Life is a matter of fact. The rest is perspective. Better it be a positive one. My day and your day are essentially the same 24 hours. But how I spend it could be so different from yours.
Today, I’m daydreaming about summertime in Iran. I’m a little girl again and my grandmother has
taken me along to her afternoon tea with the ladies. Bored by the chitter-chatter of conversations, I wander toward the massive sun-drenched windows framed by delicate lace curtains and peer outside. The sheer white walls of the tent in the backyard are billowing in the warm breeze. A beautiful turquoise rug with an intricate flower pattern covers the floor of the tent, which no-doubt serves as a cool sleeping spot at night.
Life was so different then, perhaps because I was young and unaware of the pressures that my parents faced. Or maybe it was just a different way of life.
This was a time where none of the modern conveniences were yet known and somehow people managed to go about their days without requiring them. No central air conditioning, dishwashers, food processors.
Both my parents worked. So I spent my days with my grandmothers, Nina and Vilik, neither of whom had a car. We walked everywhere and only occasionally took a taxi.
The things I often miss are those white tents announcing summertime when we slept outside under the summer stars. I remember playing with the kittens at my Vilik Mama’s house, waiting for the empty pool to fill with snow in the winter and pretending to be asleep during customary afternoon naps at Nina Mama’s.
Street vendors offered treats like charred corn dipped into a pail of salt water and whole steamed beets wrapped in newspaper. I can still taste the iced coffee from Cafe Naderi, the creme caramel from Paprika near our apartment and the marzipan-wrapped cake my parents would get from the nearby Danish bakery for my birthday every year.
It’s not surprising that food occupies a considerable portion of my memories from childhood in a place where roses, saffron and pistachios are among the most prized commodities. Good pistachios are hard to find these days, especially raw. Most grocers carry roasted and salted/unsalted varieties, which have a longer shelf-life, but these do not have the right flavour for pastries. Lucky for us, specialty merchants offer raw nuts for purchase online. My friend, Cigdem from Why Nut carries high quality hazelnuts and pistachios. And she ships worldwide.
The signature elements of Middle Eastern desserts come together in pretty little packages with a subtle, unexpected hint of Earl Grey. A shprinkling of crushed raw pistachios and sparkly glitter contrast beautifully with the crisp white rose-scented icing. A delicate little rosebud makes these sweeties fit for a dainty little princess.
Saffron Tea Cakes with Rose Petal Icing
Note: The cupcakes pictured here were made using silicone brioche molds that I found at Cost Plus World Market. There are so many choices available in pans with wells in the shapes of flowers, clovers, etc, but a standard cupcake pan works just as well.
Makes a dozen cupcakes
What to Get
1 tsp saffron
1 tsp sugar
2 Tb hot water
1.5 cups raw, shelled, unroasted, unsalted pistachios
1.5 cups sugar
1 tsp Earl Grey tea leaves
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 stick cold butter, cubed
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp rose water
pinch edible glitter (optional)
12 small dried edible rosebuds
What to Do
Preheat oven to 350*F.
Line a cupcake pan with paper liners.
Using a mortar & pestle, grind the saffron threads with 1 teaspoon of sugar.
Add a couple tablespoons of hot water and allow the saffron to steep ~ 5 minutes.
In a food processor, grind pistachios with sugar, tea and ground cardamom.
Add the saffron liquid.
Cut a stick of cold butter into small cubes and incorporate it.
Add the eggs.
Finish with the flour and baking powder, mixing they just disappear into the creamy batter.
Scoop a couple tablespoons of the batter into each cupcake cups and bake for about 35 minutes.
Remove the cakelets from the oven and after about 10 minutes, remove them from the pan and set them onto a wire rack to finish cooling.
Prepare the icing with powdered sugar and rose water. Spoon over each cakelets, allowing wavy drippings around the crown. Top with an edible rose bud, a generous sprinkling of crushed pistachios and a pinch of sparkly glitter.
It is easy to lose sight of the things that we are fortunate to have. Unlike my grandmothers, I have tools to help make my life easier. I have my own car, 5-burner gas stove and oven, dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer, but am waiting for someone to invent a folding machine, because I hate folding the laundry!
Thinking about the simple things that make a child happy keeps us grounded and it is these memories that bring something positive into a dreary day. And, if daydreaming fails, baking is great therapy. Saffron Tea Cakes take me back to those afternoon tea parties with my grandmothers every time I make them.