I love a good food mystery. (I love a good non-food mystery, too.) Asking people strange questions, slowly sleuthing together pieces of the puzzle – it's a journey possibly more fun than its destination. Baking kolompeh with Fariba started with a mystery. When my sweet friend Naomi first asked me about ma'amoul, an Arab cookie filled with a date and nut paste, all I could do was look at her blankly. But, later, I remembered that a woman from the city of Kermanshah whom I had interviewed for my Iranian Jewish cookbook mentioned making a type of date and nut filled cookie called koloocheh for Purim. An itch began to develop in my brain. Then, through the wonderful world of Persian food bloggers, I discovered Fariba, a pastry chef from the town of Kerman, whose specialty is kolompeh, yet another cookie filled with a date and nut paste.
|Naan-e berenji, rice flour cookies. Part of Fariba's Mehregan spread|
Learning about kolompeh from Fariba was a lesson in her family's history. She spoke with such love about her own mother, from whom she learned this and so many other Kermani recipes. And she led us through her collection of kolompeh stamps: the oldest was a sturdy disc of solid wood, and had an intricate pattern depicting birds and flowers. This one has been passed down for generations in her family, and is over a century old. The next is the first to have a rudimentary handle carved into it, and to me, its paisley pattern was the most beautiful. The newest one, purchased on a recent trip to Iran, was machine-made, with a simple pattern of dots and lines and a glued-on handle.
|Tricks of the trade|
We took a few moments to get to know a bit of each other's stories before getting to work. Together we ground nutmeg, steeped saffron, and made a dense paste of walnuts and dates.
Filling and stamping the cookies wasn't so hard, but Fariba's genius came to light at the next step: twisting the edges to seal the cookie's perimeter. When Fariba lays the the edge of a cookie between two fingers and twists, the resulting pattern is so perfect, you'd think it was made by machine. It's no wonder these beautiful cookies are her trademark. She paints a dot of golden saffron water on the center of each cookie, then sprinkles it with the bright green of ground pistachios.
You'd think a person with this level of expertise would be intimidating, but in this case, you'd be wrong. We tried futilely to emulate her perfect twists, but even when ours came out gnarly and inconsistent, she'd give an excited encouraging squeal with every cookie we made.
We finished off the day learning to make nan-e-nokhodchi, tiny flower-shaped sweets made with chickpea flour and cardamom, and nan-e-berenji, plump rice flour cookies topped with poppy seeds. With the touch of a pastry chef, these came out as dainty as dollhouse furniture.
As beautiful as our cookies were, they were even more delicious. The kolompeh dough is unsweetened, so they're just sweet enough, and the warmly spiced filling goes perfectly with the buttery, flaky cookie. We were proud of our baking accomplishments, and had to keep ourselves from gobbling up cooking after cookie.
The vibe of our day was really special. Everyone came in with a curious spirit and an open heart, including our dear ostad herself. We felt her warm hospitality from the moment we walked into her home to the moment she saw us out, carrying bags and containers overflowing with delicious sweets, and our very own kolompeh stamps. There's certainly esteem in mastery, but only when it comes with love is there transcendence.
Do check out Fariba's business website, Zozo Baking. You can learn more about taking classes with her yourself, you can buy beautiful kolompeh stamps she brings in from Iran, or, you can leave the baking to her and order boxes of delicate kolompeh and other Persian sweets to adorn your table.