persian love pop tarts

Persian love pop tarts

Persian love cake is the most charming almond rose cake, with cardamom, citrus, and sometimes saffron. Last year, I fell for Yasmin Khan’s, which is flavored with lemon zest, cardamom, and rosewater, and topped with a lemon glaze and edible petals and pistachios.

It’s a perfect occasion cake, but I recently wanted to make a shareable version, so I took inspiration from its flavors and ingredients, and made one of my childhood favorites: the pop tart! I guess I could’ve made these in the shape of half-moons or circles, and then called them hand pies instead, but I’m a sucker for childhood nostalgia this time of year. Whatever you want to call them, they’re delicious, and perfect for sharing with all your loved ones this Valentine’s Day.

The filling is made with strawberry rose jam, and the crust is a lemon and cardamom-scented almond meal pie dough. The almond meal soaks for a few minutes in one beaten egg, which hydrates it and makes it less gritty, just like in a perfect Persian love cake. And it’s topped just like Yasmin’s love cake, with a lemon rosewater glaze, ground pistachios, and rose petals.

Persian love pop tarts
Persian love pop tarts
Persian love pop tarts
Persian love pop tarts

A couple practical notes on the recipe, before I leave you to it:

the big question: should you cut before or after filling them?

Most pop tart recipes have you cut little rectangles out, and then fill and paste them together, but I prefer filling them in one big sheet and then cutting them apart, kind of like ravioli. This gives them a much neater look, because the halves are cut together instead of fitting together later.

I’ve included instructions in the recipe, but it’s a little more technically difficult than making them individually, so if you’re not used to working with pastry, you could just make them individually instead, and they’ll still turn out wonderfully.

how to crimp them

The crimping style I chose reminds me of Rabel Betshmuel’s series of Assyrian patterns, but you can totally crimp them however you’d like. But if you want to recreate this look, here’s how: after sealing the edges with a little bit of water, take a fork and press it into the four corners on a diagonal. Then go back and crimp the sides, without overlapping with the corners too much (just a little).

making these pop tarts gluten free

This recipe can be easily made to be gluten free. I tinkered with it, replacing all purpose flour with a gluten free one-to-one flour, but if you go this route, it’s important to add just a little less butter and a little tiny bit more water to the dough. Gluten free flours (even all purpose ones) are a bit more crumbly than wheat flour, and this adjustment gives the dough a better texture.

If you go gluten free, the dough will be a bit harder to work with, and they might turn out just a little more rustic, but that’s okay. There’s something very wabi-sabi about homemade pop tarts anyway, and no one wants to feel like they came from a foil packet in a cardboard box.

decorating with (or without) rose petals

You can find edible rose petals online, and you can find them in tea shops, spice shops, and other specialty stores. But if you can’t get your hands on rose petals, these are also super pretty with just pistachios. If you want to incorporate some pink without petals, you can mix a teeny tiny bit of pink food coloring with the glaze, and then sprinkle it with the pistachios. They look really lovely against a very light pastel shade.

Persian love pop tarts
Persian love pop tarts
Persian love pop tarts
Persian love pop tarts

persian love pop tarts

yield: 8 pop tarts
active time: 40 minutes
total time: 1 hour 30 minutes
download a
PDF to print

  • 1 large egg (55g)

  • 1/2 cup almond meal (60g) *

  • 1 1/2 cups flour (200g) **

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 stick cold butter (113g), cut into 8 pieces

  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom

  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

  • 2 tablespoons sugar (25g)

  • 2 tablespoons cold water (or more, if needed)

  • 1/2 cup strawberry preserves (160g)

  • 1 to 2 teaspoons rosewater (divided in half) ***

  • 1 cup powdered sugar (110g)

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

  • edible rose petals ****

  • finely chopped green pistachios

  1. Combine the egg with the almond meal, and let it soak for about 10 minutes while you prep everything.

  2. Place the flour, salt, butter, cardamom, lemon zest, and sugar in a food processor with the blade attachment. Process until the butter is evenly distributed and there are a few tic-tac sized lumps left.

  3. Add the egg/almond meal mixture, and pulse a few times to distribute.

  4. Slowly drizzle in the cold water with the machine running, just until the dough starts to clump together. Squeeze some dough together in your hand to see if it will hold together. If it is still dry and crumbly, drizzle in a little more water at a time until it’s pie dough consistency.

  5. Divide in half, and shape each half into a flat square. Cover each with plastic, and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

  6. While the dough is chilling, combine the strawberry preserves with between 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of rosewater.

  7. Once the dough is chilled, flour a work surface and roll the squares into 2 rectangles (about 9x12 inches, a little less than 1/8-inch thick). Use your rolling pin (gently roll it up onto the rolling pin) to carefully transfer one of the rectangles to a parchment-lined sheet pan.

  8. Use a knife to score the surface of the dough without cutting all the way through: First, trace a border to block off the rough edges, outlining one big rectangle. Next, trace a grid to outline 8 smaller rectangles. Here’s a visual for how to score and fill the first sheet.

  9. In the center of each little traced rectangle, spoon about 1 tablespoon of strawberry-rosewater preserves. Spread the preserves out a little, leaving plenty of room for a border. Wet your finger and dab the borders to make sure the top will seal well.

  10. Carefully place the second rolled out rectangle over the first, and try to make sure there aren’t trapped air bubbles, and that you don’t squish down the preserves. Press down around the edges of each rectangle.

  11. Cut away the rough edges to give yourself a neat rectangle. Using the humps as guides, cut the dough into 8 equal rectangles. Separate them so they’re about an inch apart on the sheet pan. Crimp the edges with a fork.

  12. Preheat the oven to 425° F (218° C). While you’re waiting on it, chill the pop tarts in the refrigerator (this helps them hold their shape). Once the oven is heated, bake for 10 to 12 minutes.

  13. Let them cool on the parchment, and make the glaze while you’re waiting. Combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon rosewater (again to taste, and use a little extra lemon juice or water if you only use 1/2 teaspoon). Mix until totally smooth. Feel free to thin with a couple drops of lemon juice, or thicken it with a couple spoonfuls of icing sugar.

  14. Spoon some glaze over each pop tart, topping them with rose petals and pistachios as you go. It will take a couple hours to fully set and harden, and then they can be stored together and stacked, or served right away.

* You can make your own almond meal if you have blanched almonds. Simply grind them in a food processor until they are finely ground (but stop processing before they start clumping together and turn into almond butter).
** See the note above the recipe if you want to make this gluten free.
*** I’ve made a few different batches for friends, and everyone seems to prefer a different amount of rosewater. E.g., I prefer them will the full amount, and my husband prefers them with the smaller amount. It’s up to your taste, and also the strength of your bottle of rosewater. Taste and adjust as you go.
**** See the note above the recipe about decorating these without rose petals.

Persian love pop tarts
Persian love pop tarts

walnut kleicha

kleicha

While writing this post, I've realized that I have no idea how to define kleicha. It's one of those foods that shows up in a lot of forms, with a few different stuffings, and even in a variety of doughs. You might find a kleicha that's been made with date paste, rolled up in shortcrust pastry, and sliced to reveal beautiful spirals before baking. Or you might find something like my aunt Masy's walnut kleicha, made with a buttery yeast-risen dough, which is stuffed with cardamom-spiced walnuts, and expertly crimped shut.

Some are made with ornate presses similarly to ma'amoul, some are shaped into unpretentious little circles, some look exactly like fig newtons, some are even sprinkled with nigella or sesame seeds. They're not eaten for any particular holiday, and can be found at Christmas, Eid, and Easter. They're the national cookie of Iraq and have roots in ancient Assyria, but they're made nowadays by just about everyone, and they're popular in neighboring countries too. But while I can't figure out the essential feature uniting all of these cookies, all I know is that I want to eat every single one of them, especially the ones my Aunt Masy bakes.

kleicha
kleicha

While Masy is technically my grandmother's older sister, the two of them are always switching off who acts like the bossy big sister, depending on the situation. But when they bake together, you can always see them revert back to the natural order of things, with Masy as the older sister and Romy as the younger, because baking is Masy's turf, and we're all just doing our best to keep up with her. This summer, Masy taught me how to make kleicha, and I captured some classic Masy and Romy moments.

Masy: No, no, hold on, let me see.

Masy: No, no, hold on, let me see.

Masy: Ahah! Alright!

Masy: Ahah! Alright!

Romy: Ok inspector, what do you think? Masy: Ok!

Romy: Ok inspector, what do you think?
Masy: Ok!

Masy: Your grandmother, if she were working in my kitchen, she would be fired. You know why? You can't cook with jewelry and nail polish!

Masy: Your grandmother, if she were working in my kitchen, she would be fired. You know why? You can't cook with jewelry and nail polish!

Learning to make kleicha from the expert was a humbling experience. I never quite got the crimping right, and I suspect it takes a lifetime of practice to make them as pretty as Masy's (none of mine are pictured here, thanks to my auntie food stylist. The only other person I know who rivals Masy's kleicha crimping is Amina from Hungry Paprikas).

But it was also humbling as a recipe developer. I'm always trying to find ways to make labor-intensive traditional recipes a little easier, but this summer, I've become more comfortable with the fact that an involved, high-maintenance cooking project sometimes just needs to be itself. So while the second coat of egg-wash halfway through baking might seem a little excessive, trust me that it's necessary to give the cookies the deep golden lacquer they (/you!) deserve. I mean, if we're willing to bang a pan every 2 minutes to get perfectly wrinkly cookies, brushing on a second coat of egg wash doesn't seem so crazy, right?

kleicha
kleicha

A few other things that make Masy's recipe perfect: Not to harp on the egg wash, but I love that she uses straight-up beaten eggs, instead of watering them down a little. The cookies turn out so miraculously deeply golden. For this to work, it's important that the eggs are at room temperature, otherwise they'll be too gloopy to brush on. Also, I love that Masy bakes them pretty much shoulder to shoulder. They puff up a little and end up growing into each other slightly, and I like the casual look of the resulting squared-off squished shapes. Plus, you can bake so many more at one time, and don't have to worry about crowding the pan.

One or two things I changed from Masy's recipe: I like to dock them after the egg wash goes on, because the holes don't get as stopped up, which means that you're less likely to have to dock them a second time halfway through baking (but again, seriously don't forget to brush them with egg wash a second time). Oh and I made sure this recipe has just enough stuffing for the amount of dough, and I standardized the size stamp and amount of filling—but no matter what you're stamping them with, just pace yourself as you go and they'll turn out great.

kleicha

walnut kleicha

download a PDF to print
active time: 1 hour
total time: 3 hours
yield: about 4 dozen cookies, depending on how big you make them

dough

  • 1 tablespoon yeast

  • 1 teaspoon sugar

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

  • 1/2 cup 115° F water

  • 30 ounces all purpose flour (about 6 1/2 cups)

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 2 1/4 sticks butter (9 ounces), just melted (not hot)

  • 1 cup 115° F whole milk

  1. Combine the yeast, sugar, vegetable oil, and water in a large bowl. Stir together until the yeast dissolves, cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, and leave at room temperature for about 15 minutes.

  2. Once the starter is very foamy, add the flour, salt, sugar, melted butter, and whole milk, and stir together with your hand. The dough will start to form a shaggy blob, which will come together into a dough after a minute of kneading in the bowl. Continue kneading in the bowl for a couple more minutes, until it smooths out quite a bit more, but don't worry about getting a perfectly smooth ball of dough.

  3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, wrap the bowl in a towel, and leave it in a warm room temperature and/or insulated place to proof for 1 hour (e.g., on top of the refrigerator, over an unlit gas stove, or in an off oven).

filling and baking

  • 2 cups coarsely ground/finely chopped walnuts (from 6 3/4 ounces)

  • 1/2 cup sugar (4 ounces)

  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 2 large room temperature eggs, beaten (for the egg wash)

  • (optional: sesame seeds for sprinkling)

  1. Stir together the walnuts, sugar, cardamom, and salt. Set this filling aside.

  2. Move the dough to the counter and divide into 2 pieces. Roll one piece out to about 1/8-inch thickness. Work on a non-porous, smooth surface, so you won't need flour to keep the dough from sticking. Once the dough is rolled out thinly (about 1/8 inch), let it rest for a few minutes until it no longer quickly shrinks when you lift it off the counter.

  3. Once the dough has rested, use an approximately 3 1/2 inch round cookie cutter to stamp circles out of the dough. Once the rounds are stamped out, collect the scraps into a ball, and let them rest while you fill the rounds. Fill like so: hold a round in the palm of your hand, and make sure it hasn't shrunk back up (flatten it with your fingertips if you need to). Spoon almost 1 tablespoon of filling onto one side of the dough, leaving a border around the edges. Fold the other side over, and crimp it shut (fold one corner over while pinching the edge you're creating, then fold the next little bit over and pinch it, continuing down the edge until it's done).

  4. Once you're done filling the first batch, preheat the oven to 375° F while you let them rise on a parchment-lined sheet pan for about 15 minutes (they should pretty much be shoulder to shoulder, like in the photos above, and they won’t rise very noticeably in the 15 minutes). Brush with egg wash (save the extra), dock each with a fork about 2 or 3 times, and then bake for about 25 minutes total. Halfway through baking, pull them out of the oven, brush with egg wash again (and dock them again if they're too puffy), and let them bake the rest of the way, until they're deeply golden brown.

  5. While the first batch is in the oven, repeat with the remaining dough and filling, until you run out (pace yourself while you work).

kleicha