Hi everyone! Happy New Year!!! Can I tell you something? I had grand plans for a couple of very special posts to say fare well to 2014 and properly greet 2015. But I confess that I zonked out good and well for nearly a week and indulged in some luxurious and sorely needed off-the-grid time off and oh so sweet slumber instead and now I’m off to a family reunion in La La Land (aka the city of angels = Los Angeles) with no time to cobble together a meaningful post. What is a blogger to do? Luckily, I have a glorious ace up my sleeves. A fluffy and decadent guest blog post about a layered cake that is the stuff of dreams. The cake has rosewater, cardamom, pistachio and saffron, which more than qualifies it for the Persianizing round of things and it also has white chocolate mousse and butter cream. Pinch me please! A great way to kick start a food blog’s new year, wouldn’t you say? The recipe and photographs are the handiwork of the impressive culinary talent that is Helen, aka @caramelflahn, whose foodgasmic interview was featured earlier you may recall and whose Instagram account I recommend you all to follow if you’re even a little bit interested in culinary matters of tummy and heart and art. And now without further ado, let’s go read Helen’s delightful ruminations and superb directions on creating a flawless cake.
One of my absolute favorite flavor combinations is rosewater paired with cardamom and pistachio. It’s impossible for me to pass up anything that has those ingredients together. The delicate yet redolent floral rosewater with the mysterious, almost sultry cardamom is absolutely intoxicating. Throw in the sweet, buttery flavor of pistachios, and you’ve basically described a dream come true to me.
Something else I absolutely love is cake. Baking it, filling it, frosting it, eating it, imagining different flavors and textures of it. Everything. So why not combine cake with rosewater, cardamom, and pistachio? I actually dreamt up this cake in my head years ago and filed it away in my list of “Things That I Think Would Be Good To Make,” but I never got around to creating it until now. Why? I have no idea. Because this is obnoxiously good.
It’s a cottony soft yellow butter cake that I decided to gild the lily with saffron. Because, hey, why not, this is my dream cake, after all. It’s based off of cake guru Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “All-Occasion Yellow Butter Cake”, found in her cookbook classic, The Cake Bible. It has a wonderfully tender, moist crumb that’s delicate, yet holds up well to stacking, filling, and frosting. The yolks make it rich and moist, which is often lacking in white cake, and the butter gives it a delicious flavor. The saffron is steeped in the milk, which is heated ever so slightly to break down the threads. The result is a subtle yet pervasive saffron flavor and lovely golden hue.
The cake layers are split and filled with alternating layers of a creamy rosewater-cardamom white chocolate mousse and a silky pistachio Swiss meringue buttercream, then it’s frosted on the outside with the pistachio buttercream. Seriously? Seriously? Yeah, seriously. Cake is supposed to taste good, so let’s make this taste good! I think white chocolate partners beautifully with rosewater, cardamom, pistachio, and saffron; it’s the element that ties everything together. Since the white chocolate is so rich and rosewater is delicate, I decided to pair them together in a light-textured mousse. The buttercream is a classic Swiss meringue buttercream: super silky with some texture punctuated throughout from the ground pistachios, and not too sweet. I despise the cloyingly sweet and gritty American “buttercream” made with powdered sugar and almost never ever make it. Real buttercream, on the other hand, is an absolute treat to prepare and eat. If you’ve never made it before, it might look a little intimidating, but I guarantee you it’s a snap to make and absolutely worth it.
I hope you enjoy this cake as much as I did!
In this post about the Persian winter fete of Yalda, I thought it’d be fun to share some behind-the-scenes photos of the very recent time when I cooked up a batch of khoresh ‘eh fesenjan (using my mom’s awesome recipe) for a Shab-e-Yalda Persian celebration recipe that was featured in the article Diverse Holiday Feasts from Five New York Families in the New York Times.) Sometimes a blog is just a journal. A keepsake. And this event is certainly one that I want to keep for the sake of not just an amazing milestone for Fig & Quince, but the pleasure and fun of having shared it with an awesome family I am privileged to know and call friends. So I hope you’ll indulge me sharing some photos and tidbits and I hope you’ll enjoy it.
What is Yalda?
The long (there’s a pun here but you won’t know it till later, ha!) and the short of it is that the ancient Persians loved (and modern Iranians continue to love) to take any opportunity to make a ‘sofreh’ — an elaborate spread laden with edible yummies and symbolic objects that I like to dub by a highfalutin moniker of “tableau vivants” and also a less pompous nickname of “still lifes” — and to make a big festive whoop out of greeting seasons with joyous celebrations.
There is Norooz: hello sweet young thing Spring! Mehregan: hello moody enigmatic Fall! And Yalda: why howdy dominatrix Winter! (Come on, don’t act shocked. You know that Winter whoops your you know what. And some of you like it.) What about summer, you ask? Well, Summer, bouncy lass as she might be, seems to have gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to ancient Persian celebrations. Which is fine. Summer is widely worshiped across the world (and it does a popular kid good to see what it feels like being excluded) while winter always gets the short shift and the cold shoulder.
But not in Iran! On the eve of the longest night of the year (winter solstice or shab ‘e Yalda in Farsi), Iranian families gather together and stay up long after dinner — munching on ajeel & seeded pomegranates sprinkled with golpar (ground angelica) and whiling the time away by catching up with each other, telling stories, and consulting the poetry of the Persian lyric poet Hafez for glimpses into the future – a type of bibliomancy that is called fal-e-Hafez. Knowing Iranians, if it’s possible to have music; there will also be music, and if there’s even the slightest chance to get up and shake one’s groove thing, there will also be dancing. (Providing ample opportunities for beshkan zadan.)
This ancient Persian tradition of greeting winter not with gritted teeth but by spreading a festive spread of pomegranates, ajeel, candles, flowers, sacred texts and books of poetry and engaging in story telling, dancing and poetic divination is the celebration called Yalda and after Norooz, it is the most widely observed national, secular festival in Iran.
Hi everyone! My lovely friend Ahu (of Ahu Eats) and I want to break bread with you! You heard right! We want to meet you, gab, and go grab a hot bowl of ash ‘e reshteh or abghusht from the famed Taste of Persia kiosk at the Union Square Holiday Market, then gab some more, mix and mingle, and spread some Christmas and muli-denominational holiday cheer!
WHERE: Let’s meet in front of Abraham Lincoln’s statue in the park and bask in Honest Abe’s beautiful presence until everyone arrives. (Aside: Lincoln is my #1 most favorite U.S. President — albeit with some stiff competition by Thomas Jefferson & F.D.R. I have such a soft spot for Abraham Lincoln, I can’t even begin to tell you. Well, actually, I do want to tell you about it, and in the context of food, but some other time.)
WISH: I wish that all of you lived nearby or that there was a way to ‘beam you up Scotty‘ to Union Square Park in New York. (Technology: get with it!) Those of you who are local, I hope you can make it. Come, bring your friends, and let’s party! [Please RSVP in the Facebook invite here.]
Your faithful blogger
Hi everyone! Before delving into our recipe post, I have to share the news that I cooked fesenjan for The New York Times as featured in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine cover story of “Diverse Holiday Feasts From Five New York Families.” It was a fun and exciting adventure and I’m going to write all about it in a future post. Meanwhile, to new readers finding your way from that article: Welcome!
Meigoo polo (shrimp rice) — a unique Persian rice dish made with shrimp, raisins, walnuts and caramelized onions — is a delicious example showcasing the fond emphasize on seafood in the culinary traditions of the southern provinces of Iran.
My parents first had meigoo polo at the home of my aunt – a vivacious Kermanshahi beauty who married a doting Shirazi gentleman, moved to Shiraz, and seamlessly adopted the accent and all the ways & wiles of that fabled region to praised perfection. My mom got the recipe from my aunt and this unusual and unusually tasty mixed rice thereafter became a standard albeit special treat at our family dinner table.
While meigoo polo looks suitably impressive and is a knockout when it comes to taste and culinary pleasure, it is actually a relatively easy dish to prepare if (and I know that’s a big “if”) you’ve already mastered making the Persian steamed white rice because all you’ll need to do is to either top or layer the rice (when serving) with the mixture of sauteed shrimp, walnuts, raisins and caramelized onions and give it a good dousing of butter. Amen, hallejlujah! Yum! (If you need an intro for making Persian steamed rice, check out the detailed posts in the Persian Rice 101: How to Make the Perfect Persian Rice pictorial guide series.)
Now let’s not spend senseless time chit chatting when we could be making and digging into this tasty dish instead!
Hi everyone! This post is not related to food except insofar as it relates to what I do to put the bread (and sometimes the yummy polo khoresh) on the table. Have I ever told you? No? Well, don’t be mad, it’s not like you ever asked! Some other time I’ll tell you all about “Azita version 1.0″ and what (shenanigans) she was up to but as far as the current model “Azita version 2.0″ goes, what I do is: I write, design and illustrate.
Who am I? What is the meaning of life? What should I do with the Thanksgiving turkey leftovers?
These are age old existential questions we angst over. I confess I’m still grappling with the first two but I do have an idea how to transform the all-American leftover turkey into a nourishing, comforting food with a philosophical Persian flair. That cunning dish being none other than ‘halim‘: a slow-cooked porridge made with wheat (usually, or bulgur) and meat (lamb, chicken, or turkey) topped with a generous drizzle of melted butter and sprinkled with just enough sugar and cinnamon to delight one’s inner child.
Nutritious and highly caloric, halim is traditionally served as a hearty breakfast, often in cool seasons — best suited for days of vigorous activity or hard work, but equally delicious when one is hardly working as well.
Before the advent of food processors, making halim required patient commitment and a good bit of elbow grease. Turning hard grains of wheat into a creamy paste by hand is not the work of the meek. My mom tells tales of neighbors pulling all-nighters, making halim in big pots called ‘patil’ — stirring, stirring, stirring — using wooden spoons with very long handles (“almost resembling oars“) while chanting ‘salavat’ and reciting prayers. “Basically, they were meditating while cooking it!” Mom observes.
Hi everyone! How do you like my little needlepoint lady? She’s dancing like a twirling dervish and do you know why? Because her heart is filled and made buoyant with deep thankfulness! And guess what? Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States. A day centered around food, family and giving thanks.
I plan to reflect at length regarding gratitude before the year is over, but right now I must say that when I count my blessings today (as I plan to do sometime before or after wolfing down turkey, stuffing, and pie, lots of pie!) the fact that you take the time to read here is one of those many blessings, and it’s one that makes me as profoundly thankful as this dancing needlepoint lady. (Thank you! ♥)
Often, when I think about true gratitude — the buoyancy of feeling deeply and sincerely thankful — this poem of e.e.cummings, one of my favorite poets, pops into my head. It encapsulates in a simple and gorgeously earnest way the soaring transcendental nature of spirituality and conscious gratefulness. I can’t in good conscience pass up the opportunity to share it with you here: