Fear & Boldness | Sohan ‘e Assal (Persian Honey Almond Brittle)

23-Sohan Assal Persian Iranian candy brittle food blog

When I first moved to New York – pre Mayor Bloomberg and designated bike lanes –  I rode my bicycle in the city a few times but it was way too stressful so I kissed the idea and the bike goodbye. Recently though, after hearing someone rave about the Citibike NYC program, I went for it and signed up. The very first time taking out a bike out of the dock and the very first hop on the seat … I tumbled and fell sideways!

A big tree broke my fall and I broke the fall of the bike. A nice guy asked if I needed help and I said no and did my best not to look embarrassed —  which I was. I was embarrassed to the very core of my being.

I dusted myself off, got back on the bike, rode hesitantly at first and then a good many miles, and at some point the nerves ended and elation kicked in. Traversing the neighborhoods that would take nearly an hour by foot in mere minutes, and zipping past the Williamsburg bridge with the Manhattan landscape glittering and sparkling on the other side of East River – a magical view I had not glimpsed in years – was exhilarating. I thought: I want to bike all the time, everywhere! I thought: Biking in the city is the next best thing to flying in the city. I thought: Oh, the freedom I will have. The freedom! It was a definite high!

It wasn’t until later at home that I even realized that I had bloodied and scraped a good chunk of my left knee, arm, and elbow. Adrenaline, mighty drug you are!

8 boo boo scrape wound

Then the next day, I had horrible chest pain which ebbed then later grew more alarming: it hurt to move, laugh, sneeze, or even talk with animation; and I could only take very shallow breaths. Turned out I had badly bruised ribs and was down for the count for a number of days. A painful physical impairment – the very opposite state of freedom – that got me blue and feeling rather sorry for myself. So I threw myself a huge pity party.  (Didn’t you get the Evite?) Why oh why did I fall like that when I’ve known how to ride a bike since I was 4 years old? I lamented. But it was no mystery. I fell because I was a bundle of nerves and anxiety about riding in the street with cars and traffic. I was afraid. I tried not to be, but, I was. So I fell before I even started. Fear is … Fear is a mother chucker.

And what does this saga have to do with with sohan ‘e assal, aka Persian honey almond brittle?

A partial batch we made for the COP event

Some of the sohan ‘e assal candy jars we made for the COP event

Well, this: the ingredients of sohan ‘e assal are beguiling and few (saffron, sugar, slivered almonds, honey) and the recipe (while requiring a specific mis en scene and tools) is straightforward as well – but, and it’s a big butit does require watchful concentration; precision; and at the somewhat nerve-wracking last step, quick steady hands. If you are impatient or if you are nervous and frazzled, you’ll mess it up. If you are prepared, however; and keep calm and carry on with confidence, you’ll end up with a crispy, crunchy perfect little candy treat that is delicious on its own and also pairs spectacularly well with tea. (So good, it’ll even chase away bruised-rib blues.)

Persian food does not have a tradition of desserts, as meals are finished off with tea and fruit instead, so there’s a limited amount of authentic Iranian sweets in the culinary repertoire, but this Persian honey-almond-brittle candy is one of them — a traditional and popular sweet in Iran that is among the shirini  (candies, sweets, pastries) served for Norooz  — a favorite with young and old.

There are various sohan ‘e assal recipes. Some use rosewater, some use butter, some do this, some do that, but after a few trial and vexing errors, the recipe we’re sticking to (get it?) — since it’s proven consistently reliable in producing the type of candy texture that is crisply and densely chewy without being sticky, tastes best, and comes out a nice color — is the recipe given us by Khojee joon, a beloved family friend.

So, as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said:

Goethe_portraitBe bold and go forth and make some of your own sohan ‘e assal.

Sohan Assal

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons corn oil (no substitutes)
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground saffron
  • 4-5 tablespoons of chopped pistachios (or a handful of slivered pistachios)

Tools & Preparation

  • Dissolve saffron in a tablespoon of hot water.
  • Cover two flat trays (or cutting boards, sheet pans, silicion mats) with parchment or waxed paper. Place near the stove.
  • Have a small bowl of ice water at hand

Notes: Use a small (or medium-sized) non-stick pot, and only use a wooden spoon to stir the mixture. A heat diffuser will be quite helpful at the last step – if at all possible.

Direction

  1. Combine sugar, honey and oil in the pot, melt over medium-high heat for 5-7 minutes (until ingredients have completely melted and blended together, turning a warmer color) — stirring only occasionally.
  2. Add the almonds to the mix, lower heat to medium, and stir occasionally for 4-6 minutes (or until the mixture turns a golden brown color and starts to come together and get firm.)
  3. Add dissolved saffron to the mix, stirring only occasionally, and continue to cook for approximately another 2-4 minutes — until the mixture is a golden dark brown and the mixture has properly thickened.  To test doneness: drop a  little bit of the mixture into the bowl of ice water. If it hardens immediately, the mixture is done. If so, immediately reduce heat to low (and use the heat diffuser if you have it.)
  4. Place teaspoonfuls of the hot-almond mixture on the parchment, and immediately sprinkle  with chopped pistachio garnish. Repeat doing so, leaving a 1-inch space between each spoonful.  Note: It helps and is usual practice to have 2 people working together at this stage. One person quickly placing spoonfuls of the mixture on the parchment, the other person immediately sprinkling it with the chopped pistachio garnish. If working alone, be fearless, bold and dexterous, and work as quickly as possible.
  5. Allow candies to cool. Remove from paper and arrange in a serving plate platter or tray of your choice. Will keep for 1-2 weeks if stored in an airtight container.

Serving

Pick by hand. Pop in the mouth! Eat as is, or enjoy with a hot cup of tea. It nicely goes with coffee as well.  Yum!

Mind you: chew delicately and not with vigor. I do joke that sohan ‘e assal can be nicknamed “the dentist’s friend” because it is densely chewy. Thus: take gingerly rather than greedy reckless bites when indulging unless you’re planning to support your favorite local dentist’s summerhouse fund.

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59 thoughts on “Fear & Boldness | Sohan ‘e Assal (Persian Honey Almond Brittle)

  1. Azita, I’m not sure if these little delights would last for 1-2 weeks in my house… I think they would be gone within a day or two at most!
    So sorry to hear that you injured yourself (quite badly it sounds!), though hope that you’ll be able to hop back on that bike sometime before too long, to enjoy again the freedom and lift that it gave you!

    • They never last with me either Margot and that’s why I keep only a little and give the rest away, otherwise, I’d eat it all! Happy to report that I’m OK and back to biking. Woo hoo! Thank you!!!

  2. The brittle is delicious, it really is so nice with tea. I share your fear of bike riding here. I have walked by the citi bike stand but can’t bring myself to get on a bike. The crazy drivers here scare me. Hope you are feeling much better now.

    • I know Suzanne! There are the crazy drivers and then crazy bikers too who ride the wrong way or zip past you and then pedestrians who jay walk and car doors that open and whooah, way too many things that are cause for concern, but have to confess that have been bitten with the biking bug now and am doing it regardless.

      I’m so glad that you got to taste the brittle and that you liked it! Yay! 🙂

  3. Sorry to hear about your bike accident – scary! Don’t let it stop you from getting back to it.

    And thank you for posting this – I love sohan asali and have tried to make if once which was a huge failure. I look forward to using your recipe to try again, this time with patience and persistence 🙂

    • Ahu joon, yeah, I was surprised the first time I made it (on my own and a different recipe) that it was more difficult than I anticipated and similarly I also ended up with was basically a fiasco bearing little resemblance to a good sohan ‘e assal. this recipe is good, but the timing is still a delicate thing. The mixture-drop in ice water test is reliable though. ….
      Anyway wishing you luck and may the force be with you should you venture forth with making it again.

      Thank you for inquiring after my health. I’m actually quite well now and I did hop back on the bike. Love the speed and freedom – although I still beed beed milarzam when cars pass too close for comfort by me. Do’am koon! 😉 xo a

  4. Love the story and the recipe! And the idea of Evites for pity parties 🙂 We’re hosting our very good Persian friend for Thanksgiving this year– perhaps I’ll make this to go along with the pumpkin pie.

    • How very nice! I’m sure Thanksgiving at your place is bound to be a warm and festive occasion. Please do a post about it afterwards?

      • It will be warm, festive and multicultural (Persian, Indian, Taiwanese, Cantonese, Jamaican, SIberian and Trinidadian guests will all be present!), but I don’t know if I’ll manage to also take photos. What are your plans?

      • Wow! Sounds amazing! My plans are immediate family and as I mentioned, hopefully a Persianized menu, ha ha! Have some ideas, we’ll see how it turns out.

    • Patty, the recipe is a little bit finicky so I’m not sure if substitutes will work. BUT: if you’re game to try a small batch and do your mad genius improvisations, that’ll be cool an if so, let me know how it turns out!

    • You know, I should have mentioned in the post that the worst of it was a few days and since then have been quite OK and zipping around on the bike as well. But thank you for asking after me! 🙂

  5. You know we have a sweet called Sohum halwa, which is hard (unlike most halwas) and cracks into the most buttery and satisfyingly crunchy pieces when you bite into it. Could it have similar origins? ‘Asal’ in Hindi means “genuine”- as in the real McCoy!

    • Oooh, that sohum halwa sounds interesting. Me like! Maybe can persuade you to do a recipe post? Re the linguistic stuff: very interesting! In Arabic “asl” means genuine, which is a word that’s used in the Persian language as well. thank you for visiting Radhika joon!

    • Dear Preppy Pink Crocodile (I love reading and saying your handle name, ha ha): the saffron does give it special oomph and je ne sai quoi quality so agree and so happy to hear you may be giving it a try come the holiday season. they do make nice gifts, in my humble opinion.

  6. What a lovely, well-written post! I love the line, “Fear is a mother chucker” – haha! Anyway, this dessert looks wonderful, but I don’t know that I have the patient kind of personality not to ruin it. Maybe that means that I should try it as it would be a lessen in serenity for me. We’ll see!

    • I can’t take credit for coining “mother chucker” that’s actually courtesy of that show “Gossip Girl” … which I have to confess to having watched. If you do need to test yourself, this recipe is a sweet way to practice patience and serenity! Let me know if you do!

    • Alas, Liz, for best results, there is no other substitute. But just to be safe, I’ll check with our friend who gave us the recipe and see if she has any helpful suggestions. Hopefully! Surprised they don’t sell corn oil in Australia!

    • Thank you Stefano! what doesn’t kill me … yadda yadda 😉 I’m OK now and I’m sure the persian candy helped a bit. 😉

  7. Azita jaaaaaan! I’m glad to read that you are feeling better now. What an incident! I was feeling the pain as I was reading. How you related your incident with the patience needed for sohand asali is interesting.
    Thanks for the recipe… I used to refer to this sweet as badum sukhteh. Is there any difference?

    • oh no, Fae, they’re entirely different things. badoom sokhteh is a roasted/spiced/sweetened almond (quite quite delicious and now you’re making me want some, ha ha) so it’s different from sohan asal, which I guess means you’ve never tried it yourself? If not, try the recipe, you are so good at making these types of things, you would do a beautiful job of it.

  8. Aw you poor thing! It’s been a while since I last fell off anything but it’s such a shock as an adult. Horribly embarrassing. My mother fell off a bicycle when we last went riding in Sweden (about 5 years ago) and she was rescued from the kerb by two tall, blonde Swedish men (I just pushed her bicycle home, haha). Well, however bad the experience, I think I would feel a whole lot better if I came home to a jar of these beautiful spiced nuts 🙂 I love the addition of the saffron. I can just imagine how beautiful that would smell! Thanks for sharing this beautiful recipe xx

  9. These sounds absolutely divine. I have the same cycling fear (though thankfully without the fall). I still have to take a deep breath before i roll out onto the street. I still feel completely minuscule when huge lorries and buses woosh past me, but i just remind myself that i have as much right to be on the road as they do- its my right of way and i’ll go as slow as i need to. I would love love love to make these brittle but i was wondering if you think they work with Agave instead of honey? I know that probably defeats the point and its traditional but i’d like to veganify them? if not i will simply dream of them when looking at your photos. Good on you for not letting your fear defeat the joy of cycling xx

  10. Wow these sound amazing. I didn’t know you were in nyc! I am too and the bike program scares me. My husband just bought a road bike, but not for commuting. A bunch of my fellow lawyers here bike into work. I prefer scenic paths with no cars. Beautiful post as always. Do you do the drawings yourself? I love the fork and handwriting! You are so talented.

    • Yeah, I live in NY! Wouldn’t have it any other way! I actually prefer the cityscape to a strictly scenic path, but I do wish the cars magically disappeared, ha ha, or the horrifying big trucks. I try to go at non-rush hours and it’s not that bad and interestingly enough, I feel the safest at night because can detect movement of cars via their headlights so it’s less of a surprise or being taken unawares.

      thank you for the kind words Amanda!

    • I love the idea of using whole almonds, hmmm. I don’t think Iranians do it like that at all, but I could be wrong. I’d be incredibly interested in seeing how they turn out in your hands if you try the recipe. Keep us posted!

  11. Ouch, Azita, poor thing! I was laughing about the tumble until I got to the scraped elbow. I know, I have a weird sense of humor. And I definitely was not laughing by the time I got to the bruised ribs! Now I was concerned. You’re a brave girl, Azita! And I’m glad to hear you’re on the mend. 🙂

    The almond candies, I think I’ve had them before and enjoyed them very much. Thank you for the recipe. It’s definitely on my list to try!

    • I so don’t blame your for laughing, I kind of laughed at myself as well. 😉 Ultimately, all’s well that ends well. Let me know if you try the recipe!

  12. Dealing with molten sugar has me more scared than falling off my bike! Being the glass half-full kind of gal I am, I’m glad your accident wasn’t worse and you’re now feeling better, as well as getting some inspiration out of the experience! Reminds me of David Byrne traveling with a fold-up bike so he can ride around foreign cities…

  13. Hello Azita.
    Hope you are doing better and the bruises are healing. I know exactly what you mean by fear and what you went through. There are some things that simply terrify me such as driving on a highway. During the last past years I learned to “acknowledge” my limits and avoid doing things that scare me unless it is absolutely necessary. 🙂
    Your Persian treats look absolutely wonderful and the picture with all the jars and the gorgeous wooden bench in the back is simply precious. 🙂

    • Thank you Francesca joon, I’m back to normal, I’d say 99% so all’s well and thank you for asking. … that wooden bench is so cute, it’s one of my favorite things but have no idea how it ended up being one of my possessions, it’s a complete blank!

  14. The photographs look wonderful but poor you. I had a different incident with my bike in the City – it was my pride and joy, a very generous gift complete with custom dog basket for the front. I rode it once, it was much admired by others so admired by one, that they decided to take it home. It was never seen again. I haven’t got on another one since!!
    Hope you are feeling better and repaired?

    • Oh Maria, your bike sounds like it was amazing and that’s awful that someone stole it right from under you. I’m outraged on your behalf. Please go ahead and try another one. Maybe a less pretty one that won’t tempt the thieves? I’d forgotten how much fun it is and you’ll be surprised as well. And as for moi: i’m all well! thank you!

  15. This looks delicious! Such a shame it only lasts 2 weeks or those little jars would have made great Christmas presents… Oh well, I suppose I could make some just for me! I’m slightly worried though as I am naturally impatient and often frazzled, but nothing ventured…

    PS Ouch! Cycling is liberating but dangerous! I hope you’ve recovered and dared to get back on the bike.

  16. I’ll definitely have to try this brittle recipe this holiday season. Thank you for sharing it! So sorry to hear about your fall, but glad to see that you’ve recovered and gotten back to biking again 🙂

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