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One of my first memories of Istanbul (in the daylight that is- I arrived in Turkey’s largest city around one in the morning and those first memories included seeing the incredibly imposing Süleymaniye Mosque illuminated by flood lights) were the simit, or sesame breads that were sold everywhere. Excluding the bologna and cheese sandwich I ate at two in the morning that had been provided by my hotel, this simit was truly the first thing I ever ate in Turkey that was quintessentially Turkish. It also made for the perfect photo op when paired with the stunning and colorful Hagia Sofia. And that’s why I was anxious to try making my own Turkish Sesame Rings at home.
As I mentioned in my 2019 Year in Review post, my first Cookbook of the Month selection, Sevtap Yüce’s Turkish Fire, is lasting a lot longer than a month so I could try as many recipes as possible, not wanting to shortchange it. I got very excited when I saw a recipe for simit in it. I noticed in the pictures these simit were much smaller than the ones being sold on the streets in Turkey but I (naively) attributed it to a case of what’s mass produced versus what one recreates in their own kitchen. Well, no, not exactly.
Kandil simit are something else entirely. From additional culinary reading I learned that kandil simit are aptly named sesame rings due to their small size AND are more of a pastry (I wondered about this with the addition of mahlab- see below in ingredients- as this definitely has a sweet taste and smell to it). Not to mention, kandil simit are eaten during the religious holiday of Kandil, the observance of the birthday of the prophet Muhammad. So, huge distinction for non-Muslims: simit, eaten 365 days a year, kandil simit, eaten during the five nights of this religious celebration. Also, kandil simit are a Turkish and Muslim Balkan food, not eaten throughout the entire Islamic world.
But if you’re like me and just wanted to try a delicious and relatively easy recipe, not to mention reminisce about a wonderful trip to one of the world’s most fascinating cities, then be sure to try the kandil simit. Although I am still dying to make my own simit and see if mine can come even remotely close to how good it was in Istanbul.
Kandil Simit (Sesame Rings)
Recipe from Sevtap Yüce’s Turkish Fire
-2 egg yolks, lightly beaten for brushing
-Copious amount of sesame seeds for sprinkling
-9 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon mahlab (I purchased it online but Middle Eastern grocery stores and spice shops should have it too. According to the author, it’s a “fragrant spice powder ground from the small seeds inside the pits of the wild, sour mahaleb cherry.”)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Pinch of sea salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Set aside the egg yolks and sesame seeds. Put all the other ingredients in a large bowl and mix together to make a dough. Allow to rest for about 10-15 minutes.
Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces, then roll each piece into a cigar shape, about 4 inches long and 1 inch in diameter. Form each cigar into a circle by joining the two ends and pinching them together, making a bagel shape. Brush each circle with egg yolk and sprinkle with the sesame seeds.
Place on a baking tray and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Enjoy warm, fresh from the oven.