European Influence on Turkish Confectionery

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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Since the nineteenth century, Western influence on Turkish confectionery has increased rapidly, so that apart from lokum and pastries soaked in syrup such as baklava and tel kadayif, traditional Turkish sweets struggle to compete with caramels, chocolates, biscuits, and cakes, which now have a lion’s share of the market. In the first half of the twentieth century, French cuisine was not just fashionable but a symbol of modernization. A Turkish book on confectionery written in 1939 is filled with crèmes, marmalades, gateaux, biscuits, cakes, tartelettes, mille-feuilles, and petits fours, with just a sprinkling of Turkish recipes. Although home cooks, especially in the provinces, have largely remained faithful to traditional sweets and puddings, most hotel and restaurant chefs ignored them until the 1990s, preferring instead to churn out imitations of French pâtisserie. But then the tide began to turn, and traditional sweet pastries and other desserts returned to both menus and cookery school curricula that had focused almost entirely on French cordon bleu. People are increasingly aware of the need to preserve Turkey’s diverse sweets and desserts, many of which are unknown elsewhere, such as güllaç, tavukgöğüsü, peynir helvasi, ayva tatlisi (quince halves stewed in clove-flavored syrup), su muhallebisi (unsweetened starch jelly served with rosewater and powdered sugar), kazandibi, and ekmek kadayif (a kind of bread pudding in syrup served with clotted cream).