foodie” might be the only opportunity to watch how güllaç sheets are made, the section on güllaç starts at the 13th minute, and you can see me describing the starch wafers as “wings of a fairy.” It is also a very good shot showing Ramadan in Istanbul, thanks to my friends Hülya Ekşigil, the local fixer, and the talented producers, award-winning Rob Tate and Tom Vitale.
To have the recipe just click on the link, don’t make me write the
whole thing:

Cork of the Week: In Turkish Ramadan holidays it was customary to serve sweet liquors along with bitter Turkish coffee after the dessert. Now there is a drink that combines the two: “Nazen” brand liquor with Turkish coffee and cream is reminiscent of Bailey’s but with a strong Turkish accent. Serve it chilled or on ice, or just pour some in your regular coffee.

Fork of the Week: The sweet treat of the week is Mary Işın’s book “Sherbet & Spice,” which gives the complete story of Turkish sweets and desserts including historical recipes. Try some of the recipes with goat’s milk for a healthier alternative that also adds a different dimension to the desserts. Baltalı company has now included long-life goat’s milk to its series of goat milk products.