What a way to start off a nosh spot on the interweb, with a recipe for THAT day of the year. Yaarp. A day dedicated to celebrating the squishy stuff with that “special someone”, and the fact we aren’t always that selfish person who about 300 days of the year has no qualms about wrestling to get in front of the queue to get that last croissant at that really nice cafe you shouldn’t really spend money at, but do anyway, for the sake of feeling slightly more sophisticated.
The namesake of the day comes from St. Valentine, a Roman saint who died around 269AD and is most associated with “courtly love” (I can’t hear/read that phrase anymore without having some flashback to my uni days when, while studying medieval literature, my Northern Irish lecturer would say in her lovely strong accent “fin’amour” – the fact I can still remember her intonation now is startling, but kudos to the gravitas of the Irish accent). Valentine, despite being the most well-known saint in Western society, is actually a pretty mysterious bloke. There are a few legends about him explaining his status as a saint. One is that he was punished for secretly marrying Christian couples during the time of Emperor Claudius, who was strongly opposed to Christianity. A variation on this story is Valentine was punished for marrying couples so the husbands didn’t have to go to war. Another well-known tale is that, after refusing to pray to the pagan gods, Valentine was thrown into prison by Claudius; the next day, he would be executed. In prison, Valentine performed a miracle (which is one of the ways to become a saint) by returning sight to a prison guard’s daughter. On the day of his execution, he supposedly wrote a letter to the girl signed, “from your Valentine”.
Since most of these theories surrounding Valentine’s sainthood are effectively conjecture, he was actually removed from the general Roman calendar because of the lack of knowledge surrounding his canonization. However (probably due to his popularity, and the medieval concept of fin’amour), the church in Rome still recognised him as a saint, and to this day celebrate him on February 14 each year. Whatever story you believe, he certainly died out of love of something.
Val is the patron saint of Love, Young People, Happy Marriages, Beekeepers and Epilepsy. He is often depicted with birds and roses, which leads me on to my next inspiration for this recipe…
I’m rather fond of recipes from Persia, Iran and the Middle East. Besides the wonderful array of exotic foods that I could only dream of trying to grow in grey, grey England (*waah*), the flavours of the dishes that originate there are beautifully subtle and complex. Sumac and za’atar are spice combinations I throw frequently into my dishes (not willy-nilly, I hasten to add), as there’s a real warmth and sharpness to them that appeals greatly to my palette. To add to these splendid flavours found in their savoury foods are the flavours Persians have brought to their desserts – namely rose water.
One famous Iranian recipe made in the name of love is, quite literally, the “Persian Love Cake”. Like St. Val, there are lots of stories surrounding the name of this cake – a popular one is that a woman made this particular cake to make a prince fall in love with her, suggesting that it was also charmed. It’s a beautiful thing, this cake: a golden, light sponge with the lovely and musky, floral taste of rosewater, which is then studded with pistachios and almonds.
Wishing to pay tribute to ascetic St. Val but with a nod to the luxuriousness of the Persian Love Cake, I decided to make a happy combo of the two and bake some humble, but decadent, rosewater, chocolate and pistachio cookies. Besides offering your tongue a small shock of something exotic, these biscuits are nice, light treats to share with your fuzzy friend – perfect when you’ve gorged on a hench (but equally romantic) meal of steak and tatties accompanied by that glass of the red stuff.
In homage to the traditional recipe for Persian Love Cake, I combined plain flour with semolina to not only hold on to that lovely golden hue of the original cake but also create the deliciously crunchy texture I look for in my biscuit. I confess about halfway through the recipe I ran out of semolina, and in a YOLO moment mixed in fine cornmeal to try and replicate the missing semolina; however, to my delight, this actually worked nicely and added that beautiful yellow I was so keen to have for my cookies. As you may discover in a lot of my future recipes, I’m not too precious (or ashamed) about how much I spend on my ingredients. A supermarket basic dark chocolate bar was what I opted for my chopped chunks of cocoa goodness; nevertheless, I’d recommend a better quality brand for a deeper flavour and to support farmers in countries where they grow the beans.
Enjoy, my peeps. If you have any recommendations or tweaks, let me know! We make better cooks and bakers when we work together 😉
Rosewater, chocolate and pistachio cookies
(Based on a recipe by Cookiedog at Genius Kitchen.)
Yields: 24 – 30 cookies
- 1 + ½ cups (220g) of all-purpose (plain) flour
- ¾ cup (100g) of semolina or fine cornmeal
- ⅔ cup (50g) of pistachios, chopped
- ⅔ cup (100g) of dark chocolate, chopped
- 3⁄4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1⁄4 teaspoon salt
- 3⁄4 cup (150g) caster sugar
- 2⁄3 cup (150g) shortening / ghee
- 1 egg
- 4 teaspoons rose water
Sift the dry ingredients and stir together with the chopped pistachios and chocolate in a mixing bowl. Add the shortening, egg and rose water and mix well. Put in the fridge to rest for 30 mins.
Knead dough 3 times then roll out onto a flat surface until ½ cm (¼ in) thick. Cut with a floured cookie cutter.
Place the cookies on a greased cookie sheet and bake in a 180 (400F) oven for 8 to 10 minutes. Swap trays halfway through.