One of the best things I tasted in Iran was a cookie. On the tray next to the rosewater flavored walnuts, almond baklava, salty dried cherries and pistachio nougat, little pale rounds topped with poppyseeds looked the least impressive of the lot. But when I bit into one biscuit, and it melted into buttery cream in my mouth, I was instantly smitten. That’s how I discovered rice cookies, Nan-e Berenji, the classical Iranian pastries.
Nan-e Berenji has a delicate sablé-like texture and a rich perfume of cardamom. Throughout my trip, I looked for this simple confection in every town I visited, but none have rivaled the version I found in Yazd, a city famous for sweets. Yazdi rice cookies were the same golden color as the adobe walls of the ancient town, and a simple shape belied their decadent flavor.
When I returned home, I set out to recreate Nan-e Berenji. There are numerous recipes and techniques–with sugar syrup or fine sugar, with rosewater or without, with butter or oil. Cookies can be molded or left plain. They can be snowy white or ambery brown. With a box of Yazdi cookies as my benchmark (photo above), I tried a few versions, but I struck gold with a recipe from M.R. Ghanoonparvar’s Persian Cuisine.
Just like Nan-e Berenji from Yazd, Ghanoonparvar’s cookies are made mostly with rice flour, butter, and sugar. There is cardamom but no rosewater. My cookies tasted so close to the Yazdi version that when I gave a box to my Persian language teacher, she assumed I brought them from Iran.
The dough is soft, but it holds the pattern well, and you can use a cookie stamp or score it with a fork. The cookie is extremely crumbly when hot, but as it cools, it becomes less fragile. But one bite–and Nan-e Berenji melts into a mouthful of buttery rice and cardamom.
Persian Rice Cookies (Nan-e Berenji)
While not traditional, vanilla is a perfect foil for the lemony sharpness of cardamom. Use 1/2 teaspoon of extract. Rice flour can be found at Indian, Middle Eastern or Asian grocery stores, in addition to Whole Foods and other organic food stores. Make sure it’s regular rice flour and not the glutinous variety.
Adapted from M.R. Ghanoonparvar’s Persian Cuisine. Makes about 30 cookies
1 cup (227 g) unsalted, softened butter
2 cups (315g) rice flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup (94g) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 egg, beaten
Black poppyseeds to garnish
Preheat oven to 350F/175C. Mix rice flour and baking powder. In a large bowl, cream together butter with sugar and add cardamom.
Gradually add rice flour and mix until it’s incorporated. Add beaten egg until the dough comes together and feels soft but not sticky. You may not need the whole egg.
Form dough into walnut sized balls and place them 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. Use a cookie stamp and press the design or dip a fork into rice flour and criss cross each cookie. Alternatively, flatten the balls slightly with your fingertips. Sprinkle with poppyseeds.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, until just lightly browned. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet. Enjoy!
Photography by Bois de Jasmin