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Turkish cuisine, which is actually a melange of Eastern European and Middle Eastern culinary traditions, is famous for its rich sticky desserts. However, there are a few subtle, light versions for those who are afraid of having a cardiac arrest after eating two portions of baklava on top of some kebab. This particular dessert is one of them and originates from Ottoman Empire era. These days, it is mostly consumed in Istanbul . Actually, not many people that live outside Istanbul practice Ottoman cousine. For example, I myself had a chance to taste it for the first time, at the age of 18, when I was doing some internship in Istanbul.

This is probably a lighter cousin of panna cotta. The name "su muhallebisi" literally translates as water pudding. It probably got this name during the hard times when cooks diluted the milk with equal amount of water. Now, water is rarely used in the recipe since milk is plenty but you can confirm from old recipe books that water was added. I guess it makes the dessert even lighter. Alternatively, one could also say that the water in the name is derived from the fact that serving bowls are rinsed with water to prevent the pudding from sticking. Despite the lack of sufficient sugar in the base, the recipe works, because the bland, cold pudding creates a perfect contrast with the aromatic, sugary toppings. Quite refeshing for summer and less sinful than eating vanilla ice cream with chocolate topping.

Basic recipe (makes 3-4 servings)

  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 cups of milk
  • 2 tablespoon of sugar
  • toppings (see serving below)
Heat the milk in a pan and add sugar. Mix the cornstarch with enough water to dilute and add this mixture to the milk. Stir continuously until the mixture becomes thick. Do not leave the pot, otherwise the mixture will become uneven. Grab a shallow dish, or small individual serving bowls and rinse them with water. The water will later help you to remove the pudding from the dishes. Pour this mixture to the dish, at one inch thickness. Leave the mixture on the kitchen counter to cool and then chill for at least 4 hours.


When the pudding gets hard, cut it into single serving squares (of course, you don't have to do this if you are using single serve dishes) and serve them in little plates with an appropriate topping. The traditional way to eat this is with lots of powdered sugar and rosewater on top. Put lots of powdered sugar, and be generous with rosewater; otherwise you will eat a block of cold, thick milk.


The basic formula of this recipe enables you to experiment, both with the pudding base and the toppings. You can add spices (cloves, cardamom, cinamon) to the base, or some mastic gum, or even color it with saffron and then put orange marmalade and pistachios on top.

Instead of powdered sugar and rosewater, you can try chocolate syrup, molasses, jam or marmalade (sour cherry jam works best and it is also traditinally used in Turkey). Or try putting some dried fruit that you braised in a shallow pan. I have tried prunes and raisins cooked in bourbon, honey and cinnamon with success and I guess any deep rich aromatic fruit will work as well.

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