Baklava may still be considered exotic, but it has become a household name – you know, those layers of delicate phyllo sandwiching crunchy walnuts or pistachios dripping with rose water-honey syrup. The smell, the crunch, that sweetness – need I say more? But… what other Middle Eastern sweets crossed over? Have you ever heard of Basboosa? S’finge? Sohan? Those are respectively, from Egypt, Morocco and Iran. Most of these mouth watering sweets have a few things in common, mainly they do not require a mixer and they do not need to be refrigerated. Mixers were non existent in the not so far past of the Middle East and refrigeration was hard to come by… They utilize what was familiar or easily accessible: lemons, nuts and rose water to create such deliciousness!
My friend Sima is from Shiraz in Iran and her cooking is legendary. In the Minnesota land of hot dish we bonded over saffron and cardamom, elaborate meals and cultural exchanges. She followed the sun to establish her family and catering business in San Diego, but left her mark on the Minneapolis culinary landscape. One of the easiest and most delicious sweets she taught me how to make is the Iranian candy Sohan.
Think of delicately crunchy caramel almond brittle, flavorful with rose water and saffron. Unique, fast and stores well – Perfect for a quick company fix! The ingredients can now be found at most grocery stores, even the rose water and saffron. So live dangerously (and sweetly) – try your hand at making Sohan!
32 small pieces
1.5-cup sugar 4 tablespoons honey 6 tablespoons canola oil 2 cups unsalted slivered blanched almonds ½ teaspoon ground saffron 4 tablespoons rose water 5 tablespoons unsalted, roasted, finely chopped pistachios
Prepare a cooling surface by spreading a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet. In a heavy saucepan combine the sugar, honey and oil together over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring often. To the pot add the slivered almonds, and continue stirring for additional 2 to 3 minutes, the mixture should turn golden and become smoothly incorporated.
Combine the ground saffron and the rose water in a small bowl. Add the mixture to the syrup and stir occasionally with a wooden spoon until the mixture reaches a deeper golden brown color (about2 to 4 minutes more). A candy thermometer takes the guesswork out of this process: mixture should be between “soft crack” stage, at 285° F, and “hard crack” stage, at 302° F.
Mixture will be very hot! So carefully place one teaspoonful of the mixture on the parchment paper at 1-inch intervals. Top immediately with the finely chopped pistachios.
Allow the candies to cool thoroughly, and then remove them from the paper and store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.