Ramadan in Turkey sees the arrival of a few annual traditions: drums beating out the wake up call for sahur, dates to break fasting, shadow plays and the simple dessert güllaç after a large iftar dinner. Güllaç is almost never found anywhere in Turkey throughout the rest of the year, but in Ramadan it is even more popular than baklava.
As with other Turkish desserts, yufka (phyllo pastry) is the main ingredient in güllaç. The thin layers are white because the main ingredient is cornstarch, unlike the golden color baklava has. Dry and paper-thin, this type of dough was first made in the Ottoman era as a way to preserve food for long periods. Before people would turn this type of food into a meal—what would they call aş (food) in general—they would soften the dough with milk and add sugar to it
This dish later had rose water and various nuts added to it to improve the taste. Because of the added rose water, the name of the dessert changed to güllü aş (literally, food with rose.) In time, the name evolved into one word, güllaç—just like sütlaç.
There are pistachios and hazelnuts in between the center layers of güllaç. Pistachios are also sprinkled on the top of the dessert as a garnish. Other garnishes vary according to the season in which Ramadan falls. A cherry on top or pomegranate seeds are often also used as an embellishment.
After a long day of fasting, the iftar dinner is usually a rich feast and stomachs fill up quickly—often going a little overboard. After such a meal, for dessert people seek something light that will not upset the stomach. In this case, güllaç is an ideal option. Unlike baklava or other syrupy Turkish desserts, güllaç is light due to being milk based.
Take it home
Güllaç is a very easy dessert to make at home. You can either prepare the phyllo with cornstarch and flour in a pan and dry it or you can buy it at a supermarket in Istanbul during Ramadan. These dry doughs can be stored up to two years in the proper conditions.
For every 10 layers of phyllo dough, use one and a half liters of milk. Add two to six cups of sugar to taste. Add an optional half cup of rose water to the mix, which you will later pour over the layers of dough. Do not forget to put your favorite nuts in between the layers. Sprinkle some pistachios and seasonal fruit of your choice to dress the dessert.
Where to have güllaç during Ramadan
This restaurant at Çırağan Hotel serves renditions of Turkish and Ottoman cuisine. The Ottoman-style interiors complement the food and dining on the terrace, overlooking the Bosphorus is an unmatched joy in the summer. Çırağan Caddesi No.32, Beşiktaş; T: (0212) 326 46 46
Known for offering the best baklava in town, Karaköy Güllüoğlu is your go-to place to try güllaç or take a box, or even a tray, with you. Do not forget to try a few piece or two, or five, of their myriad baklava while there. Rıhtım Caddesi, No.3-4, Karaköy; T: (0212) 293 09 10