A Novice-Friendly, Rose-Infused Rice Pudding From Turkey

August  8, 2017

The first time I invited friends over for an authentic, ambitious Turkish dinner, I set my roommate’s potholders on fire. I made a hummus that was far too tahini-rich, and had to use a knife instead of a corkscrew to pry open a bottle of wine that someone had brought over. Moreover, my beef kofte fell apart upon contact with the frying pan, and I learned that I had used the wrong setting on my food processor to grind up carrots for the yogurt mezze dish I wanted to make. (My friends were polite enough to actually eat everything, emphasizing lesson number one of novice dinner party hosing: Have hungry friends.)

The single silver lining of the night, however, was this rose-infused rice pudding. (In Turkish, we call this sutlac.) Almost every pastane (bakery) will display sutlac in its vitrines, and I think it’s safe to call it a dessert that all Turks feel some kind of affinity towards. Real pros like my mother and grandmother usually take the recipe I used a step further and turn it into firinda sutlac, which literally translates to “rice pudding in the oven.” Think of this as the lovechild of a perfectly torched crème brûlée and rice pudding. The crispy top is achieved by placing the pudding ramekins in a tray filled with a few inches of cold water, which is then placed in an oven and baked. In winter months, it’s especially satisfying to take the baking route, but in the summer—when turning on the oven feels especially oppressive—I’d recommend taking my no-bake approach.

Many Turkish grocery stores sell rice pudding mixes that eliminate the trickier steps, and take considerably less time than making the pudding from scratch. Of course, those options are considerably less tasty than this recipe, and won’t give you the same bragging rights. You choose.

The best way to describe this pudding is to think of all the comforts of a really good bowl of white rice, doused in vanilla, sugar, and milk—plus rose flavoring, which gives the traditionally white pudding a pinkish tint. (You can tell if you’ve gone overboard with the rose if things start to turn purple.) Edible flowers also make for a beautiful topping, instead of or in addition to cinnamon.

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I went to an Armenian grocery store to pick up a glass bottle of rose water that was specifically marked for baking and cooking. (Read: Do not use the cosmetic rosewater toners available at Whole Foods, as those are mixed with witch hazel.) You’ll likely have luck at many Middle Eastern grocery stores. Also, If you don’t have short grain rice, regular jasmine will work in a pinch, but it does impact the texture and cook time, so pay attention to the rice's cooking instructions (and taste as you go!). This recipe doesn’t have a ton of ingredients, but it does require constant vigilance with a wooden spoon—otherwise, you’ll risk the mixture clumping up at various stages, instead of turning into a smooth pudding.

Any dinner party hits? (Or misses?) Let us know in the comments!

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1 Comment

mela August 10, 2017
Thanks for this Oset. Turkish rice pudding is one of my absolute favourite desserts though mine (from Ozcan Ozan's wonderful cookbook) doesn't use rosewater. Will be interested to try yours!
I have a couple of questions:
1. Would it work to use whole grain basmati rice, do you think? I love the texture with arborio but would like to try something whole-ier.
2. Off topic but still Turkish.... I had a wonderful yogurt/carrot meze in Turkey this spring and back home was delighted to find instructions for yogurtlu havuc salatasi in a library book. It was glorious, but different from the one in Turkey: my carrots had an odd texture. So here's the question: what's the correct setting on the food processor?!!? Should they be very, very small bits before stir frying?
3. Would love to know your entire menu for that dinner. I'm planning to make a Turkish dinner for friends but am, you know, a tourist with your wonderful food.