Orange Blossom Sweet Bread

Yalda (the darkest and the longest night of the year /winter solstice) has been one of my favorite Iranian celebrations, maybe because it reminds me of my childhood and life in Bam, Kerman. Or maybe because it was the one school-night that I could stay up late and enjoy the adult's company.

My parents, who were passionate about keeping the old traditions alive, always hosted a Yalda gathering. Mom would serve tea with her homemade masghati (a Persian delight), dried fruits, fresh fruits and a mixture of nuts (Ajil).  Dad would challenge his friends to play a round of backgammon.  I would watch the game and enjoy listening to them bickering over "the luck" versus "a good play". And the night would continue into the early hours of the next morning with reading Hafez, drinking more tea, sharing stories of the past and talks about politics.

Bam had the most remarkable, massive and breath taking fruit orchards so much so that the city was named "Orchard City" (bagh-shahr). Living in Bam meant enjoying an abundance of fruits; ranging from dates to oranges to grapefruits and lemons. In springtime, the smell of orange blossoms would fill the air and in the winter, the luscious and juicy oranges would be the main ingredient for baking and cooking. 

The recipe that I choose for you today is from my mom and her Zoroastrian friend (Morvarid Khanum). They used to make this bread during Yalda; using orange juice, orange blossom water, dried fruits, and cardamom. The cardamom and orange blossom water mingle together generating a nice and unique flavor, and of course a delicious scent while baking. This bread is light, fluffy, and slightly buttery, with a chewy crumb. Enjoy it with a cup of tea or coffee.

Before I share the recipe with you, I want to acknowledge my Iranian blogger friends who are also blogging about Yalda today. I encourage you to visit their pages and read their stories, you can find their names at the bottom of this page.

Ingredients:

  • 1 package active dry yeast (7g)
  • 2 tablespoons lukewarm water
  • 4 cups flour
  • 100g butter
  • 1 large orange (need both the zest and juice)
  • 3 tablespoons orange blossom water
  • 100g sugar
  • 2 Eggs 
  • 1-tablespoon honey
  • 200g dried fruits (apricots, dates, raisins, plum, mango); cubed
  • 1-teaspoon cardamom
  • To finish:
  • 1 Egg for egg wash
  • 1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons white sesame seeds

Process:

  1. Place butter, sugar, honey, orange juice and zest of an orange in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil or until the sugar is melted. Add cardamom and orange blossom water and let cool.
  2. In a large bowl or in the bowl of your stand mixer, mix the dry yeast with 2 tablespoons water. Add flour and mix together until you have crumbly dough.
  3. Add eggs and continue mixing (on low speed if you're using a stand mixer).
  4. Add the butter mixture and continue mixing until you have smooth dough.
  5. At this point dough will be a little sticky which is OK.
  6. Dust your work surface with some flour and bring the dough together into a large boule and place in a large bowl. Cover the dough with a plastic wrap and cover the bowl with a kitchen cloth for an hour or until the dough is doubled in size.
  7. Now, on a lightly floured work surface, cut the dough evenly into eight small pieces.
  8. Using your fingers roll the dough out into a small round shape, place desired amount of dried fruits in the middle and bring the dough together. Shape the dough into a boule; set aside and cover with a tablecloth. Continue this step until you're done with the dough.
  9. Turn on your oven to 350° F.
  10. Dust your work surface with some flour and roll out the boule into an inch thick oval or round shape and place on the baking tray. Use the tip of your fingers to mark small indentation on the dough, brush with egg wash, sprinkle with sesame seeds and place on a baking tray cover with parchment paper. Repeat the process until you’re done with the dough.
  11. Place the tray in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the top and sides are golden brown. Once cooled, you can keep the bread in an airtight container for a week or place in a zip lock bag and freeze up to a month.        

I'm sharing this recipe in the memory of all our friends who we lost in the 2003 earthquake in Bam.