This layered dessert is a speciality of the southeastern city of Gaziantep (best known for baklava). In the Turkish name, the word sütlaç (pronounced ‘sutlatch’) means ‘milky rice pudding’ and the word astarlı means ‘the lining of a jacket’.
Saffron—either home-grown or imported from Persia—was an important ingredient in Ottoman cuisine, because it allowed the sultans to show off their wealth. Pretentious people got into the habit of leaving the saffron threads in the pudding so their guests could say: ‘Wow, that must have cost a bit!’ There’s actually no reason to leave the threads in, since all the flavour and colour you need is extracted by the warm water within 20 minutes.
I like to decorate my astarlı sütlaç with candied chickpeas, which you should be able to find in Middle Eastern food shops. But the dessert works perfectly well without them.