Monday, July 24, 2006

Turkish Milk-Based Desserts

Milk-based desserts are aplenty in Turkish cuisine. There are even dessert shops specializing in them. Some of these are easy to make at home; others like Tavuk Gogsu -- a pudding enriched by cooked chicken breast strands (do I see you making a face?) -- require some expertise, so many prefer to buy them from these specialty shops rather than labor at home for less than satisfactory results. Lately, I've been making milk desserts quite frequently. (The roundup for the last Turkish blog event themed "Milky Desserts" was certainly a positive influence.) Served well-chilled from the refrigerator, they are as refreshing to me as fruit desserts in these hot days of summer.


This, to me, is the ultimate Turkish dairy dessert. It is a simple rice flour-thickened pudding, made sublime by the deliciously burnt bottom. As you can see in the above picture, it is served with the burnt bottom side up. A dollop of Turkish ice cream flavored with sahleb makes a wonderful accompaniment in the summer. Unfortunately, genuine kazandibi (literally, "bottom of the pot") is not easy to make at home. This I know from personal experience: being so far away from home, I felt compelled to try several times and the results were never good. I had given up for a long while, when finally luck prevailed and I chanced on a professional's recipe in a Turkish food forum. This time my pudding earned its name. I have to confess that it still lacked the right texture, but an anonymous commentor to my Turkish blog said that the cooked pudding can be beaten to a sticky consistency in about 10 minutes. I will certainly try it the next time I make kazandibi.
  • 4 c whole milk
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 2 (heaping) tbs rice flour
  • 3-4 tbs water
  • 2 tbs corn starch
  • A small piece of mastic (if desired)
Combine milk, sugar and mastic in a heavy-bottomed pan. Cook the mixture on medium flame stirring continuously until the sugar dissolves. Once this happens, you can stop stirring. Meanwhile combine rice flour and corn starch in a cup; dilute the mixture with cold water and stir to a smooth and pourable consistency. When the milk boils, pour this in a thin stream into your hot milk. Keep stirring until the mixture comes to a boil again. Let it simmer until it is quite thick. (Your piece of mastic should have dissolved into the milk by now; if not, do not forget to pick it up)

Take a dry 9"x13" pan which is OK for stove-top use. Pour about 2 ladles of hot pudding into it and tilt your pan so that the pudding covers the bottom in a thin layer. Transfer the remaining pudding to your Kitchenaid mixer and beat it on medium speed for about 10 minutes. (I tried this, and altough my pudding was not thick enough to begin with, it does seem to deliver the desirable consistency.) Meanwhile, put your pan on medium flame and cook the thin layer of pudding inside so that it turns a medium brown. (This takes some time, the pudding will first make a big bubble, and eventually start browning.) Keep your pan moving so that the whole bottom is uniformly browned.

Pour the beaten, slightly cooled pudding into your pan. After it has cooled down to room temperature, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate until next day. To serve, cut a longish rectangle of pudding and scrape it from the pan with a spatula. Roll it as you go so that the burned bottom becomes the top. If you find it difficult to roll (like I do), you can just serve it upside down.

Warning: Although I had no difficulties in this area, some reported that the pan was somewhat difficult to clean afterwards, and that it would be a good idea to reserve a pan for this purpose only.


This is another milk pudding which is my daughter's favorite. Although in its most commonly encountered form, keskul is an almond-infused milk pudding, there are several equally delightful variations of it. This one, adapted from a Turkish fellow blogger's site (which she had in turn taken from Sofra Turkish food magazine), is called Ottoman Style Keskul. It is flavored with almonds, pistachios and coconut. Rather than simply infusing the milk with the nuts, this recipe leaves them in the pudding, resulting in a thicker, somewhat grainy texture. The tiny specks of green and brown look good in the finished product, but I think I prefer the smoothness of the infused version.
  • 4 c milk
  • 4 tbs rice flour
  • 1 oz finely ground pistachios
  • 1.5 oz finely ground almonds
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 2 tbs coconut flour
Combine milk, sugar and ground almonds and pistachios in a pot. Bring it to a boil. Add a little cold water to the rice flour and stir to an easily pourable consistency. Stream it slowly into the hot milk, stirring continuously. When it comes to a second boil, add the coconut flour and let it boil for a couple of more minutes. Divide it into 4-5 bowls. Cool, refrigerate and serve topped with additional ground nuts.

Su Muhallebisi

Su Muhallebisi can be translated as "Water Pudding". To serve, you unmold it to a plate, top it with some powdered sugar and give it a generous sprinkle of rose water. As you might guess, the pudding itself contains little sugar. Recently, the curious question as to how this pudding (which contains no water) earned its name came up in a Turkish blog, and the consensus was that it had to do with the rinsing of the molds before the hot pudding was poured in, in order to facilitate unmolding later. It could very well be so, but I forgot to rinse mine and had no difficulty whatsoever unmolding them. So, I tend to think that the "water" in the name refers to the rose water sprinkled on the pudding. In fact, I read somewhere that a more traditional serving suggestion for su muhallebisi was to float neatly cut rectangles of it in bowls of ice cold rose water.

In my version (adapted from Gillie Basan's Classic Turkish Cooking), I used more sugar and infused the milk with mastic. And since I love the flavor of roses, I added rose water directly into the milk rather than sprinkle it later on the pudding. Persisting on the rose theme, I served it with my favorite rose petal jam. Delicious!!
  • 3 c milk (or milk and half-and-half combination)
  • 2 oz rice flour
  • 4 oz (or less) sugar
  • 1 small piece of crushed mastic
  • 2 tbs rose water
  • 6 tbs rose petal jam or confectioners' sugar (if desired)
Reserve about 4 tbs milk and combine the rest with sugar, mastic and rose water in a heavy-bottomed pan. Put it on medium flame and stir until the sugar dissolves. Once that happens, you can turn down the heat to a low and stop stirring. Meanwhile, combine the rice flour with the reserved cold milk and stir until it dissolves into a thick and smooth mixture. When the milk starts to boil, pour in the rice flour mixture in a thin stream. Stir and continue cooking until the pudding thickens and starts to boil again. Rinse your molds with water before you fill them with the pudding. Cool, cover and refrigerate until it is time to serve. Unmold into serving plates (or cut into pieces) and serve with more rose water. If you use less sugar, you can serve it topped with jam or confectioners' sugar.