It is one of the most famous and popular Turkish desserts for good reason.
On our first day in Istanbul last summer, we toured the lavish wonders of the Topkapi Palace. We walked for hours on a hot summer’s day. We decided to sit for a cool drink and walked into a café called Hafiz Mustafa. It featured a decadent display of pastries about a mile long. There were rows of loquom (Turkish Delight), thinly shredded kadaif pastries studded with crushed nuts, lots of honeyed baklavas and every variety of French tart. Definitely one of the most beautiful sights I have ever laid eyes on. But when I opened the menu, the first item that jumped out at me was Sutlac. Sut is Turkish for milk and this delicious rice pudding is made from a fine rice flour and milk. The pudding is then baked in the oven with a sweet, caramelized burnt crust on top. It is one of the most famous and popular Turkish desserts for good reason. Neil and I devoured every delectable spoonful.
My family always enjoyed Arroz con Leche, a pudding made with short grain rice and milk and lightly sweetened. But when I married Neil, I found out about Sutlach, a pudding made with rice flour and milk.
When the Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain, they found refuge in Ottoman lands and adapted Turkish recipes.
When the Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain, they found refuge in Ottoman lands and adapted Turkish recipes. Neil’s maternal grandmother was from Rhodes (once part of the Ottoman Empire) and Sutlach was a treasured part of their Rhodesli Shabbat desayuno (Ladino for breakfast). This dairy meal consists of boyos (a spinach and feta pastry), burekas (savory pockets of dough stuffed with potato and cheese), cuajado des espinaca (a spinach and cheese egg bake), huevos haminado (brown eggs cooked overnight), big juicy Greek olives, queso kashkaval (Turkish white cheese) and roskas (a sweet bread ring stuffed with almonds). The meal was finished off with individual bowls of Sutlach, each with a Star of David design etched on top with powdered cinnamon.
Over the years, Neil has taken great pride and joy in preparing Sutlach for our family. It’s his thing. But to celebrate his recent birthday, I decided to make Sutlach. A simple combination of fine rice flour, sugar and milk, this dessert is made on the stovetop. The pudding needs to be stirred constantly, ensuring that it cooks evenly without forming lumps and that the bottom doesn’t burn. There’s no rushing Sutlach, so be sure to keep a low flame the entire time. Once the pudding has thickened, it is removed from the stove and can be poured into one big bowl or individual cups. (I think there’s something fun and special about having your own cup.) The pudding firms up in the refrigerator and has a lovely smooth and light consistency.
Sutlach is traditionally flavored with rose water or orange blossom water, which I love. But if you’re making this dessert for an American palate, I recommend using fresh lemon rind. I wasn’t sure if our friends had ever tasted Sutlach, so I made it with plenty of grated lemon rind. I took my time stirring and pouring into little cups. Once the pudding had set, I carefully sprinkled cinnamon on top of each one.
To make this dessert very authentic and extra special, I placed a bowl of visne (Turkish for sour cherry preserves) in the center of the tray. I discovered this extra touch when I ordered Sutlac at Hafiz Mustafa. Sour cherries are very popular in Turkey and they make an appearance in jams, desserts and even a Visne Liqueur.
Neil’s birthday celebration was happy and fun. And the Sutlach made it extra special.
6-7 Tbsp of rice flour
1 qt whole milk
3-4 Tbsp of sugar
2 tsp vanilla
Rind of one lemon, grated
Bring the milk to a boil. Add rice flour, sugar and vanilla and begin to stir.
Continue stirring so rice flour doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pot.
If too soupy add a teaspoon of rice flour.
Once the consistency is thick enough the pudding sticks to the back of a spoon, it’s ready.
Fold in the lemon rind
Spoon into cups
Refrigerate for at least 6 hours, or overnight.
Top with Cinnamon and serve.
Sharon Gomperts and Rachel Emquies Sheff have been friends since high school. The Sephardic Spice Girls project has grown from their collaboration on events for the Sephardic Educational Center in Jerusalem. Follow them
on Instagram @sephardicspicegirls and on Facebook at Sephardic Spice SEC Food