Shirni Berenji (Rice Flour Cookies)
This Persian treat is from the Kurdish speaking province of Kermanshah. The Paleolithic remains of Bisotun caves and evidence for goat domestication from the Neolithic era, have been attracting tourists to this city for years.
An inscription, dating back to 522 BCE, lies 1300 meters high in the Bisotun mountains, and is considered UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Kermanshah’s impressive set of archaeological remains include a depiction of Khosrow II of Sassanid Empire (591–628 CE), mounted on his horse, in full battle armor. On the top panel, the King is standing, on his left is Ahura Mazda (Higher Spirit of light and wisdom worshiped in Zoroastrianism, ancient Iranian religion) and on his right is Anahita (Goddess of Waters, therefore associated with fertility, healing, and wisdom).
Interestingly enough, Iran’s academic history classes mostly feature the post-Islamic era, with no indication of Zoroastrianism (pagan religion), or Persia’s resistance to Islam. Great effort is put forth to keep the young from learning the entirety of their culture…such a shame.
During the Iran-Iraq war, Kermanshah suffered heavy damage and remained unstable afterwards, and I regret having lost the opportunity to see these great historical sites. However, the city continues to be remembered for its elaborate hand woven carpets and sweets made with rice, which are particularly purchased for Norooz (Persian New Year) celebrations.
Having no access to any ethnic bakery in Montana, I decided to try my hand at baking shirni berenji. After my second attempt, I became convinced that a convection oven is a must to reproducing the exact same texture, since my results were more cookie-like and less powdery, the way I remember them.
You see, baking can be a bit frustrating when we get result oriented, and it sure doesn’t help when other bloggers use store bought products in their photos. Yea…I said it. The trick is to let go of expectations and comparisons, and just accept and appreciate what is.
Yesterday morning, I woke up to a gentle rain and it was very pleasant to have one of these cookies with a cup of tea. Spring is on its way!
Ingredients (34 cookies):
- 2 cups rice flour
- 2 egg yolks
- 2/3 cup butter (good quality real butter@ room temp)
- 1/3 cup oil
- 1.5 Tbs fine sugar
- 1 tsp ground cardamom
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract *optional
- 1 Tbs poppy seeds to garnish
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1/3 cup of water
- 1.5 Tbs rosewater
Time ~ 1 hr
- In a small pot over medium heat, dissolve the sugar in water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer ’til the mixture thickens to 1/3 cup (~ 10 min) . Remove from heat, add the rose water and set aside.
- In a large bowl mix rice flour with powdered cardamom. Set aside.
- In a mixing bowl whisk the eggs with fine sugar ’til smooth and creamy. Add in the butter and oil and beat well. Mix in the vanilla extract.
- Gradually add the contents of the mixing bowl to the flour and mix with a fork. Add in the sugar syrup. Beat well with an electric mixer/hand mixer.
- Cover with a plastic wrap and refrigerate for about six hours.
- Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line 2 med. sized baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Take a tablespoon of the dough, form into round shapes and gently place on baking sheets. Leave as ease or press down lightly with your hand. Sprinkle some poppy seeds on top of each cookie. (If the dough gets too loose place back in the fridge for 5-10 minutes)
- Place the cookie sheets in the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 13-15 minutes or ’till the edges brown.
- Remove from the oven, allow to cool for at least 20 minutes before attempting to peel off with a spatula.
The cookies are gluten-free and therefore fragile, handle with patience.
Store covered in the fridge and try not to stack too many on top of each other.