Persian ‘Cream Tea’ with Rose Water Biscuits

A few years ago I had the rare opportunity to visit Iran. As a student of Classics, the chance to visit the epicentre of the ancient Persian empire was thrilling, but it was more recent Persian culture that captivated me; in particular the subtleties and intricacies of the flavours in food. It was a challenge for the tastebuds – unidentifiable infusions and hints of herbs and spices, the ever-present delicate rosewater, and entire dishes made of only herbs – often served during the Iranian national pastime – the picnic.

This pudding is a tribute to my time in Iran. Whilst many of my (pre-coeliac) memories of Iranian food involve wide, layered, wheaty flatbreads; there were naturally gluten free treats to be found. In alchohol-free Iran there are many tea shops serving hot, sweet tea with mini pastries. These light, crumbly Naan Berenji are made with rice flour. I’m serving them with a Persian tea-inspired custard pot to make this into a proper pudding.

If you would like more ideas about gluten free Persian food, this blog is written by a Persian coeliac.

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Serves 4

For the Naan Berenji (rosewater rice cookies)

Adapted for British measures from this recipe. Makes approx 24 cookies.

  • 75g caster sugar
  • 75ml water
  • 1tsp rosewater
  • 175g rice flour (I used Dove’s Farm)
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 75g butter
  • 40ml oil (I used sunflower)
  • 1tbsp icing sugar
  • Ground seeds of 3 cardamom pods
  • A few drops of vanilla extract
  • Poppy seeds to decorate

For the ‘Persian-infused’ custard

  • 100ml double cream
  • 300ml milk
  • 1 cinnamon stick (or add other spices you prefer e.g. cardamom, rosewater, cloves)
  • 1 vanilla pod (or a few drops of vanilla extract)
  • 2 jasmine teabags
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp cornflour
  • Pomegranate seeds or chopped pistachios to decorate

Method:

  1. The biscuit dough and custard are best made the day before you serve them. For the biscuits, first make a rosewater syrup. Put the water, caster sugar and rosewater into a small pan. Stir to dissolve and simmer over a medium heat until it has reduced to about 75ml total. Leave to cool.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix the egg yolk with icing sugar. Add the butter, oil and vanilla extract, and whisk well with an electric whisk.
  3. Add in the flour and cardamom, and continue whisking until well combined. This will be more like a thick cake batter than a biscuit dough. Cover with clingfilm and leave to chill in the fridge for at least 6 hours (or overnight). This will keep ok in the fridge for a day or two.
  4. Next, make the custard. Put the milk, cream, spices and tea into a saucepan over a low-medium heat and allow to infuse until nearly simmering.
  5. Meanwhile in a large jug, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour to form a paste.
  6. When the milk mixture has heated, remove the spices and pour slowly into the eggs & cornflour, whisking constantly to combine.
  7. Put back in the pan, and return to the heat, whisking constantly until it thickens. If lumps form, simply put it back into the jug and whisk hard until they vanish.
  8. When thickened, divide between 4 glasses or teacups, cover and chill in the fridge.
  9. The next day, bake the biscuits. Preheat the oven to 175°c. Prepare a large baking tray (or two) with greaseproof paper.
  10. Take teaspoonfuls of the (now firm) dough, roll into balls between your hands and press into small rounds. Work quickly to prevent the butter from melting too much.
  11. If you like, use stamps or a fork to press patterns into the top of each biscuit. Sprinkle with poppy seeds.
  12. Bake for around 12 minutes, then remove carefully (they are quite delicate) and cool completely on a wire rack.
  13. Serve a few biscuits with each custard pot, garnished with pomegranate seeds or pistachios. Smoking a qalyan (bubble pipe) is optional :)

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