Turkey’s Cotton Candy (Pişmaniye)

pismaniye
Photo &copy: Christian-Hacker_Getty-Images

Pişmaniye (peesh-MAHN-ee-yay) is an ancient Turkish sweet that dates back to the 15th century. It is also called "fairy floss," "string halva," "stretched halva" or "flax halva." There are a lot of stories and local traditions surrounding pişmaniye. In the Turkish language, "pişman" means "regret." As the Turkish saying goes, "Try it once and regret it once. Don’t try it and you’ll regret it a thousand times."

Pişmaniye resembles cotton candy but it has a different texture and a deeper flavor. Unlike cotton candy, this specialty candy contains flour and butter, and the sugary mixture is pulled into thousands of fine, crumbly strands. These strands are gathered into bite-sized balls and boxed like candy. Pişmaniye comes in several varieties and it is sold plain or coated with chocolate, topped with ground pistachios or walnuts, and flavored with vanilla or cocoa powder.

How It's Made

Making authentic pişmaniye takes a lot of skill. It is traditionally made by hand, with three to five people working at a time on a very large hot surface. First, large amounts of flour are roasted in butter until lightly browned. Secondly, large amounts of sugar are melted up to pliable temperature. The sugar is pulled and folded many times over on top of the hot surface, and strands start to appear. Then the flour mixture is added to the hot surface and is carefully incorporated with the sugar in repetitive pulling and folding movements. This process is repeated for many minutes until the strands take the shape of fine floss. Small amounts of strands are shaped like a ball and this is the end product that is then packed and sold.

History of Pişmaniye

The birthplace of pişmaniye is the Kandira district in the city of Kocaeli in Northwestern Turkey, not far from Istanbul. Today, the fluffy floss is produced all around the country but the best still comes from this region. Unlike most Turkish sweets like baklava, you won’t find pişmaniye in your local market or pastry shop, as it's usually sold in tourist gift and souvenir shops and in some upscale charcuterie shops.

Since pişmaniye can be stored for a long time without refrigeration, buying it as a gift for family and friends is a common tradition throughout Turkey. Many wait until they travel through the Izmit area and stock up for future gifts.

From Sismaniye to Pişmaniye

Many legends explain the origin of this sweet treat. The most popular one talks about a confectioner who lived in Kocaeli and who was famous for his sweet creations. People lined up for miles outside his shop just to try some of his famous specialties. Even traders detoured off the Silk Road to try his delicious creations. Despite his success, the confectioner had a different kind of problem. Deeply in love with a lovely and curvy lady, he had tried everything to win her heart, but his love remained unrequited. In despair, he decided to create a brand new sweet and dedicate it to his beloved, hoping to gain her love in return. He worked hard and created beautiful, snow-white balls of pulled halva. In honor of his love, he called the sweet ‘şismaniye,’ which means “my fat lady” in Turkish. He carefully labeled it and sent a few boxes to his beloved girl. This last effort worked and he managed to attract her attention.

Before long they got married and lived happily ever after, for a while at least. Then, his new bride’s jealousy and trickery turned his life into hell. Heartbroken, he left despite his love, and changed the name of the sweet from "şismaniye" to "pişmaniye" which means "regret."