From the delicious simplicity of fresh fruit and light fruit compotes to the magnificent elaboration of the famous pastries and palace desserts, Turkish sweets provide both a fine ending to any meal and a warm expression of hospitality to casual callers and guests. Of the three desserts presented here, one relies on the fresh flavor of the delicious tart cherries of Anatolia. Another, rarely made in private homes, includes - and conceals - chicken breast meat among its ingredients, and is surely one of the strangest and most delicious inventions of the Topkapı Palace kitchens. The third, according to legend, was invented by Noah's wife, who, after the Ark landed, concocted a final meal out of the leftovers of all the supplies aboard, turning out a wheat pudding whose variations are familiar today in many parts of the Middle East.
MORELLO CHERRY BREAD—Yizneli Ekmek
1 kilogram (35 oz.) morallo cherries (750 grains [26 oz.] when pitted)
200 grams (7 oz.) water
450 grams (1 lb., 2cu.) sugar
1 loaf of firm, day-old white bread, unsliced
The ingredients are the making of this dish; select flavorful bread - perhaps homemade - and ripe, fresh cherries. Use a loaf that is nearly square in cross-section. Slice it thickly, and cut the slices in two to make 20 long, rectangular pieces. Pit the cherries and stir the sugar into them. Let them rest in a large pan for about half an hour, then stir in the water and bring to a boil.
Toast the pieces of bread in the oven until crisp. Put them on a platter and slowly pour over them the hot cherries and syrup. Let the dish cool.
Put each two-piece serving onto a dessert plate. Decorate with whipped cream and a generous pinch of chopped almonds. Serves 10.
BROWN CHICKEN BREAST DESSERT—Kazam dibi Tanik Göğsu
5 kilograms water-buffalo milk (4 ¼ Imp. qts., 5 qts. 10 oz. US measure)
1,250 grams (2Ib. 12 oz.) sugar
1 boiled double chicken breast, well cooked
1 kilogram (2 Ib. 3 oz., scant 4 1/2 cu.) rice
Rinse the rice and soak it in cold water overnight. Drain it and buzz it in a blender in small portions until it becomes a milky liquid. Keep this sübye cool until it is added to the pudding: It stiffens immediately when heated.
Pick the boiled chicken breast into small pieces and rub it between your fingers or pound it in a mortar until it is almost like a puree.
Bring the water-buffalo milk to a boil, adding sugar and stirring. (If you need a substitute, try two or three parts cow's cream to one part cow's milk.) Add the sübye slowly to the simmering milk, stirring continuously. Then add the finely rubbed or pounded white chicken meat to the mixture. Stir continuously for 45 minutes.
The pudding can now be poured into bowls and eaten when cool. However, the more sophisticated version - which is also more attractive and, many say, even more tasty - is browned in a further step and designated kazan-dibi, or "bottom-of-the-pot."
Divide the mixture into two large flat pans similar to roasting pans. Cook it slowly on the stove top, over medium heat, while you stir the upper layers only with a spatula. Don't stir too deep: Allow the undercrust to turn dark golden brown, but without burning. Continue, shifting the pan if necessary, until the whole bottom layer becomes the desired color, then remove from heat and allow to cool.
The pudding is traditionally served in rolled-up slabs, with the browned side up and the seam of the roll beneath. Cut the pudding into rectangles of a size that allows each one to make a single fat roll. Use a spatula to scrape each portion off the bottom of the pan, rolling it up with your hand as you go. Serves 25 - and rarely made in smaller quantities.
500 grams (18 oz., 2 ¼ cu.) whole wheat
150 grams (5 oz., scant ¾ cu.) chickpeas
150 grains (5 oz., scant ¾ cu.) white beans
100 grams (3 ½ oz., scant ½ cu.) dried figs
100 grams (3 ½ oz., ½ cu.) hazelnuts
100 grams (3 ½ oz., scant ½ cu.) dried apricots
100 grams (3 ½ oz.., ½ cu.) seedless raisins
4 liters water (6 ¾ Imp. pints, 1 gal. plus 1 cu. US measure)
1,500 grams (31b. 5 oz., 6 ½ cu.) sugar
1 dessertspoon of rosewater
100 grams (3 ½ oz., ½ cu.) pine nuts
100 grams (3 ½ oz. ,generous ½ cu.) walnut halves or quarters
50 grams (1 ½ to 2 oz., scant ¼ cu.) dried currants pomegranate seeds for decoration
In separate bowls, soak the wheat, chickpeas and dried white beans overnight in plenty of water. Drain. Boil the wheat in the four liters of water for three hours, then let it stand in the remaining water. Boil the chickpeas and white beans, each separately, until tender. Drain them, but reserve the cooking liquid. Cut up the dried apricots and all but one or two figs and leave them in a little water. When they have softened, force them through a coarse sieve. Chop the hazelnuts. Then squeeze off and discard the skins of the boiled chickpeas.
Put half of the boiled wheat in a blender and buzz until mushy. Pour it back into the pan with the rest of the wheat. Add the chickpeas, white beans, figs, apricots, hazelnuts and raisins. Stir together, add the sugar and bring to boil, stirring. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. If more liquid is needed, use the reserved liquid from the cooked beans. During the last five minutes of simmering, add the rosewater.
Pour the pudding into dessert bowls and let it cool a bit before decorating the top with sliced figs, pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, currants and walnuts.