The whirrrrr of the grinding machine. The thwack-thwack of a hand-whisk. The clicketyclick of the oven timer. And the aroma of whatever was baking in that oven. These make up some of my favourite childhood memories. I remember walking in to our house from school to find grandma sitting on her chair in the kitchen – “Too old to stand for too long,” she’d say – instructing her helpers, a cook for savouries and a baker for desserts, on what to stir and what to pour. All my mom and uncles’ birthdays, my mother tells me, were unparalleled feasts, filled with interesting sandwiches and many different kinds of cake – from sponge cakes with fruits to chocolate cake, jelly cakes, trifle and homemade pastries. She made everything from scratch, right down to getting the freshest cream straight from the milkman. Birthday buffets back then were a very different thing, I’m told! Birthdays aside, every day was a treat. Even the sandwiches that went into my mother’s and her brother’s daily lunch boxes were baked and assembled from scratch. Their breakfast table, mother recalls, would always have a special pastry she called ‘kafafy’ that they would eat with honey or homemade jam. Mother reminisces about how the fragrance from their kitchen would waft through the entire building and how all the neighbours, especially the British ones on the same floor, would get to eat grandma’s baking. These, of course, were times when the tradition of sharing with the neighbours was well-respected and followed. Not only was my grandmother a great baker, she was also always very well turned out – well dressed, taking care of herself and making sure her kitchen was spotless, even as she baked up a storm! My grandmother’s dining room. Now that in itself is a treat to remember. The long, beautiful 16-seater dining table and its matching buffet and mirror. The table was so big that she was never able to find ready-made table cloths for it. She always had to have them custom-made. And she got some really elegant ones done. There were always vases filled with pretty flowers. My mother still has her favourite table cloth and a well-loved vase which she continues to fill with pretty flowers, much like my grandmother did in her days. My grandmother sure was creative and had good taste, in more ways than one. I remember getting very excited about the hand-held mixer, fascinated as the runny eggwhites turned into tiny mountains, their heads held high; waiting to line up the pastry sheets to make the baklava; standing with my eyes glued to the oven, waiting for the cake to rise; and best of all, polishing off the cake batter clinging to the bowl. I don’t think anything can ever come close to those moments, those experiences and the bond it created between my grandma, my mother and me. Simpler, happier times – in my grandma’s and my mother’s kitchen. What came out of that kitchen, onto our tables and into our eagerly waiting hands is what this book is made of. Some of the pictures in this book will also give you a peek of that wonderful dining table and of some of my grandmother’s beautiful, ornate cutlery. While this book is my grandmother’s gift to my mother – she made so many recipes for my mother and compiled them – it is also my endeavour to bring alive that love, that togetherness viii SWEET LOVE that we all may have lost along the way thanks to the busy lives we lead. I connected with my grandma thanks to food, and that bond runs deep. This book is my way of bringing my own kids and my mother together over our shared love for food; for the timeless desserts that my grandmother has passed down to us. This book, a compilation of dessert recipes across seasons, is also my way to help Middle Eastern – and other – mothers aspiring to bring back family bonds that have been lost in today’s fast-paced world so they can reconnect with their cultural traditions. Even though I run my own food-related business, this book brings together the personal experiences of my very traditional Middle Eastern family. These recipes have been experimented with, have had our own fl avours added to them and have been tried and tested through generations before being passed down to me. I am now happy to bring together this compilation of love for you.
To (mis)quote Shakespeare’s – “If desserts be the food of love, read on!”
How to read this book
When I asked my mother to help me out with this book, she spoke of each recipe in connection to one of the four seasons. The way she looked and how her voice changed with the description of each season is the inspiration behind sectioning the book into seasons. Each season has its own charm and its own taste. Ingredients available in a particular season are traditionally best suited to that time of the year. You will find recipes for all four major seasons in the book. I have strived to create the book in such a way that you can start making desserts from any season. There is also a section on basic recipes. These are the recipes that you will find being repeatedly used across the seasons. If you are a new baker, there is a section on general tips for you. If you are a seasoned baker, there are variations in a lot of recipes that we have enjoyed and that you may want to experiment with. Conversions usually confound us and sometimes even change a recipe and how it tastes. You will find measurements in grams as well as cups in my book. I have tested all the conversions by hand, rechecking them many times because when I searched for conversions I didn’t find a standard one. Many sources gave me different results, so I decided to do it myself. For convenience, I have rounded up or down when converting, and have tested all the recipes with both conversions to make sure they will get you the same results whichever measurement system you use. I hope you enjoy the process of creating the dessert, as much as you and your loved ones enjoy the taste of it.