Updated: Jul 21
Desserts are the showcase of Turkish cuisine and vary widely, from puddings to a phyllo dough that even works with meat! This great variety of desserts comes from cultural exchanges and the historical heritage that still exists from the ancient civilizations that have occupied the lands of Turkey over time.
The following are considered the most popular and best traditional desserts of Turkish cuisine. They have been selected by various sites for their popularity and taste. We are going to highlight the "Top 20" for you in this article. Surely, you will find one, probably more, that you will fall in love with!
Lokma: This dessert can usually be found cooked on the streets and is a big part of tradition in Turkey. Its name means “bite” in Turkish because its size is that of a chestnut. It is a piece of dough fried in oil, which gives it a crunchy surface and a soft center. After cooking, it is covered with a lemon-flavored syrup. Or it might be flavored with honey, cinnamon, or a sugar syrup. The term Lokma Döktürmek” means preparing and cooking lokma then serving it in your neighborhood (mahallesi). This is done as a simple act of charity whether something good has happened to you and it is time to celebrate, or you have lost someone and want to distribute lokma in memory of your loved one.
Sambaba or Sambali: Sambali is another dessert sold on the street by confectioners. It is not an original Turkish dessert but is thought to have originated in Syria. It derives its name from Damascus, which in Turkish is Sam. Sambali is a semolina cake similar to revani but uses milk or yogurt and molasses. Sambali has peanuts on top and, if desired, can be served with kaymak (clotted cream or glissade). The confectioner selling the dessert divides the sambali in half and puts the kaymak inside. This makes a sweet sandwich that will bring up low blood sugar and refuel your energy if you are on a walking tour and need a boost.
Halka Tatlisi (aka Kerhane Tatlisi or "Brothel Dessert"): Halka Tatlısı is a very original street dessert. Covered with sweet sherbet, it is very similar to the Mexican churro. It is very inexpensive and can be found on every main street in Turkey. Being a very sweet dessert, it is also eaten to boost low blood sugar or energy levels. However, its popularity is not necessarily about its taste. In this case, it is about the name. Halka Tatlısı is also called Kerhane Tatlısı, which means “Brothel Dessert”. Could this name give you the idea that it is sold in brothels? Evet! You would be right. Just to add a bit of trivia here for your increasing knowledge of all things Turkish. Halka Tatlisi is not the only dessert sold in brothels. However, it is the most convenient shape to eat by hand, with no fork or skewer of any kind needed.
Kaymakli Ekmek Kadayifi: Turkish Bread Pudding dessert. It is usually served with kaymak, a kind of clotted cream. This Turkish version of an English or American “bread pudding” provides a thick and sweet finish after a traditional Turkish dinner.
Maras Ice Cream: A traditional ice cream, it has been made since the 16th Century. It has a denser taste than Italian gelato. It is a very firm but elastic ice cream made from goat’s milk, sugar, and powder from the tubers of Wild Orchids (“Dactylorhiza Osmanica”), which the Turks call Osmaniye Orkidesi. The oval tubers grow in pairs and the best ones dry to the color of alabaster, which indicates a high mucilage content. The tubers are dried and then ground into a whitish powder called salep which is used in the making of this ice cream. It is made in different flavors such as vanilla, red current, peach, pistachio, and others.
When you are walking through the streets in Turkey, you will see Maras Ice Cream sellers. They believe in playing some tricks and games on their customers to make the experience more enjoyable. They usually fake the delivery then ring the bell to surprise you and make you try again. Many people enjoy this but some have been known to become quite irritated and even angry with these antics. They just want their ice cream!
Küme-Cezili Sucuk and Pestil: A unique and delicious dessert that is fun to eat and fun to make! Dried fruits and walnuts are laced on a string and dipped in thick, unsweetened grape must. Must is the squished grape juice that still includes skins and pulp. The strings are left to dry in the sun and often look like candles or sausages after they are dried. This look comes from the opaque finish left behind from the grape must.
Sekerpare: This traditional Turkish dessert (“shek-EYR’ par-EH”) means “a piece of sweetness”. These sweet, sticky and tender cookies are made from semolina, flour, and powdered sugar. After baking, they are left to steep in a sweet, lemony syrup. The more syrup they soak up, the better. They should be tender enough to cut and eat with a fork. Blending the ingredients and kneading the dough slowly by hand is the key to making the perfect, uniform sekerpare dough that will not crack or separate as it bakes. Each “pare” or piece should keep its perfect shape even after being soaked in syrup. One of the most popular Turkish sweets after baklava, sekerpare is made in nearly every Turkish household, sold in every bakery and sweet shop, and appears on nearly every Turkish restaurant menu. Try a piece or two with your next cup of coffee or espresso. Of course, it also goes perfectly with a cup of Turkish coffee!
Lokum (Turkish Delight): The original date for the invention of lokum is not clear. However, it is certain that Ali Muhittin Hacı Bekir, who opened his confectionery shop in Istanbul in 1776, introduced the taste of Turkish delight to the world. An English explorer purchased lokum from Ali Bey's shop and took it to England where its fame has spread since then. Originally, there were three colors and three flavors: Red for a Rosewater flavor; Yellow for the flavor of Lemon Peel; and Green for a Bitter Orange flavor. With the rich variety of ingredients and nuts available today, however, many new flavors have been created. Such as: rose, pistachio, hazelnut, walnut, almond, coconut and almond, cream, cream with cinnamon, mint, mastic, cinnamon, ginger, clove and coffee. It is also produced with fruit flavors like sour cherry, strawberry, orange, apricot, and lemon. Lokum is usually served with Turkish Coffee but it is most commonly purchased as a gift to represent Turkish culture.
Halva: Halva is a generic term for a few different types of dense, rich desserts. “Halva” literally means “sweet”. The flour-based version is more gelatinous. The nut, butter, and sugar-based version crumbles more easily. Regardless of the kind of halva you find and try, the sweetness and nutty texture of this dessert hits the palate just right after a Turkish meal. And most especially after having a fish plate.
Keskül: A simple yet delicious pudding cooked with crushed almonds, grated coconut, milk, sugar, rice flour and corn or potato starch.
Coconut and blanched almond flakes or pistachios are sprinkled on the top for the finishing touch. Like the rest of the pudding desserts, keskül can be served either very cold or at room temperature.
Irmik Helvasi: Turkish Semolina Halva is a fine dessert with various types, such as pistachio and ice cream. It is generally prepared for religious feasts or religious days. It is also prepared at the home of a deceased person after a funeral. It is customary to serve it to those coming to offer condolences to the family. During this time, it is also distributed to neighbors of the family.
Known by many names in various countries, this sweet cake is made from semolina and soaked in syrup. It is a favorite among lovers of Turkish cuisine. Orange flower water is often added along with chopped pistachios to top this dessert giving it a rich and flavorful finish.
Ayva Tatlisi: Have you ever wondered what to cook with quince? You know, that tough, grainy, sour fruit related to the rose? This classic Turkish Quince Dessert could make quince one of your favorite ingredients. Ayva Tatlısı (“AI’-vah taht-LUH’-SUH”) is so sweet and tender, it is almost like eating candied fruit. The syrup makes the fruit glisten and look as lovely on your plate as it tastes in your mouth. A good dish for entertaining, it is also served in many Turkish restaurants. Turkish candied quince is easy to prepare and can be made well beforehand since it keeps nicely in the fridge for several days.
Kabak Tatlisi: Are you tired of the same old pumpkin recipes? Here is a delicious recipe from Turkey that will take you way beyond pumpkin pie. Turkish Candied Pumpkin Dessert, better known as Kabak Tatlısı (“kah-BAHK’ TAHT’-luh-suh”), is simple to prepare and fancy enough for company. It is a great way to get the full flavor of pumpkin that your whole family will love minus the extra calories and carbs of pie crust. It is perfect when there are extra pumpkins around at harvest time. Be brave and try this recipe during the holidays in place of pumpkin pie. You could start a new tradition at your house!
Fırın Sütlaç: All over the world people love and eat rice pudding. It is so widespread that every country has its own preparation style. In Turkey, people cook rice pudding with water, milk, rice, sugar and rice flour. In the modern versions of rice pudding, vanilla flavor is also added. Cinnamon or ground hazelnuts are used as the two main dressings or toppings. After the pudding is browned in a salamander broiler, it becomes the Turkish dessert called Fırın Sütlaç, or oven-baked rice pudding.
Asure (known as "Noah's Dessert"): According to Islamic belief, when Noah survived the legendary flood, he made a pudding dish with the ingredients that were available. There are many variations of this Turkish dessert but basically, it is a mixture of sugar, grains like wheat, chickpea and haricot beans, and with dried fruits like figs, apricots and raisins along with nuts like hazelnuts and walnuts for dressing. This dessert comes with a religious custom attached to it. The first month of the Islamic calendar is Muharram. It is considered a good deed to fast the first 10 days of Muharram and on the tenth day, the Day of Ashura, to cook and share this dessert with neighbors and relatives. In this sense, asure has a binding social value. The tradition of sharing asure is still very much alive in modern-day Turkish culture.
Tavuk Gögsü: This is an original dessert in Turkish cuisine. It is a chicken breast and, evet, it is a dessert! How is chicken turned into a dessert? Well, its taste is more than its ingredients. Basically, it is a white pudding made from chicken but does not taste like chicken at all. Tavuk Gögsü tastes more like a rice pudding, minus the rice. It is creamy and smooth but thick enough to be almost chewy. Seasoned with cinnamon and vanilla, there is not even a trace of chicken flavor. The white meat is added simply for the elastic texture it creates after cooking down for a long time in milk and then being broken up into indistinguishable strands. This dish has its roots in a medieval French dessert called blancmange. This dessert was once served to the sultans living at the Topkapı Palace in Istanbul, but is still considered one of Turkey’s signature delicacies.
Kazandibi: Another original Turkish dessert, there are two types: Regular and Chicken Breast. When you cook Tavuk Gögsü pudding on a tray with sprinkled powder sugar at the bottom, it becomes what is called “regular” kazandibi –“the bottom of the pot”. The heat from the stove caramelizes the sugar so it colors and sweetens the thick pudding. It is scraped and served folded so that the delicious browned side faces its admirers. If you leave the chicken out of the recipe, it is called Muhallebi Kazandibi.
Künefe: This sweet and savory Levantine cheese pastry is hard to avoid in Turkey. You can smell the street vendors frying it up from blocks away. Künefe is made from a stretchy, unsalted, fresh melting cheese called Hatay made in the Hatay Province, Turkey’s southernmost province on the Levantine Sea. Mozzarella Cheese is the closest Western equivalent. The cheese is coated in sugar syrup-soaked phyllo shreds called kadayıf (the same phyllo used to make some varieties of baklava), then it is fried until crisp. Its appeal lies is the contrasting texture of the crunchy exterior against the soft, melty interior. It can be topped with pistachios, kaymak (clotted cream) or ice cream—or simply eaten on its own, preferably while still piping hot.
Traditional Baklava (Stuffed with Pistachio):
Baklava is the most famous Turkish dessert and is not just a single type of dessert. It has various types and our suggestion to you is to taste all of the following types and pick your favorite. When you ask a Turk what to eat as a Turkish dessert, baklava is the most common answer. Turks love sweets and baklava is a fine example of this. The description of baklava is simple: chopped nuts are spread in between the phyllo dough (yufka) layers, dressed with butter, baked and sweetened with syrup or honey. To learn more about this famous Turkish dessert, you can read more about it here.
In Turkey, dessert is often a social ritual and definitely a course meant to be shared. At any time of day or night, friends and families can be found congregating and sipping Turkish coffee or tea from tiny cups or dainty glasses. The Turks have quite a sweet tooth and should they wish for something sweet to accompany that coffee or tea, the choices are endless!
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