The Turkish origin of sheqerpare
You are probably familiar with the famous lokoum and baklava, halva, kanafeh or revani (basbousa), among the very long list of desserts from the Balkans, today, we’re exploring an Albanian dessert with Turkish origins.
Indeed, the most common and popular desserts in Albania are made throughout the Balkans, sometimes with different names.
Five centuries of Turkish domination have deeply influenced the culture, cuisine, language and even the gestures of the Balkan population, the sheqerpare therefore originates directly from the şekerpare, a very popular Turkish dessert.
In Albanian, sheqer means sugar, and pare means pastry. The word sheqerpare is thus translated to sweet pastry and is pronounced sheh-ker-pah-reh.
The origin of the word is Turkish as well, but also Persian and comes from the word şakarbūre (شكربوره), which means “a dessert made with pastry and sugar”
The şakarbūre is associated with the Persian şakarpāra, which means “sugar cube” but which also refers to a very sweet variety of apricots from the region.
A few variations of sheqerpare
The shekarpareh is a small cake that is very popular in the Iranian region of Khorasan.
The shekerbura (Azeri : şəkərbura) is an Azerbaijani dessert. Although hailing from Turkey, the word shekerbura, besides meaning “sweet pastry” in Azeri, also implies teamwork.
Indeed, to say shekerbura is to say : parents, friends and neighbors gathering to make these cakes together.
The Balkans and their cuisine
What are the Balkans ? It would be too simple to define them as a group of countries from Southeast Europe.
Their history is full of an extraordinary abundance of culture, including cuisine of course. The term “Balkans” used to only have a geographic meaning and referred to the mountain range that divides Bulgaria through its length. During the 19th century, the term started to be used to refer to the Eastern European territories still under Ottoman influence.
Ten countries are located completely or partially on this peninsula : Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Croatia, Turkey, Macedonia, Romania, Slovenia, former Yugoslavia : Serbia and Montenegro.
Centuries of integration under Turkish domination as well as the strong influence of the Greek cuisine, the Orthodox Church and Islam have created a shared cuisine, with only a few variations related to the three main climate zones in the Balkans.
This combination of people, cultures and histories, overlapping and entangling for centuries in the Balkan region, has given birth to a deeply varied cuisine, which sometimes falls in between Mediterranean and Slavic cultures, truly bridging East and West. Each of these populations has influenced the cuisines in one way or another.
In Istria, we can still meet the rich wild herbs cuisine, which is found all the way to the coastal regions of northeastern Italy.
Along the coast of former Yugoslavia, we find typically Mediterranean dishes due to frequent contacts with southern Italy.
The Greek and Turkish cuisines have many characteristics similar to that of the Middle East.
In all of the former Yugoslavian countries, except for Slovenia, Albania, Greece and Turkey, olive oil is prominently used.
In every region with muslim influence and in Greece, the most popular meat is sheep, while pork is mostly used in Istria, Slovenia and Croatia, and is also found as charcuterie. Beef is used throughout the region.
Gastronomy in the Balkans is full of roasted meats : kebabs, meatballs, but also whole lambs and pigs, on a spit, roasted over wood fire.
Cabbage, in its different forms, is one of the ingredients typical to the region. It is used in many recipes with meat or rice, such as sarma.
The most widespread desserts in Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro are highly influenced by Viennese and Hungarian pastries, whereas in the rest of the region, as well as in Greece, the tradition of extremely sweet desserts derived from the Arabic world dominates.
Discover all of the great recipes from the Balkans on 196 flavors. Here are a few staple recipes, to name a few :
– Shopska salad, a salad that is a prime example of Bulgarian cuisine, made with crudités and sirene.
– Ajvar, the most widespread condiment in the Balkans, made with red bell peppers and sometimes eggplants.
– Börek of all sorts, such as banitsa, spanakopita or prasopita.
– Moussaka, made of eggplant layers and minced meat.
– Cevapi, the kebab found in every cuisine in the Balkans.
– Sarma, made with sauerkraut leaves stuffed with minced meat.
– Dolma, stuffed vine leaves found throughout the Middle East as well as in Asia.
– Meatballs such as chiftele from Romanian cuisine or the Greek keftedakia.
How to make perfect sheqerpare
Sheqerpare are shortbread biscuits soaked in a sugar syrup
The syrup is without a doubt the most important ingredient of the recipe and only requires two ingredients : sugar and water. Therefore it seems quite simple, but it is the “hardest” part to master.
If you don’t boil the sugar and water long enough, the mix will end up too liquid, and if you boil for too long, it will harden and will affect your biscuits.
The second option truly not being the best, it would be better to soak the sheqerpare with a syrup too liquid rather than not enough.
Also known as “simple syrup”, sugar syrup has the advantage to be easy and quick to make.
It is a basic preparation and is a great ally in the kitchen. It proves very useful to make liqueurs, sweets or as a sweetener for hot drinks, sherbets, some granitas or fruit salads. Its fluid consistency with no lumps makes it useful for an endless number of variations. It is also possible to make sugar syrup with cane sugar, rendering it more aromatic and giving it an amber color.
To make sugar syrup, you have to use an equal quantity of the ingredients.
But you can choose to put more or less sugar depending on your taste. The mix must be heated up to 100°C maximum, above that, it would crystallize and turn into caramel. If you don’t own a thermometer, once it boils, wait until the syrup turns clear before you turn the heat off.
A very important tip :
– Soak a hot biscuit in cold syrup
– Soak a cold biscuit in hot syrup
Sugar syrup can be preserved easily, up to 45 days in an airtight sterilized glass jar.
Delicious even before it is soaked in syrup, once drenched, with a nice Turkish coffee or a raki, sheqerpare is a wonderful soft shortbread that is to die for!
- 2 cups flour sifted
- 8 tablespoons butter melted and cooled
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 whole egg
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 cups sugar
- 1½ cup water
- For the mold
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Stand mixer
- Candy thermometer
- In a saucepan, mix the sugar and the water.
- Bring the mixture to a temperature of about 210 F.
- Boil for about 15 minutes. The liquid must reduce. Reserve and let cool completely.
- Preheat the oven to 410 F.
- In a large bowl, mix the melted butter and eggs.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the flour, baking powder and sugar. Mix.
- Then add the melted butter and eggs, and, using the flat beater, mix everything very quickly (do not knead too long).
- Place the dough on a greased work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces.
- Form balls and place them, well spaced, in a buttered baking dish.
- Flatten each ball very lightly.
- Bake for 15 minutes or until the sheqerpare are golden brown.
- Take them out of the oven and pour the syrup on the sheqerpare in the baking dish.
- Let soak for at least 6 hours before eating.