I’ve been involved for some time now with my neighbor Diego. It’s an affair based more on a mutual love for baking than for one another; which is good since I’m married, and my neighbor prefers men.
It all began several years ago when Diego and his partner Mitch moved in to the charming yellow cottage next door. I stopped over with a plate of ginger cookies to welcome them to our little strip of domesticity. The plate showed up on our doorstep a few days later anchored with a wedge of Meyer lemon tart so large and luscious it made me swoon. Diego had raised the bar, even garnishing the plate with a delicate arrangement of edible flowers from his garden.
And so it went. My husband would see me scurry from the kitchen and down our front steps with a half dozen cinnamon-dusted donuts/peach crisp/quarter of a chocolate birthday cake and know exactly where I was headed. And when the front bell rang unexpectedly, say on a Sunday morning, or after dinner on a Tuesday, we’d often find Diego on the other side of the door with a smile and a perfectly caramelized flan/blueberry buckle/zucchini quick bread.
I suppose like any sort of affair, you never think it’s going to end. And so I gasped when my husband broke the news last week that Diego and Mitch were moving, pulling up stakes for a job up north. I couldn’t believe it was over. We’d exchanged relatively few words over the years, but enough butter and sugar and the love that goes into cooking to fuel a small bakery. There was only one thing to do:bake something.
I wanted to make something special, and given my current fixation on Afghan food, it seemed an appropriate direction to turn. Plus, desserts in Afghanistan really are relegated to special occasions like this one. Prepared sweets are for weddings and holidays, and the repertoire of recipes is relatively limited. But there is a delicate little Afghan butter cookie that seemed just right, made with rice flour and cardamom, then crowned with a pistachio.
I made the cookies and left them on the doorstep with a note. I envisioned Diego and Mitch nibbling on the cookies during their long car ride, reminiscing about their former life. Then I turned my attention to their house and noticed the new “For Sale” sign out front. Hmmm, I wonder if any bakers are in the market for a charming yellow cottage…
Afghan Butter Cookies
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened to room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 egg whites
2 cups white rice flour
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 cup coarsely chopped pistachios
1/4 cup shelled whole pistachios
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and creamy. Add the egg whites and mix until smooth. Gradually add the rice flour, cardamom and pistachios. Mix well. Scoop up a tablespoon of dough and set on a cookie sheet (ungreased is ok). Flatten the dough with the palm of your hand. The cookie will not rise or spread during cooking. Next, press the back of a fork into the dough, making a criss-cross with the tines of the fork (like you would with a peanut butter cookie). If the fork begins to stick, dip it in a glass of cold water from time to time. Place a pistachio in the center of the cookie. Continue with the remainder of the dough, setting the cookies 1 ½ inches apart.
Bake for 12-14 mintues. Let it cool before eating.
Note: the names in this story have been changed
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