Turkish delight: starch, sugar and the scent of flowers

Turkish delight. Home made, no less.

Turkish delight. Home made, no less.

I was in Nargile for a slap-up feast in June. At the end of a meal, when we were all fit to burst, the temptress waitress brought in a small plate of Turkish delight with the bill. It was fabulous and I ate several pieces. I was reminded that good Turkish delight is a beautiful thing that I wanted to learn how to make. I’m talking about the original, gelatin-free version. It makes a nice gift and is my sweetheart’s favourite candy. So I scoured the Internet for instructions and set out to learn how to make perfect delight. Here is what I learned.

1. Theoretically, it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3

One: make a sugar syrup.

One: make a sugar syrup.

Turkish delight is made by mixing sugar syrup at the soft ball stage with a stiff corn-starch glue and cooking the resulting gloop for an age. That’s it. The traditional version is thickened by starch and partly caramelised sugar, nothing else. Modern versions sometimes use gelatine to set the turkish delight. It can give a less opaque sweet and might also be easier to use than a traditional method. I needed a vegetarian recipe, so starch and sugar it was.

2. Do your research

Two: make corn starch glue.

Two: make corn starch glue.

With some recipes the details aren’t so important. With sweets – fudge, tablet, nougat and turkish delight – it is all about the details. The temperature of the sugar syrup does make a difference, as does the proportions of starch to sugar syrup. I looked at a lot of different recipes, compared them, read comments and feedback and then settled for a general one on The Foody UK & Ireland. I still had problems, and the first one was this:”Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring often, to prevent sticking, for about 1 hour, or until the mixture has become a pale golden colour.”
You see, I used organic, golden caster sugar so the syrup was golden to start with and didn’t get any more golden even though I kept stirring for an hour and a half…

3. Make sure you can source all of the ingredients

Three: Turkish gloop ready to set.

Three: Turkish gloop ready to set.

I was deeply disappointed when I found that my local Sainsbury no longer carried rose water and, to add frustration to annoyance, was out of corn starch on the day I decided to make Turkish delight. The lesson: prepare.

4. Use a sugar thermometer

The soft ball stage is not that difficult to identify but with a sugar thermometer you know when you’re there. This is tricky a recipe enough that anything that takes the guesswork out of it is helpful.

5. Release your creativity

Turkish delight isn’t all roses and oranges. You can flavour it in many different ways. I added almond extract and pistachio nuts to half the mix and orange flower water and red food colouring to the other.  Rose water, mint extract, lemon and orange are other common flavours. The base has a faint sugarystarchy flavour that makes a good base for flower flavours but it presents stronger fruit flavours well too.

6. Bake yourself out of a sticky situation

You’ve followed the recipe carefully but after 12 hours of setting, the delight is still too sticky to cut into squares. That’s what happened to me. There are two solutions.

  1. Spoon up globs and cover them in chocolate. Then it doesn’t matter that they are too soft to handle.
  2. Dry out in the oven for an hour or so on each side, at a low temperature (110C). It will still be sticky in the middle, but much easier to handle.

And lastly: it’s sticky work making Turkish delight. Very sticky.

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About Caroline von Schmalensee

Cooking, eating and drinking is fun as well as necessary. I do food for fun and I write for a living. Good food makes the world a more delicious and satisfying place. Good writing, meanwhile, can make the world a less confusing place.


  1. Hi.

    I followed this recipe and I found mine to have set quite substantially. I definitely couldn’t “pour” it out of the pot and smoothing it was rather difficult as well. It was not soft and gooey at all – it was in fact too set with no softness – it was more like a soft gum sweet than Turkish Delight. Were your sweets soft? Did I maybe boil the mixture for too long at some point?

    • Hi,

      The first time I made them mine were so soft I had to bake them in the oven to firm them up. I was looking for a much firmer texture – closer to yours than mine. If it gets too hard it’s likely either that the sugar was too hard – softball is a delicate state – or that you boiled it too long after. There’s a lot of give in the recipe. There’s also a lot of difference in textures out there – I’ve had really soft squishy delights in chocolate, and quite hard jelly-like ones too. I’m still on the hunt for the perfect instructions. If you find them, let me know. I hope your delight tastes good even if they’re not quite texture you wanted.

  2. Is it possible to get the recipe for this? I’d love to try making some too as it sounds like a perfect idea for a Christmas present.


    • Hi Kelly – I used this one, from the Foody, UK & Ireland: http://thefoody.com/sweets/turkishdelight.html
      It’s traditional and straight-forward but it is not the only recipe out there and I haven’t tried as many as I’ve read.

      As mentioned, my main issue was the colour of the final glue – go for white sugar, expect to stir for a good wee while and let me know how you get on!

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