There’s still a lot of people who only know of Turkish Delight as the powdery white sweet used by the White Witch to entice Edmund in The Chronicles of Narnia. However, the confection has a long history and is one of Turkey’s most popular exports. We went back to the year 1777 to explore the story of Lokum, a very, very sweet dessert.
One of the oldest sweets in the world, going back almost 500 years, the Turkish Delight recipe has remained almost unchanged since the day of its inception. As the story goes, the Sultan, trying to cope with all his mistresses, summoned his confectionary chefs and demanded the production of a unique dessert. It was through this summon that the Turkish Delight was born.
The fully apprenticed confectioner, Bekir Efendi, arrived in Istanbul from a small town in eastern Anatolia in 1777, during the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid I. Another theory states that it was actually Bekir Efendi who invented Turkish Delight and went on to open a little shop in the city center. Quickly winning fame and fortune amongst a people with quite the sweet tooth, Turkish Delight became a fashionable gift, wrapped in special, lace handkerchiefs. As the dessert rose to become an object used in the act of courting, it was no surprise that Bekir Efendi was appointed chief confectioner to the Ottoman Court. In the 19th century, Lokum made its way to the West via a British traveler who took quite the liking to the confection and brought cases of what he called ‘Turkish Delight’ to Britain.
Bekir Efendi, whose watercolor painting by Maltese artist Amedeo Preziosi hangs in the Louvre, became Hacı Bekir after going on a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina and received a medal of honor from Mahmud II. After his death at the age of 90, his son Mehmet Muhiddin took over the shop and his father’s title, going on to win medals for its participation in international competitions. When the company was taken over by Ali Muhiddin it continued enjoying a golden era, increasing in size to 10 shops that included two branches in Egypt. After Ali Muhiddin’s death in 1974, the family’s fifth generation continue to run the company Ali Muhiddin Hacı Bekir.
Turkish Delight is made from a sugar syrup and starch milk mixture that is cooked for five to six hours, at which point the flavor is added. The mixture is then poured into large wooden trays to be set and about five hours later they are rolled, cut and dusted with icing. Lokum has more than 24 different flavors, including rose, mastic, plain, mint and coffee, as well as fillings such as walnuts, pistachio and hazelnut. In the city of Afyon, a special kind of Lokum is made with a layer of kaymak (clotted cream from water buffalo milk) in between the sweet layers and covered in coconut shavings.