Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Minoo Bakery

Shirini Khoshk
Minoo Bakery

Reknowned anthropologist Margaret Mead theorized that a culture's essential character is determined by the rigor and timing of its toilet training practices. (It's true! She even made a highly entertaining documentary about it.)

Personally, I'd argue for judging a culture by its cookies. Besides being more palatable, cookies are at least as revealing. Even simple things, like size, or variety, or shelf-life can lead to new understandings (or at least new questions) about how people within a group relate to one another.

Without getting into the twisted messages lurking in every family-size pack of Double-Stuff Oreos, I'll present a contrasting scenario, the cookie counter at Minoo, "Seattle's Only Persian Bakery". Lined with a huge variety of bite-sized cookies, Minoo's counter speaks of sharing and hospitality, of social gatherings at which there is a little something for everyone and plenty to go around. The bakery itself is an extension of that generous impulse, "...the culmination of [the owner's] lifelong dream of wanting to share the sweet traditions & culture of Iran with the Seattle community."

Minoo sells both shirini tar, or "moist sweets", and shirini khoshk, sweets with a drier texture (interestingly, moist/dry is also one of the major ways in which the Japanese categorize their sweets). Moist sweets are those filled with cream or custard or topped with fruit, many clearly influenced by French pastries. As Minoo's website points out, "Iran’s prominent position along the ancient Silk Road created an opportunity to exchange ideas and cuisine from Europe to Asia."

More traditionally Persian are the dry sweets, a mulitude of small, delicate cookies that Minoo sells by the pound. Berenji are pale, sandy circles made from rice flour, sugar, rose water, and a sprinkling of poppyseeds. Nokhodochi are clovers of chickpea flour shortbread, while keshmeshi have raisins and saffron. The larger kolouche have walnut or fig filling, but kulukhi are thick and plain. Zabaan are oval millefeuilles with coconut topping, and the little walnut gerdoi are earthy, not-too-sweet, and crisp-soft like fresh amaretti. Since the cookies are made from a range of flours, fats, and sweeteners, treat-seekers on restricted diets may be able to find something to suit their needs.

There are at least a dozen more varieties of cookies, as well as breads, cakes, muffins, pastries, rice pudding, saffron ice cream, summer drinks, coffee and soup. And whatever you buy will buy, the nice guy behind the counter will make sure that the most delicate items are nestled safely on the top of the box, kept in perfect condition so that you can share them with friends or guests.

Minoo Bakery
12518 Lake City Way NE
Seattle, WA 98125


Sample more travel-related treats at WanderFood Wednesday...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

"Give Mercedes a Chance" Cake

Decorated Layer Cake
$35, QFC

Last week it was my boyfriend's turn to host the monthly office birthday party.   Since it was also the 41st anniversary of John and Yoko's first "Bed-In for Peace", he chose "Give Cake a Chance" as the party theme and headed off to the supermarket to commission an appropriate cake.  Although he sketched a peace sign on his order, the final result delivers a somewhat mixed message... 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Setsuko Pastry

Green Tea and Cream Mochi
Setsuko Pastry, from $3

For two years, Osaka native Setsuko Tanaka has been supplying Seattle with the sort of Japanese-inflected French pastries that have become so popular in Japan (as well as in France). When she moved to Seattle 6 years ago, Tanaka hungered for treats she couldn't find: fresh Japanese sweets, light French desserts, and something in-between.  Having studied wagashi and pastry in Japan, Tanaka began to make the sweets she craved.  Gradually, her hobby became a new career.  

The featured sweet for March provides a great introduction to Setsuko Pastry's products.  The green tea and cream mochi (pictured above) is a delicate hybrid of East and West, old and new.  The mochi gets its verdant color from a generous amount of green tea, while the red bean paste filling is lightened by a non-traditional layer of whipped cream; the finishing touch is a preserved cherry blossom.  Like all Setsuko pastries, the green tea and cream mochi is fresh, made from scratch, and free of preservatives.  

The dessert platter pictured below displays some of the other items on Setsuko's menu:  a Mont Blanc topped with red bean paste and pureed candied French chestnuts, a green tea "rare" cheesecake, a syrup garnish made from a dark Japanese sugar, the green tea mochi, and two rounds of black sesame shortbread.

Setsuko pastries are currently available at Shun, Village Sushi, Issian, Kozue, Root Table, and the Panama Hotel.  Contact Tanaka via her website to be notified of monthly specials.  She also accepts special orders for birthday and wedding cakes, with vegan options available. 

Setsuko Pastry

Hungry for more?  Check other food- and travel-related posts over at Wanderfood Wednesday

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sakura Daifuku

Sakura Daifuku

To understate the obvious, cherry blossoms are a big deal in Japan. Every spring newspapers and tv programs deliver breathless up-to-the minute reports on the best viewing spots. Photographers offer tips for capturing all that fluttering beauty on film. Friends and co-workers camp out to secure the best spots for ohanami (flower viewing parties), enjoying picnic lunches and sake (and sometimes portable karaoke) under canopies of frothy, pale pink blossoms.

But there's also a somber side to this blossom worship. As the short sakura season wears on, every puff of wind releases showers of loose petals, which drift like tenacious snowflakes onto the picnics and parties below. Short-lived sakura are a reminder of mortality (albeit a fluffy, pink reminder) and therefore a traditional favorite of samurai, yakuza, and all those who aspire to a short, beautiful life.

Every year around this time the global wagashi purveyor Minamoto Kitchoan sells sakura daifuku, little balls of white bean paste wrapped in mochi that has cherry blossom petals mixed into it. The petals infuse the mochi with a delicate but unmistakable perfume. It might not be one of the loveliest Japanese sweet, but it's one of my favorites.

Since I'm nowhere near a Minamoto right now, I decided to try making my own. While it's hard to harvest petals without feeling like a scoundrel, I quashed my guilt by wandering the long way home and taking a single blossom from each tree I passed. At home I rinsed them and separated the petals from the stamen and calyx (I guessed that these would be unpleasantly crunchy).

For the outer casing, I cooked up some short grained sweet rice (mochigome), then worked it over with a potato masher until it became a coherent but lumpy mass (having seen how much labor goes into real mochi, I hesitate to apply the term to my mush). Then I stirred in a little salt and sugar, a touch of beet food coloring, and a handful of petals. I formed my shiroan into small balls and encased each one in the rice paste, then topped each ball with a single petal.

I put a few in the freezer to taste when my diet is over and I can eat sugar again, and distributed the rest to friends.  Mmmm, mortality.  

Friday, March 12, 2010



Another fruit I wish I had on hand is the angelcot. I picked up a box of these at Trader Joes's last year and am eagerly awaiting their return in June.

The angelcot is a sweet, juicy little Frankenfruit, hybridized from Iranian and Morrocan apricots. Ross Sanborn came up the cross about 30 years ago and continued to tinker with anglecots for the rest of his life. A small annual crop comes out an organic orchard in Brentwood, CA.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Kettle Kashigata

Kashigata are carved wooden molds for making certain kinds of Japanese confectionery. Between the wood connection and the sweets connection, I am just about powerless to resist them. I recently acquired this antique single-board mold depicting a kettle adorned with a lotus leaf.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Rainier Cherries

Rainier Cherries

Nope, they're not in season yet--despite our recent premature spring weather. But a few days into my elimination diet, this morning I found myself desperately searching the kitchen for anything sugar-free but vaguely candylike. And then I remembered: towards the end of cherry season last year, Rainiers got so cheap that I bought several pounds and stashed a couple of tubs in the freezer. Huzzah!

Eight months in hibernation doesn't amount to beauty sleep for cherries (hence the lack of an up-to-date picture), but they tasted better than they looked, and gave me the little hit of sweetness I was craving.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Apple Glass

Apple Glass

For the next month I will be voluntarily giving up a variety of my favorite substances in an effort to head off the allergies that plagued me last summer. I'm cutting out wheat, dairy, caffeine, alcohol, soy, some fruits, corn, and (drum roll please!)...sugar.

I plan to continue blogging (while trying to ignore the throbbing temptation emanating from my archive of treats gone by). I'll be posting items that have been languishing in my draft folder, some features on sweets-related objects, and, wherever possible, writing about treats that satisfy my sweet spot without containing refined sugar.

Today I made a vegan jelly from apple juice and agar. While seaweed-derived agar is often suggested as a gelatin substitute, I find that the key to enjoying agar is to banish all thoughts of jello. Because it has a different structure and a much higher melting point, agar jelly has a peculiar mouthfeel; in an earlier post, I likened it to eating "very soft glass". I found that cutting the jelly into small cubes mitigated the odd texture.

Agar (known as kanten in Japan) is available in long bars, flakes, and powder; I find the last two to be easier to work with. You can find it at health food stories, or, more cheaply, at Asian markets.

4 c unsweetened apple juice
4 scant tsp agar powder (or 4 scant Tbs agar flakes)

Gently heat the juice in a saucepan. Sprinkle in the agar and stir until the juice comes to a boil. Lower the heat. While stirring, simmer the juice until the agar is completely melted (4-5 minutes). Pour into a pan and allow to set (agar will set at room temperature). When cool, cut into pieces and store in the refrigerator.