Words & recipe by Bee Berrie
Who doesn’t love a good old-fashioned afternoon tea? Hands up those who lust after a delicious scone with clotted cream and jam, or a buttery crumpet or an iced bun – both quintessential British baked goods. Nothing boring about that, is there? No – that’s a terrible thing to say.
Being based in London, I drive past some delicious-smelling bakeries on my Vespa, delivering the cookies and cakes that we bake at Bee’s Bakery. But in a city where almost 50% of the population falls outside of the “white British” bracket, almost all of these bakeries offer far more exciting things than afternoon tea; they cater to the desires, traditions and tastes of all the thriving cultures in the UK.
So sue me, I’m just going to say it: I think traditional British baking is boring! While adventurous cooking is celebrated and home cooks are enthused by fusion recipes (here’s a crazy fusion recipe for Indian-style steak from Jamie to prove my point), baking is being left behind.
I’m therefore on a mission to jazz up afternoon tea and wake up our palates – to lay off the classic crumpets, give the reliable raisin scones a rest, and try something new and exciting! I’m setting out to explore some of the most exciting, interesting and mind-blowingly different bakers in the UK, and you can come along with me by following this blog.
We’re going to start slow; nothing too challenging or extravagant this time. My first recipe is a classic Scottish shortbread transformed by a range of ethnic influences. These beautiful little shortbread cookies are called Nankhatai, and are flavoured with cardamom and rose water.
Nankhatai have a brilliantly mixed heritage. They are said to have originated in Surat, a prominent trading port on the west coast of India, where Dutch explorers established a base to capitalise on the spice trade in the 1500s. The story goes that when the Dutch pulled out of Surat they left behind an established European-style bakery, run by a Parsi (Persian or Iranian) chap called Dotivala. Far from allowing his bakery business to crumble following the loss of his Dutch customers, he adapted many his recipes to produce low-cost sweet treats that suited the Indian and Persian locals. It’s hard to imagine that the Greggs iced bun has been on such an exciting journey, isn’t it?
The name Nankhatai is a combination of the Persian word ‘Nan’ (meaning bread) with ‘Khatai’, which in north-east Iran and Afghanistan is a type of biscuit. These cookies are subtly flavoured with cardamom and rose petals without being spicy at all, and they’re brilliant served with a nice strong cuppa – or even a mug of chai tea.
- 175g plain flour (or a mixture of rice flour and plain flour)
- 110g cold butter
- 75g icing sugar
- 2 teaspoons of dried rose petals (available from large supermarkets or Indian and Iranian supermarkets), roughly chopped
- Podded and crushed seeds of 4 cardamom pods
- 1½ teaspoons rosewater
In a bowl, use your fingers to rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs (chop the butter into small pieces first to make it easier). Add the rose petals, cardamom and icing sugar, then combine with your hands until the dough starts to come together. Pour in the rosewater until a firm dough is formed, but avoid working it too much.
Flour a clean surface and roll out the pastry until around 2cm thick. Cut into regular shapes – either with a fluted circular cookie cutter, or if you don’t have one, the rim of a small mug or glass. Line a baking tray with parchment and place the cut cookies a few centimetres apart. Chill in the fridge for around 20 minutes, until nice and cold and firm. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 170C/340F/gas 3-4.
Once hot, bake the cookies for 20 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the oven and decorate with a few spare dried rose petals. Serve warm with a good old-fashioned cup of tea!