When I ask people which “Turkish desserts” they know, the first answer is mostly “baklava”. And maybe some would say “Turkish delight”. Baklava, Turkish delight, baklava.. Well I’ve never been taken much by any of these two. My absolute favourite was always this dessert, which is, to put it simply, cookies made of flour and semolina, having a pine or another nut in the middle, and dipped into simple syrup to get moist and veeery sweet; it is called “Sekerpare”, which is literally translated as “Sugar piece”.
I always studied in state schools. My elementary education was in the neighbourhood school which was about 10 minutes by walk from home. For 5 years, yes the obligatory elementary education back then was that long, I walked to and from school with my mother. As the ever protective mother, she never let me out by myself. Sometimes I wonder how I got to be this woman I am now, who can live by herself, who can take care of herself, kilometres away from her mama.. I used to take her arm and we would walk fast and steady. I think she was about 10 years older than my age now when I started going to school: 45. She could walk very fast then. When I first started the school I was so little and looked at my mother from down when I walked next to her. As the years passed, I got closer to her height – she was 1.50m. If I remember correctly, I could look straight to her eyes when I was graduating from elementary school 5 years later.
Now, I told this story because of this: usually, on our way home from school, we would do the daily grocery shopping and we would also buy something for afternoon tea. I close my eyes and try to picture those streets in my head again, I think it was the patisserie in the corner a few streets away from home that had the best “Sekerpare” and we would buy often just because I loved it. If I ate sekerpare so frequently now, I would start rolling instead of walking! But back then I was an extremely skinny little girl.
As the years passed and I moved on to high school, our 10+10 minutes walks with my mother ended because I started going to a state school quite far from home – the school bus was taking me to and from school and each journey took about 45 minutes. So after then, I would call my father’s office and ask him to bring sekerpare on his way home for me, when I craved for it (which was quite often!).
Sekerpare is very sweet, yes, but if done well, it doesn’t feel heavily sweet. It should be sweet but still it should feel quite light. My recipe is like this. That’s why you like it and you want to and you can eat a lot of it. The beauty of a well-done sekerpare inspires one old Turkish movie with the same name, “Sekerpare”, too. In the movie, sekerpare is the nickname of a very beautiful and sweet prostitute during the late Ottoman period and the movie tells the funny story of a low rank police officer who cannot rival with her in the good looks department, falling crazy in love with her and what happens afterwards. Of course, in Ottoman time, brothels are forbidden so they do their business under disguise and of course you long for the beautiful sekerpare ending up with the police officer who is madly in love with her…
Oh and one thing I noticed after I baked them for the first time myself (3 years ago): they look like boobs when two of them are put next to each other!! So it’s a Turkish boob dessert!
for simple syrup:
500 gr granulated white sugar
3 cups / 7.2 dl water in room temperature
1 tsp / 5 ml lemon juice (ready or freshly squeezed)
(makes about 35 cookies)
250 gr butter in room temperature, soft
500 gr flour
150 gr powdered sugar
50 gr semolina
1 tbsp / 15 ml baking powder
1 tsp / 5 ml vanilla extract (or 2 tsp / 10 ml vanilla powder, if you can’t find vanilla extract)
2 eggs (for cookie dough)
pine nuts (you can also use hazelnuts, almonds etc but I think the best option is pine nut)
1 or 2 eggs for egg wash at the end
1. First we will make the syrup. The syrup must be done slightly early so that it cools down in the meantime. When you pour the syrup on the cookies coming fresh out of the oven, the cookies must be hot and the syrup should be cool – in room temperature. So, in order to prepare it, pour water and sugar in a pan and put on medium heat, stirring until most of the sugar is dissolved. You can then leave it on the heat until it starts boiling.
2. When it starts boiling, pour lemon juice in the sugary water, stir just a couple of turns, and let it simmer for about 5 more minutes, then take it out of the stove to cool down. You can make the syrup about 2 hours in advance and let it cool on your kitchen counter (do not put it in the fridge).
4. Add flour and continue kneading with your hand.
5. When the flour is incorporated, add powdered sugar, semolina, baking powder and vanilla extract and eggs.
6. Continue kneading the cookie dough until all the ingredients are incorporated and it becomes a smooth but soft dough. It will feel quite greasy. Cover the bowl with stretch film and put in the fridge for half an hour to chill. Chilling is not absolutely necessary. But I find it useful in order to control the spreading of cookies. The dough is really soft and if you are not careful, you might get too flat cookies (I did, once). So it is nice to chill the dough for about half hour, and in the meantime you can heat your oven and wash some dishes!
7. Preheat the oven to 160C.
8. Put a baking a sheet on an oven tray. Take the cookie dough from refrigerator and make balls about the size of a walnut (or slightly more, if you prefer, I once ate huge ones in a famous patisserie in Istanbul!). Since the dough is chilled, they will not spread much, this is why it will be better to push a bit from top with your palm to make them flatter. Brush the surface of each cookie with egg.
9. Put one nut in the middle of each cookie, by pushing them deep into the cookie. Put the cookies in the oven, in middle rack. You can cover rest of the dough and put back in the fridge while the first batch is baking.
10. Bake the cookies for about 20-25 minutes and take them out once they are done.
11. While they are still hot, transfer them immediately into a deep service tray and pour some syrup on them. Do not pour all the syrup, as you still have more dough to bake. Bake rest of dough and pour the remaining syrup once the other batches of cookies are baked and are out of the oven. Let the dessert cool in room temperature for a couple of hours before serving (you can also serve them warm but it will feel too sweet if served warm..). The dessert can be stored in a well covered bowl in room temperature or in the fridge for a day (maybe two days too but it is best to eat all while they are quite fresh of course). Enjoy!!