Memories of My Grandmother
Born in Iran, raised in the States, I have never set foot on Armenian soil. Yet, when asked to identify my nationality, the answer is always Hye, which is derived from our legendary bow-and-arrow-wielding tribal patriarch Hayk Nahapet. Persecuted and scattered all over the world, Armenians have historically struggled to retain their identity as a nation in what is known as a diaspora. Generation after generation, parents have insisted that the mother tongue be spoken at home.
It is this determination that has instilled a sense of national pride into the hearts of Armenian children and helped our culture thrive peacefully among various other customs, religions, lifestyles. We inherit much from the foreign countries where we make our homes. Our cuisine is made up of many dishes shared with those of the Greek, Persian, Arabic, Eastern European people.
A lightly sweet, crumbly pastry made of streusel layered between delicate buttery dough, Nazook is bit of a labor of love, but well worth the effort. It’s a close cousin to Gata which is basically the same thing but in a larger, disc shape. Shortly after the first day of Spring, Armenians make a special form called Mijink. A tradition stemming from our Zoroastrian days, a coin is baked into the Gata. Slices are assigned to every member of a household and whoever gets the coin enjoys a year of good fortune.
Three Generations in the Kitchen
My grandmother Nina’s recipe for Nazook yields about 4 dozen cookies, which seems like a LOT…until you taste one. Then it does not seem like enough.
This is one of those old timey recipes that I imagine the ladies gathering in the kitchen to make together, all the while catching up on the latest news and chit-chat. Maybe that is why my first try was not so good – I worked alone.
The next time, Daisy rolled the dough and Mom lent an expert hand. She insisted on including saffron, which gives the pastries a sweet fragrance and bright golden colour. So this second try turned out a batch of even-sized, perfect little beauties. We had so much fun making nazook together and it clearly showed. The aroma of sweet butter took over and the whole house smelled like Christmas. It felt like Nina Mama was right there in the kitchen with us, overseeing our work, enjoying the sweet moment.
Yields about 50 2-inch cookies.
Note: If you have a stand mixer, attach the dough hook and let the mixer do all the kneading for you.
1 packet yeast
4 1/2 cups flour
8 oz sour cream or yogurt
2 tsp white vinegar
2 tsp baking powder
1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp extract
1 stick butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp extract
1 tsp saffron + 1 tsp sugar + 2 Tb hot water (optional, but highly recommended)
Knead 5-10 mins, til dough comes together in a nice, shiny ball.
Chill in the fridge for 6 hours. (You can skip the wait and bake right away.)
Then steep in hot water, maybe 5 mins.
Cut butter into the dry ingredients using a fork or your clean hands to a sandy consistency.
Unwrap one of the dough balls and roll it out to about 1/8th inch thickness.
Roll the dough over from one end to the other end, carefully tucking it the filling in to form a log.
Using a sharp knife or a crinkle cutter (like this), cut log into even pieces, maybe 12.
Where the Good Food Is
Once upon a time, if you wanted nazook, you had to make it yourself. Nowadays, it is everywhere you look, at least here where there are a lot of Armenians. Most small groceries carry it, baked freshly in town. So you may want to consider moving to Watertown, Fresno or Glendale. But, if you do not live near an Armenian community, you now know how to make it yourself, which is an advantage because nazook is best eaten fresh from the oven while it’s still warm. So, come and celebrate with us!