These cookies don’t need any adjustments to be gluten-free; they are traditionally made with rice flour. Nowruz, which begins on the vernal equinox, is the marvelous Persian New Year celebration that has become one of my favorite rites of spring, even though my festivities are not exactly traditional. This year it again lands right at the hectic end of a school term, but I couldn’t resist baking a batch of these delicate, delectable cookies. When I lived in Afghanistan, I think I tasted every version of these lovely things available in Kabul. Some were much better than others — All were good! They’re just perfect with a cup of tea.
I’ve tried to recreate them a number of times with varied success. This recipe is the best yet! In fact, I’ll go out on a daffodil here and say it’s absolutely PERFECT! It’s pretty traditional with a few little tweaks I couldn’t resist, including halving the sugar, substituting almond oil for vegetable oil, and using the slightly richer almond milk instead of water. If you can, it’s worth buying whole cardamom pods, crushing them between your fingers, and pulling out the tiny, aromatic black seeds to grind with a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle. Grind a few extra to scent some green tea (or your coffee) as well. (Cardamom balances the acidity of coffee.) Your hands will smell heavenly, and freshly ground cardamom seeds provide a flavor like nothing else! Divine!
Nowruz is a holiday steeped in rich and joyous traditions, welcoming spring. In another year, when it doesn’t fall just before final exams, I’ll have time to do a proper post on some of the savory dishes and customs, which include thoroughly cleaning the house! Lord knows, I need any inspiration I can find to do that — afraid it won’t be happening this year.
If you would like to celebrate spring in your own way with a nod to ancient traditions born across the world, bake a batch of these scrumptious cookies, brew some Jasmine green or Earl Grey tea with a bit of cardamom, and fill a thermos. Can you find a basket? Pack up some cookies in a tin, find an old tablecloth or even a kerchief … put it all in the basket, and head off to some green spot with a friend or two for a tea and cookies picnic! Breathe deeply. Smile 🙂 If it’s just you, here are two books you might want to bring with you for a little spring reading. I have recently been mesmerized by both in different ways: The Garden Awakening by Mary Reynolds, and If Women Rose Rooted by Sharon Blackie. Five stars each — check them out!!
Nan-e Berenji for Nowruz
- 3 cups brown rice flour (Bob’s Red mill is great and widely available.)
- 1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter
- 1/2 cup almond oil
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
- 3/4 cup sugar (You can also use 1/2 cup plus 2 drops of liquid stevia.)
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon rose water
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
- few tablespoons crushed pistachios, poppy seeds or dried organic rose petals (Decorating a third of your batch with each makes for a beautiful cookie tray!)
Step 1: (I like to do this the night before.) Mix together the almond milk, rose water, vanilla and sugar, and bring just to a boil over medium-high heat. Watch it carefully, stirring and turning the heat down immediately, when mixture boils or it can bubble over. Simmer on low for about 3 -5 minutes, and remove from heat. You should have just about a cup of thick liquid. Pour into a cup and check; if it’s more, return to heat for another minute or so. Set aside to cool; take out your sticks of butter, and put in a bowl to soften.
Step 2: With an electric mixer, cream butter and oil, add egg yolks, and beat until smooth. Now beat in room temperature sugar mixture, then rice flour and cardamom. Chill dough if possible for an hour. If you don’t have time to chill, drop spoonfuls on ungreased cookie sheet and press just slightly with the heel of your hand. Sprinkle with whatever decorations you’re using. If your dough is chilled, roll gently into walnut-sized balls, and make crisscross patterns with a fork — or use a cookie stamp to make a pattern. Bake until edges are just browning — roughly 10-15 min. Use a thin (important) spatula to remove from tray onto wire cooling rack or a cutting board. The cookies are delicate but firm up beautifully, when they cool. If you want to try using cookie stamps, Nordic Ware makes high quality stamps that last forever. You can also find gorgeous hand carved wooden stamps from Iran (along with a lot of other fabulous treats) at the wonderful ZoZo Baking: http://www.zozobaking.com/bazaar/