20 Top Turkish Desserts, Sweets, and Things
Turks do wonderful things with sugar. And not just because they have a sweet tooth. Sweetness actually has spiritual importance going back way before the Ottoman Empire.
In 8th century Samarkand, people rubbed sugar on the lips of newborns so they would talk sweetly, and Mevlana, the 13th century poet and philosopher, used sugar and sweetness to symbolize faith and love of God.
With sweetness steeped in the history of the region, Turkey became famous for its confectionery and desserts. They are eaten to celebrate birth, marriage, death, and religious holidays.
Desserts are eaten just when you feel like it too. Sitting on a low stool outside a café with a plate of baklava and a glass of Turkish tea is simply recreation.
There is a wide variety of Turkish desserts, but some key elements. First, there is şerbet (sherbert), or sugar syrup, flavored with lemon or rose water. Used generously, this is indispensable and, as you will see, very common.
Second is kaymak. It wouldn’t be right to say this is a Turkish clotted cream, but that does give you an idea. It is made from buffalo milk that is boiled slowly for hours, and the cream skimmed off and refrigerated.
It is ever so slightly fermented, giving is a faintly sour taste, but it’s richer than clotted cream and very buttery. A small breakfast is a plate of this drizzled with honey eaten with bread or simit. But it is also a very common accompaniment with Turkish desserts and you will find it mentioned regularly below.
We’ve been selective – there’s so many – but here is a list of the top 20 Turkish desserts (and things).
1. Tavuk göğüsü
Tavuk göğüsü means chicken breast – which you might not expect to see in a list of desserts.
This pudding has a blancmange-like consistency and is made with pounded or shredded cooked chicken breast, milk, crushed almonds or cracked rice to thicken it, and a little honey or cinnamon for flavor.
First mentioned in Apicius’s recipe collection back in the Roman Empire, it became a favorite of the sultans and was considered a delicacy at Topkapı Palace.
Today you can find it sold in restaurants and enjoy it along with çay.
This is a cousin of tavuk goğüsü, without the chicken. A milk pudding made with rice and sugar and either rice flour, starch or semolina to thicken, it is very blancmangy in consistency and rather refreshing. It is sometimes topped with ground pistachios – but then so are many desserts in Turkey.
3. Fırında Sütlaç: Baked Rice Pudding
Rice pudding is a staple just about everywhere around the world and this one is just as good as any. Made with short-grain rice, milk, and heavy cream, sütlaç has quite a thin consistency and is not too sweet.
First cooked on the stove, it is then baked in individual dishes until the top burns slightly, giving it a touch of caramel.
It is eaten cooled and sprinkled with a little cinnamon. Delicious and refreshing at any time of day.
One portion is usually three little round biscuits, topped with an almond, and swimming in şerbet.
The biscuits are made with an almond-based dough that is soaked in the hot şerbet as they come out of the oven. When they have cooled, the biscuit melts in your mouth, revealing hints of almond and seeping with syrupy goodness.
5. Tulumba Tatlısı
This is made with a semolina dough that is pumped (tulumba) into a fluted sausage shape and deep fried. While still hot, they are soaked in şerbet so by the time you eat them, they are crunchy on the outside and soft and very sweet on the inside.
And very sticky too. But they are a very popular street food for munching on as you walk through the local bazar (market). They are also sold in restaurants and can be found at large gatherings such as weddings and other celebrations.
This is divine. Special sheets made from starch and water are soaked in sweet milk and layered with crushed walnuts then topped with ground pistachios and pomegranate seeds.
Güllaç is a shortening of güllü aş, meaning rose-flavored food. Traditionally the dessert was flavored with rose water, though it is less used today. But that doesn’t stop it being something very special.
The subtle tastes, the faint aromas, and the milky layers mean eating güllaç gives you a real sense of occasion.
This very simple yet very elegant dessert was a favorite of the Ottoman palace and today is only found during the month of Ramadan, when trays of güllaç fill bakers’ windows and restaurant shelves.
There are two types of halva. One is a semolina-based halva, and when it is baked with butter and sugar it is called irmik halva. It commonly follows a plate of köfte. Less common is a plate of warm halva formed around a large dollop of ice cream – delicious.
The other type of halva is made with tahini – sesame paste – and sugar. It is sold in blocks with a variety of flavorings and is perfect after a fish dish.
This dessert is seriously heavenly. Kadayif is a shredded pastry used in a number of desserts. Here, it is layered onto a well buttered pan, good quality cheese goes on top, then another layer of kadayif.
This is cooked over a flame and when one side is done, another pan is put over the top, the whole thing is turned upside down and the other side is cooked.
But that’s not all. When it’s done, it is doused with a lemon-infused şerbet and brought to the table steaming hot.
You may need to wait for it as it is always served fresh from the stove, but the butter-fried shredded dough soaked in syrup and the melted cheese make this a unique and unforgettable Turkish dessert.
9. Kaymaklı Ekmek Kadayifi: Bread Pudding with Clotted Cream
This is like no bread pudding you have ever known.
This very popular dessert and snack – yes, there is nothing more Turkish than snacking on a dessert when you are out and about – is a sumptuous sticky pudding which you can have without the clotted cream, but why would you?
The bread, a special dehydrated bread, is brought back to life by being soaked in şerbet. Baked and cooled, it is then served with the cream or sliced in half and used to make a cream sandwich.
So tempting, and so naughty.
You always know when the Islamic new year is here because the restaurants, cafes, and work canteens will be serving aşure. Everyone’s version is the best and neighbors will take round dishes of aşure to wish a happy new year – though mostly to show off their recipe.
Recipes vary though generally aşure contains a mixture of fruits, dried and fresh including raisins, apricots, apple, pomegranate, then nuts, beans, rice, and chickpeas. Boiled up together and dished into individual glasses or dishes, when it cools, it sets and is topped with a few leftover bits and pieces.
11. Revani: Semolina Cake
You will have by now got the idea that things in Turkey get doused in şerbet. And so too, cake.
Revani is a beautifully soft sponge cake soaked in a sugar syrup infused with lemon. Sometimes, rose water is added to the syrup, giving a lovely floral aroma.
Revani is known as basbousa in Egypt and is popular throughout the region.
12. Dondurma: Ice Cream
Few will dispute that Italian ice cream is the best in the world. But Turkish ice cream, in my humble opinion, comes a very close second.
Maraş dondurma is made with salep, a powder made from orchid bulbs, which gives the ice cream an elastic, chewy consistency and unique flavor.
The wild orchid that salep comes from grows profusely in Kahramanmaraş, a region in Southern Anatolia where dondurma originated and from where the ice cream gets its name.
Then there is kesme dondurma, literally cutting ice cream. This contains more salep making it thicker and more resistant to melting, but the specific beating method used gives the ice cream the right texture to keep a solid shape. It is generally eaten from a plate with a knife and fork.
In other parts of the country, dondurma is made with a resin from gum trees that grow along the Aegean coast called mastic, also making it rather elastic and chewy – which is also what their chewing gum is made of.
Mado is a popular ice cream parlor chain whose menu is a work of art – the varieties and flavors are endless and you have to visit a few times to feel you have truly experienced the full range of Turkish ice cream.
I’m cheating a bit as this is not a dessert, it’s a very popular Turkish drink; but very worth a mention. The salep from powdered wild orchid bulbs is also used to make a delicious thick and very warming drink sold through the cold winters.
It can be bought it jars and sachets and is offered at cafes and restaurants. Street vendors offer it at markets, which is perfect when you are shopping on a crisply cold day.
But the best way to enjoy it is from the vendors who walk through the dark streets on cold winter evenings, calling out “Saaaalep!”.
People lower baskets from their balconies for the vendor to put the cup of salep in and then hoist it back up to enjoy the unique salep flavor.
This is a lovely semolina sponge cake that is so simple it couldn’t possibly be as tasty as it is – but it is.
And you can find it sold by street vendors from large round metal dishes around Turkey but most commonly around İzmir from whence it came.
A cake of flour, egg, milk, yoghurt, and molasses is sliced through the middle and kaymak is spread between the two pieces. Once topped with peanuts it is baked and once baked, it is doused in şerbet. Aways şerbet.
15. Kaymaklı Kayısı: Apricots with Clotted Cream
The province of Malatya in Eastern Anatolia is one of the biggest producers of apricots in the world. That is not to say that Turkish desserts are dominated by apricots; they are actually rather sparse – probably because so many are exported.
But there is kaymaklı kayısı, which, the observant among you will notice involves kaymak. Dry apricots are cooked in şerbet until they become soft, and then stuffed with kaymak and ground pistachios.
A bit of a fiddle, but the final result is creamy and fruity and nutty and swimming in syrup. Delicious.
16. Lokma: Sweet Fried Dough
These are made from an unleavened dough which is deep fried – satisfaction element number 1 – and doused in a rose water flavored syrup – full satisfaction.
These little balls of sugary stickiness are a pure delight. They can be found on street stalls and at special events such as weddings.
They are best still warm from the oil, but they also travel well and are particularly good cold accompanied by ice cream.
17. Ayva Tatlısı: Quince Pudding
Fruit it still eaten in season in Turkey and sold from barrows traveling the streets. Beautifully arranged piles of cherries, apricots, loquats, pomegranates, oranges, bananas, and the terribly sour erik, or unride plums, mark the passing of the summer months.
In the fall, ayva, or quince, is a favorite. Boiled with cloves and a sweet şerbet then filled with kaymak, this dessert can be found in restaurants and cafés throughout the winter.
Pumpkin is also prepared in the same way – kabak tatlısı.
18. Kurabiye: Cookies
I’ve heard it said that Turks aren’t into cookies. That is true if you are talking industrially produced and wrapped in plastic. But it is so not true if you are talking freshly baked cookies. At any bakers you will find tray upon tray of variously shaped and flavored fayre.
Shortbread cookies are highly popular and bought in their boxfuls for celebrations, staff tea breaks, and family occasions. Chocolate, pistachio, almond, walnut, coconut, apple…
There are even ıslak kurabiye (wet cookies), crunchy shortbread on the outside with smooth chocolate paste on the inside.
So much are kurabiye loved, in fact, that there are tuzlu kurabiye, savory cookies, topped with sesame and black cumin seeds.
Super sweet, dense and rich, this is the iconic Turkish dessert. Layers of phyllo pastry, brushed with butter, and filled with chopped pistachios or walnuts are baked and then doused in a honey şerbet.
Baklava comes in various shapes, with a lot of şerbet or a little less – for a longer shelf life, and remains a very popular dessert and gift.
Copious amounts are sold during the three-day Şeker Bayramı (Sugar Holiday), celebrating the end of Ramadan, for serving to family and friends.
For those who prefer something a little less sweet, there is şöbiyet, pistachio baklava with kaymak inside giving it a lighter taste, and sütlü nuriye, where hazelnuts replace the pistachios and milk replaces the syrup, giving it a white look and gentler taste.
Baklava is perfect with a dollop of kaymak and a strong Turkish coffee.
20. Turkish coffee
A good meal, and any worthy dessert list, is always rounded off with a Turkish coffee. The beans are finely ground – the best come from Kuru Kahveci Mehmet Efendi – and being unfiltered, they pack a caffeine punch.
It is drunk throughout the day, often at a kahve hanesi (coffee house), where it is served in traditional ceramic coffee cups in ornate metal holders.
For a more modern take, and on one of those really hot summer days, Kahve Dunyası (The World of Coffee – a coffee house brand) offer a marvelous soğuk (cold) Turkish coffee with milk and complete with the coffee grinds.
It will cool you off, but if you want a falı with your kahve, that is, your fortune read in the coffee grinds, then stick to the traditional hot coffee.
Turn your finished coffee cup upside in the saucer, wait till it cools – the really important bit – and have fun making stories from the wonderful patterns left behind.
If you love Turkish cuisine, check out our food about the most popular Turkish foods.