spice

Festive Persian Cookies


Nan-e Nokhodchi (Roasted Chickpea Four-Leaf Clover Cookies). Image from Vegtarian Times

I'm back on the scene with some great recipes to share. (Selling our condo + (moving x 2) = super busy...) I have a couple of killer recipes to post before taking off for Mexico too - but first, Persian cookies!

I love Persian cookies. They're aromatic, pretty, and wonderfully flavoured with awesome things like rose water, cardamom, cinnamon, honey, saffron, pistachios, almonds, walnuts... perfect for festive cookie season. Here are some classics from the web, all wheat-free, beautifully flavoured, shortbread-like, and melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

Nan-e Gerdui (Walnut Cookies with cardamom, topped with pistachios)
A fantastic cookie recipe + a history lesson.

Persian Rice Cookies
A traditional aromatic and delicate little cookie flavoured with rosewater, cardamom, and adorned with pistachios.

Another recipe for Persian Rice Cookies from an accomplished traveling food blogger. Included on this page are 3 other stellar cookie recipes from around the world. I love the sounds of the Ricciarelli (Sienese Almond Cookies): "Snow-white outside and meltingly soft inside, they're a fragrant, cloudlike version of the best marzipan you've ever eaten." Yum!

Rice Flour Poppyseed Cookies (naan-e berenji)

A middle eastern shortbread-like cookie flavoured with orange blossom water and poppyseeds. Super step-by-step photos. Check out this recipe for Rice Flour Butter Cookies from the same blog. (I'd up the rosewater to 3 tsp - I'm a freak for aromatic cookies.) Good stuff.

Nan-e Nokhodchi (Roasted Chickpea Four-Leaf Clover Cookies)
I LOVE these cookies, and like this recipe because of the easy directions, flavourings, and great photo. Here's another recipe for the same cookie made with half ghee and half oil, rather than all oil. (I prefer the addition of ghee, and the extra cardamom in this recipe.)

Gluten-Free Cardamom Shortbread
Here's a wonderful sounding treat, made with rice flour and inspired by Persian cookies. I'd increase the cardamom to at least 1/2 tsp.. I can't help it. ;)

Please share your favourite Persian and Middle Eastern cookie recipes in the comments. Happy festive baking!

Baking & Real Estate II

I finally have a bit of time to write, since I've been organizing, staging, photographing, and polishing our condo for the market. We've gotten nothing but stellar feedback on our stylish pad - now if only we could get a couple of keen buyers and a friendly little bidding war, that would be really sweet!

Everything I've read about staging a home talks about the importance of good smells. With all the fresh flowers and baking that goes on here, our place smells great. Since one's place should be spotless all the time when it's on the market, I lean towards easy recipes that don't involve too many bowls, utensils, or appliances. I often bake half of the cookies from a recipe (and store the other half of the batter in the fridge) and bake the rest another day to save time and effort. I've been avoiding baking peanut-butter cookies on the off chance that someone with a nut allergy comes through. I use high quality Mexican vanilla and cinnamon in everything for the best flavour and aroma. Things I've been baking:

Sweet Ambrosia Cookies
These are quick and easy to make - you can mix everything by hand in one bowl. Coconut and pecans add lovely complimentary fragrances.

Tahini Oatmeal Walnut Cookies
Another delicious easy one bowl concoction. Add 1tsp of vanilla to make these even more fragrant.

Patty's Pumpkin Pudding
Tis the season for these aromatic winter squash baked delights. The higher quality the spice, the better the bouquet! I throw all the ingredients in a blender to make prep and clean-up quick and easy.

Wish us luck!

Patty's Pumpkin Pudding Pie

They say that the smell of pumpkin pie baking in the oven is an aphrodisiac. They also say that it's good to bake one while you're having having an open-house to sell your home - chances of scoring are higher. I bake them often in the fall and winter, as they're the perfect seasonal dish (winter squash is one of the few vegetables that will keep for months), and they're supremely delicious.

Most days, I prefer making variations of this pumpkin pudding to a traditional pumpkin pie. Why? Because it's healthier (no refined ingredients or empty calories), quicker and easier to make - and I'm more into the filling than the crust. Here's my quintessential recipe: Patty's Pumpkin Pudding

Like a clafouti, this pudding makes it's own "crust" and is sliceable when cooled down. Beautifully spiced and rich, it can be embellished with a layer of crunchy caramelized nuts. This is an easy and flexible recipe where you can play with the ingredients and their proportions - so have some warm sexy winter baking fun!

ps - here are some tips on how-to take a classic pumpkin pie recipe and make it healthier - without compromising flavour: Hi there pumpkin pie!

Spicy Mayan Brownies

I came up with these super-rich fudgy spicy brownies a while back to satisfy my craving for chocolate and spice. Having a sweet spot for all things Mayan, I composed these using some traditional Mayan flavours: chocolate, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, anise, chilli, vanilla - yum! I also incorporated the healthy meso-American super-grain quinoa (I used red quinoa) as well as flax seeds - I don't think flax is Mayan, but it allowed me to avoid eggs in this recipe. I soaked my seeds to germinate/sprout them: super healthy and easier to puree. Though the high amount of cocoa, sprouted seeds, and spices would qualify these gluten-free vegan treats as healthy, the sucanat and butter (coconut oil works here for the vegan or dairy-free diets) bump these into the supremely rich and tasty side of healthy. I love these brownies + they are now officially my sweet-heart's new favorite brownies :-)

Recipe: Spicy Mayan Brownies

Food of the Gods

Mayan chocolate discs

Real Mayan chocolate from the Yukatan, Mexico.

Another great score from Mexico ~

Hand made in the Yukatan, the only ingredient in this chocolate is cacao. We spoke with the woman who made it, and she told us how to prepare Mayan-style hot chocolate:

Blend for 1 minute: 1 disc of chocolate with 1 liter of hot water (or hot milk). The hot chocolate should be nice and foamy. Serves 4.

This will produce a very bitter drink. I'll add 1 - 2 Tbsp of Mexican honey and a splash of vanilla when I make it.

Besides honey and vanilla, other ingredients traditionally included can be: cinnamon, chillies, anise seeds, sesame seeds, ground corn, allspice, achiote, and aromatic flowers.

Panforte

Panforte cross-section
a chocolate version of the famous Italian fruitcake: Panforte

Yes - it's the holiday season. I've been busy making super-rich frighteningly tasty treats including my own version of the amazing sweet/spicy/chewy/bitter/nutty Italian cake/confection panforte (aka Sienna cake).

Some inspiring recipes for panforte:

I've read slightly different historical accounts of panforte - here's the Wikipedia's most recent write-up:

"Panforte is a traditional Italian dessert containing fruits and nuts, and resembling fruitcake or Lebkuchen. It may date back to 13th century Siena, in Italy's Tuscany region. Documents from 1205 show that Panforte was paid to the monks and nuns of a local monastery as a tax or tithe which was due on the seventh of February that year. Literally, Panforte means "strong bread" which refers to the spicy flavour. The original name of Panforte was "panpepato" (pepper bread), due to the strong pepper used in the cake. There are references to the Crusaders carrying Panforte, a durable confection, with them on their quests."

Currently there are many shops in Italy producing Panforte, each recipe being their jealously guarded interpretation of the original confection and packaged in distinctive wrapping. Usually a small wedge is served with coffee or a dessert wine after a meal, though some enjoy it with their coffee at breakfast."

(more history here)

ps - panforte is really really sweet so consume in moderation ;-)

Panforte discovery

In my search for an amazing fruitcake recipe, I came across panforte. Panforte, or "strong bread" is like the Italian version of fruitcake: very rich and full of nuts, honey, spices, citrus peel - more like a confection than cake.

Hi there pumpkin pie!

A sugar pumpkin - perfect for pies! image from Cook's Thesaurus

I absolutely love pumpkin pie. There are thousands of pumpkin pie recipes on the web - but most are loaded with superfluous fat and sugar. Winter squash is a magical thing, and has its own lovely richness. Here are some tips on how to make a classic recipe healthier, without compromising flavour and texture of course!

A Versatile Classic ~ Healthy Banana Bread

banana bread touch test

What classic baked good is easy to make, delicious, nutritious, yeast-free, portable, and can use up all sorts of bits floating in your pantry? You guessed it ;-)

I often make variations of these basic, easy, healthy banana bread recipes:
Healthy Banana Bread and Easy Gluten-free Banana Bread

Wonderfully versatile, banana bread can incorporate just about any nut (pecans, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts...), seed (pepitas, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, poppy-seeds...), fruit (figs, dates, apricots, berries...), flour (wheat, rice, spelt, barley...), sweetener (honey, agave syrup, maple syrup, fruit concentrate, marmalade/preserves, sucanat, stevia...), spice (cinnamon, nutmeg...) chocolate (chips, baker's chocolate, bars - dark, medium, or white), carob chips, extracts (vanilla, almond, lemon, orange...), or booze (rum, Kahlua, Grand Marnier...).

Tips for delicious and healthy banana bread variations:

nuts: use 1/2-1c. nut combos like pecans and walnuts are great. chop up large nuts
seeds (use up to): 1Tbsp poppyseeds, 2Tbsp sesame seeds, 1/4c sunflour seeds or pepitas
booze: 1-2Tbsp
extracts: 1/4tsp lemon/orange, 1/2tsp almond, up to 1Tbsp vanilla
sugar: 1/2c of sweetener/sugar (brown sugar, sucanat, fruit juice concentrate, honey, maple syrup, preserves...) is enough to make a sweet tasty bread. (I use as little as 1/4c.) try sweetener combinations like: 1/4c honey, 2Tbsp orange marmalade, 2Tbsp brown sugar
chocolate: 1/2c is great. you can, of course, use more or less (1/4c-1c)
mixing tip: coat chocolate and dried fruit with flower before mixing in to prevent it from sticking to the pan

*Bonus: a great way to use up all those over-ripe bananas!

UPDATE: Some new variations:

Chocolate Fractal Banana Bread: Gorgeous, delicious and marbled with chocolate.
Super-Healthy Banana Bread: Multi-grain, whole-grain and wonderfully spiced: gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free and flavorful with no unnecessary sugar or fat.