In Turkey, dessert is often a social ritual, a course meant to be shared. At any time of day or night, friends can be found congregating to sip Turkish coffee or tea from dainty glasses, and should you care to accompany that beverage with a roll, pastry, or snack, there’s much to choose from. Baklava is just the tip of the iceberg on a recent trip to Istanbul, you will fall in love with the country’s vast range of desserts, while developing a far deeper understanding of the Turkish sweet tooth.
Baklava comes in numerous shapes, sizes and flavors. Cevizli Baklava (walnut baklava) and Fistikli Baklava (pistachio baklava) are the most favorite, flaky layers of phyllo dough, stacked and brushed with butter and sugar syrup, and then cut into rectangles or diamonds. But keep an eye out for other variations, like ceviz dolama, a round and slightly more compact baklava made with walnuts, or the similarly shaped saray sarmasi, which features a combination of both nuts. Then there’s dürüm, which is made with only a single layer of phyllo, so it’s composed almost entirely of ground pistachios that turn each piece a vibrant green. And wait, there’s more! Like özel kare baklava, which contains the traditional layers of phyllo but bulges with double the pistachio filling; visenli baklava, packed with sour cherries; and the delightful kestaneli baklava, in which phyllo dough is wrapped around a candied chestnut so it actually assumes that same, rotund shape.
Kunefe (or Kunafa) is sweet and savory levantine cheese pastry and is hard to avoid in Turkey, you can smell the street vendors frying it up from blocks away. Kunefe (or Kunafa) is made from a stretchy, unsalted fresh melting cheese called hatay found only in this region. The cheese is coated in sugar syrup-soaked phyllo shreds called kadayıf (the same ones used to make some varieties of baklava, as described above), and fried until crisp. Its appeal is the contrasting textures of the crunchy exterior against the soft, melty interior. It can be topped with pistachios, kaymak (clotted cream) or ice cream or simply eaten on its own, preferably while still piping hot.