Turkish delights: Sweets from the Ottoman Empire

Holly Williams samples some just-delicious desserts in Turkey:

On the shores of the Bosphorus, the strait of water that divides Europe on one bank from Asia on the other, sits Istanbul. It’s now an overcrowded Turkish city of 15 million people … a place where tradition and modernity rub shoulders.

But for nearly 500 years Istanbul was the capital of the Ottoman Empire, a colossus that stretched from the Arabian Gulf, across North Africa, and into Greece and Eastern Europe.

And though the empire collapsed in the flames of the First World War, in Istanbul Ottoman traditions still live on, including in the kitchen — and especially when it comes to anything sweet.

In the kitchens of Istanbul, the Ottoman Empire traditions of sugary treats such as baklava live on.

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Baklava is still eaten in nearly all the lands the Ottomans conquered.

And the members of the Gulluoglu family are the most famous baklava bakers in Turkey.

Murat Gulluoglu, who just graduated with a degree in international relations, is a sixth-generation baklava maker.

“Baklava-making was my kind of destiny, and also my passion, because I have been doing this since I was, like, five or six,” he said.

Crushed pistachios are rolled between paper-thin layers of filo pastry.

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Between paper-thin layers of filo pastry, they sandwich crushed pistachios grown in southern Turkey.

After 30 minutes in a scorching oven, the baklava’s doused with boiling hot syrup.

Baklava being doused with hot syrup.

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“It’s been known from the 11th Century-written dictionary that Turks have been dealing with filo pastries,” Murat said. “Almost a thousand years ago! It can be even before then.”

But the Ottomans also discovered new temptations, and one of them can still be found in the shadows of a 1,600-year-old aqueduct.

It’s thought that kunefe was first savored in the Arab cities of the Levant.

Kuenefe, a sweet cheese pastry, topped with vanilla ice cream and crushed pistachios.

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It’s made from angels’ hair pastry, with a heart of sticky, unsalted goat’s cheese.

Traditionally, it was cooked over a charcoal brazier. But in Ferhat Tegin’s busy working men’s diner, he…

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