We Iranians love our tea (chai). As far back as I can remember my maman has always had a samovar in her kitchen. Samovars are traditionally used to make tea. Originating in Russia, the samovar has spread through Russian culture to other parts of Europe and the Middle-East, including Iran.
Samovars were typically crafted out of plain iron, copper, polished brass, bronze, silver, gold, tin, or nickel. A samovar usually consists of a body, base and chimney, cover and steam vent, handles, tap and key, crown and ring, chimney extension and cap, drip-bowl, and teapot. The body shape is usually like a barrel and the water is boiled in this section.
Many samovars have a ring-shaped attachment around the chimney to hold and heat a teapot filled with tea concentrate (tea leaves with water). The tea pot is placed on the chimney and is steamed by the boiling water in the body of the samovar. The tea is then poured into a glass (so you can see the colour of the tea) and then hot water is poured in to dilute the tea to your liking i.e. the right colour. No milk is added to our tea, although at times my Iranian family can be partial to a good old ‘builders’. Modern samovars now look like giant kettles and are made using plastic. When my maman replaced her metal ornate samovar I was deeply disappointed but I appreciate the new models are safer and easier to clean!
Most Iranian households will have a special blend of tea leaves that they mix themselves from varieties such as Early Grey, Darjeeling and Assam. I remember my maman pouring all her chosen tea leaves into a large bowl and mixing them by hand with the aroma of the leaves filling the kitchen. That aroma is amplified into another level of joy while it steams in the little tea pot on the samovar, and then when the fragrance hits your nose before you take your first sip.
Part of tea drinking ritual is having sugar cubes or sweet nibbles served alongside our tea. The veteran tea drinker will place a sugar cube in their mouth and sip their tea, with the cube breaking down and sweetening each intake of the beverage. Some of us like our tea with the well-known Middle-Eastern sweet treat, Baklava. With a table full of Persian treats ranging from biscuits to nougat, we are often spoiled for choice. Despite the array of these Persian delights my heart always belongs to chocolate! Being born and brought up in the UK, chocolate was introduced to me at a young age and if it is on offer I always choose it first over other sweet treats. Whether it is the posh stuff that a Swiss-based relative has brought over as soghati (a gift from their travels) or the cheap stuff we gorged on as kids – I am not picky!
This brownie recipe is one I created to add to the selection of tea-accompanying sweet treats for the chocolate lovers in my family. I have adapted a standard brownie recipe and added Luxardo Cherries and fresh pistachios to add a little Persian touch to a familiar friend. For those of you who have not come across Luxardo Cherries, these are candied cherries soaked in Luxardo marasca cherry syrup. Often used by mixologists for their cocktails, replacing those bright red cocktail cherries, with a deep purple, slightly sour cherry. They are incredible in cocktails but also an amazing addition to baking recipes or just being poured (with the syrup) over a vanilla ice cream. Using them in a brownie recipe adds to the gooey texture and balances the sweetness with a subtle sour note.
These brownies can be eaten as a dessert with cream or custard, should you fancy. I break mine down into little bites and enjoy them with a glass of hot Persian tea.
Cherry and Pistachio Brownies
- 175 g unsalted butter (cut into cubes)
- 200 g dark chocolate (good quality - 70%+ cocoa)
- 325 g caster sugar
- 130 g plain flour
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 3 free-range eggs
- 125 g Luxardo Cherries (chopped) (plus 2 tbsp of the syrup)
- 2 tbsp ground fresh pistachios (the pistachios do not need to be finely ground as you want some texture in the brownie mix) (plus extra to decorate)
- 1 tsp icing sugar (to decorate)
- Preheat the oven to 160°C (fan) / 180°C (conventional) / Gas mark 4.
- Line a baking tray (33cm x 23cm x 5cm) with baking paper / grease-proof paper.
- Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Do not let the base of the bowl touch the water. Leve the mixture to melt. Stir to ensure there are no lumps and the butter and chocolate are full incorporated.
- Remove from the heat. Add the sugar and stir until incorporated.
- Add the flour and salt and stir until well incorporated.
- Stir in the eggs and mix until smooth. The mixture will have a thick consistency.
- Add the chopped cherries, the cherry syrup, ground pistachios and mix in. Spoon the mixture into the prepared baking tray.
- Place the tray in the oven for about 30 to 35 mins. The brownies are done when they are flaky on top but still gooey in the middle. Be careful not to over-cook as the edges will become crunchy and hard.
- Once baked, leave to cool before dusting with the icing sugar and sprinkling with ground pistachios.