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Cookery: How to make Persian fruit cake, and Sholez zard

18 December 2020

IT WILL be a different Christmas for many of us this year; so here are two recipes using Middle Eastern ingredients, which serve four people. Martha Collison is Tearfund’s ambassador, who met Syrian refugees in Lebanon: she contributes this Persian fruit cake covered with pistachio “marzipan”.

 200g (7 oz) prunes
150g (5 oz) dried figs
200g (7 oz) dried apricots
150g (5 oz) dates
50g (2 oz) peel
1 lemon, zested
1 teaspoon culinary rosewater
200g (7 oz) butter
200g (7 oz) soft light brown sugar
150ml (5 fl. oz) honey
200g (7 oz) self-raising flour
100g (3½ oz) ground almonds
3 large eggs, beaten

For the rose syrup:

150g (5 oz) caster sugar
75ml (3 fl. oz) water
2 teaspoons culinary rosewater

For the pistachio marzipan:

200g (7 oz) pistachio kernels
100g (3½ oz) icing sugar
100g (3½ oz) caster sugar
1 egg white

edible rose petals and pistachios, to decorate

Grease and line the base and sides of a 20cm (8 in.) round cake tin with a double layer of baking parchment. Chop the dried fruits finely and place into a large saucepan. Add the lemon zest, rosewater, butter, sugar, and honey and heat gently, stirring until the butter melts. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4. Simmer for 10 minutes, and cool for 30 minutes.

Beat the eggs into the mix, and stir in the flour and almonds. Bake for 1¾-2 hours.

Combine the syrup ingredients in a small saucepan and simmer gently until the sugar dissolves. Cook the syrup for a further 30 seconds, and cool completely. When the cake has cooled in the tin for 5 minutes, pierce small holes over its surface and feed with the rose syrup. Leave the cake to cool completely in the tin. Blitz the pistachios and sugars in a food processor. Add the egg white and blend until the mixture clumps together, and wrap in clingfilm until ready to use. Cover the top of the cake with it, and decorate with rose petals and chopped pistachios.

Farifteh Robb* says that all Iranians love Sholeh zard at festivals, including Armenian Christians at Christmas. This is my effort. It is super-sweet; so make a very little, served in your best coffee cups, with fresh fruits and a tiny espresso on the side.

65g (2½ oz) short-grain rice, well-rinsed
120g (4 oz) sugar (I used Xylitol)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
pinch saffron soaked in 2 tablespoons boiling water
2 tablespoons cup culinary rosewater
2 tablespoons ground almonds
2 tablespoons ground pistachios
edible rose petals

Boil the rice in 375g water, skimming off any scum, until it has absorbed the liquid. Add the sugar, saffron, oil, almonds, and rosewater, and bake in a covered dish at 180°C/350°F/Gas 4 for 30 minutes. Decorate with pistachios and rose petals.

* Read an interview with Farifteh Robb here

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