A Persian Homage to the Victoria Sandwich

I love cake. My cake love came later in life as I was a real savoury food seeker until my thirties. Then the delightful past-time of cake and coffee on a lazy sunday afternoon developed and it is a ritual I like to keep up. Most of the time I like to venture into my local coffee shop and bakery but once in a while I channel Mary Berry and produce a home-baked goody.

One of my Mary Berry moments resulted in this delight. I really fancied a Victoria Sandwich, mostly because it brings so much joy with very little baking effort! The only problem was I only had Persian sour cherry jam in my cupboard as opposed to strawberry or raspberry. I briefly contemplated heading out to the nearest shop for jam but it was a Sunday, my pyjamas felt snug and frankly I couldn’t be bothered. I rummaged around my kitchen cupboards for flavour inspiration to match with the sour cherry jam. I landed on lime and vanilla for the sponge, rose water flavoured whipped cream and ground pistachios for the decoration. The experiment was a success and my Persian version of the British classic Victoria Sandwich is a firm favourite in my household.

The cake batter is the standard ‘225 grams of  butter, sugar and self-raising flour plus 4 eggs’ mixture. It’s a great cake batter and one where even the novice baker will yield the perfect crumb. I also use this for cupcakes.

You can get your hands on sour cherry jam, rose water and pistachios from most Middle-Eastern food shops or online. The brand of sour cherry jam I use is ‘1&1’ but ‘Anjoman’ is also an excellent alternative. If all else fails just use a good quality cherry jam from your local supermarket which will also have rose water and pistachios.


A Persian Homage to the Victoria Sandwich

A lime and vanilla sponge layered with rose flavoured whipped cream and sour cherry jam
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Total Time55 mins
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: British, Fusion, Persian
Keyword: cake, victoria sandwich
Servings: 12
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 225 g golden caster sugar
  • 225 g unsalted butter (plus a little extra to grease tins - at room temperature)
  • 4 free range eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  • zest of 1 lime
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 225 g self-raising flour
  • 1 jar sour cherry jam (290g)
  • 300 ml whipping cream
  • 1 tbsp rose water
  • 1 to 2 tbsp icing sugar (to dust)
  • 2 tbsp ground pistachios

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C conventional / 160°C Fan / Gas mark 4. Grease and line the bottom of two 20cm/8in sandwich tins with a circle of baking paper.
  • In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light in colour and fluffy. Crack the eggs one by one and beat each one in before adding the next.
  • Add the vanilla extract and lime zest. Then sift the flour and baking powder into the bowl and gently fold into the mixture.
  • Divide the mixture evenly between the tins, using a spatula to remove all of the mixture from the bowl. Gently smooth the surface of the cakes. Place the tins on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Don’t open the door while they’re cooking.
  • While the cakes are cooking, add the whipping cream and rose water to a mixing bowl and whip until it forms stiff peaks.
  • The cakes are done when they’re golden brown and coming away from the edge of the tins. Remove them from the oven and set aside to cool in the tins for 5 minutes. You can use a thin skewer or the tip of a sharp knife to check the cakes by gently poking the centre to the bottom. It should come out clean of cake batter. Run a palette knife around the inside edge of the tin and carefully turn the cakes out onto a cooling rack. Set aside to cool completely.
  • To assemble, choose the sponge with the best top, then put the other cake top-down on to a serving plate. Spread with the sour cherry jam (I use the whole jar - reserve some of the jam liquid to drizzle on top of the whipped cream), then spread the whipped cream on top of the jam and drizzle the remaining jam liquid over the cream. Place the other sponge on top and dust with icing sugar and the ground pistachios.

Cherry and Pistachio Brownies

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

Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time35 mins
Total Time45 mins
Course: Dessert, Sweet Treats
Cuisine: Fusion
Servings: 12 portions
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 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)

Instructions

  • 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.

Persian Delights

Rose water & pistachio cupcakes

I first made these cupcakes over 10 years ago for a friend’s wedding and they have been a firm favourite ever since.

Cupcakes enjoyed a lot of attention and glamour following the episode in Sex and the City featuring Magnolia Cupcakes. The UK saw Violet’s Cakes, Hummingbird Bakery and Lola’s Cupcakes as the UK’s representation in the delicious world of luxury cupcakes. For about 5 minutes, I considered the possibility of starting my own cupcake business until I did a few weddings and charity events for friends and realised I needed a holiday to recover from all the baking and decorating.

I experimented with many flavours but these were the favourite among my family. Not surprising really as they are flavoured with Rose Water and pistachio. Had I found a use for saffron in the recipe, then I would have had the holy trinity of Persian desserts! But I felt the pink and ivory tones were perfect for the cupcakes’ presentation and that the yellow effect of incorporating saffron would not have been as aesthetically pleasing.

For the decoration, I used crushed fresh pistachio slivers and edible rose petals, which are both available from Iranian and Middle-Eastern food stores. If you cannot get your hands on rose petals then crushed fresh pistachios are equally lovely for decorating the cupcakes.

If you are using the traditional fairy cake tin for your cupcakes, then the recipe below will yield 24 cupcakes.  If you are using the deeper cupcake tins (like I do), which are also used for muffins, then the recipe below will result in 12 cupcakes.


Persian Delights

Rose water and pistachio cupcakes
Prep Time25 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Total Time50 mins
Course: Dessert, Sweet Treats
Cuisine: British, Fusion, Persian
Keyword: cupcakes
Servings: 12 large cupcakes
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

Cake Batter / Sponge

  • 225 g unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 225 g caster sugar
  • 4 medium free range eggs (room temperature)
  • 225 g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 to 2 tbsp rose water (depending on how floral you want it)
  • 1 to 2 tbsp ground fresh pistachios

Buttercream Icing and Decoration

  • 250 g unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 450 g icing sugar
  • Pink food colouring (if you want your cupcakes to have a pink tint - I do a mix of ivory and light pink cupcakes)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 to 2 tbsp rose water
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • Ground pistachios and edible rose petals (for decoration)

Instructions

For the Cupcake Sponge

  • Preheat the oven to 160°C (fan) / 180°C (conventional) / Gas mark 4. Line a 12-hole cupcake tin with cases (deep fill cupcake tin).
  • In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light in colour and fluffy.
  • Crack the eggs one by one and beat each one in before adding the next.
  • Add the vanilla extract and rose water. Then sift the flour and baking powder into the bowl and gently fold into the mixture.
  • Add your ground pistachios and again gently fold into the mixture.
  • Divide the mixture equally into your cupcake cases and place in the oven for 20 to 25 mins. To check if  the cupcakes are done, use a thin skewer to check one by gently poking to the bottom. It should come out clean of cake batter. Leave the cupcakes to cool completely on a wire rack.

For the Buttercream Icing and Decoration

  • Make the buttercream by beating the butter until light in colour and then sift the icing sugar gradually and beat until fully mixed.
  • Then add the vanilla extract, rose water and milk and mix. I halve my icing mixture and add pink food colouring to one batch and leave the other half an ivory colour. 
  • Make sure your cupcakes have cooled and then pipe or spread your icing onto the cupcakes.