Cake Yazdi - From the Historic City of Yazd

Written for Nabat Banu
By A. Shih, R. Zadeh, S. Zadeh, B. Shih & M. Zadeh

CATHEDRAL CITY, California --  Cake Yazdi is a classic baked pastry that originated from the Yazd province of Iran. Also called Persian Love Cake, as well as Iranian or Yazdi cupcakes, colloquial circles affectionately refer to this delicious treat as Cake Koocholoo, which translates to Cute Little Cake. Cake Yazdi is beloved for its moistness and flavor, with the traditional recipe combining saffron (zaffron), cardamom and rose water (golub). It is a national favorite. 

While it may appear on the surface like any other cupcake or muffin, no other comparable baked good features quite the unique flavor and texture profiles as Cake Yazdi. The typical recipe incorporates yogurt, along with the aforementioned rose water. Yogurt is a prominent ingredient in many Middle Eastern recipes. In this case it lends a certain moistness and weight to the dessert.

Cake Yazdi, Traditional Persian Tea Cake - Hot Out of the Oven

Rose water further adds to the moist - yet delicate - texture, as well as it provides a deeper layer to the dessert's overall bouquet. One of the most delightful characteristics about rose water is its sweet aroma, which permeates the dessert and gives it a light botanical hint.

"While it may appear on the surface like any other cupcake or muffin, no other comparable baked good features quite the unique flavor and texture profiles as Cake Yazdi."

For many consumers who are not familiar with Aashpazi Irani, or Persian cooking, rose water may seem a bit too much at first - its taste too overpowering for a virginal palate. And one can say that it is an acquired taste. The most important thing to keep in mind when enjoying Iranian pastries for the first time is to allow one's palate time to acclimate to golub's distinct flavor, and to endeavor the journey with an open mind.

There are certain flavor components that succinctly capture the essence of Persian baking. Rose water is one of them. Others include cinnamon, walnuts, almonds, pistachios and saffron.

Some recipes nowadays skip the addition of saffron, for a few reasons: 1) Omitting saffron may lower the threshold for a dish's broader acceptance, as - similar to rose water - many palettes outside of the Middle East are relatively unfamiliar with its taste; 2) The spice itself is extremely expensive, historically worth its weight in gold - literally; and 3) High quality, pure saffron is difficult to obtain. 

But make no mistake, the addition of saffron contributes profoundly to the taste experience. Saffron offers a unique floral sweetness that simply cannot be replicated by other means. It also immediately distinguishes Persian treats from those from other parts of the world, hearkening to the city of Yazd itself, birthplace of Cake Koocholoo.

Yazd - Map Image Courtesy of Britannica

Modern day Iran is comprised of 31 provinces. Many of these provinces' capitals are cities of the same name. Yazd is one example: The city of Yazd is the capital of the Yazd province.

Yazd is nestled in central-southeast Iran. In contrast to Khersan and its nearby Zagros Mountains, Yazd features a relatively flat, sandy desert landscape. 

For many who have never traveled to Iran, the preconception is that the entire country is completely dry and barren, with all women robed and covered, and camels roaming the streets. This is in fact off the mark, and cities like Tehran enjoy all the four seasons: spring, summer, fall and winter. However, Yazd fits the widely held misconception for the country. The climate in this region of Iran is very hot and dry.

In attempt to mitigate the harsh weather conditions, Yazd builders conceived what has become a defining feature of the city's architecture: wind trappers. Also known as windcatchers, or badgir in Farsi, these chimney-resembling structures were built atop houses and related facilities in order to capture the cooling power of the winds. They effectively catch passing breezes and funnel the airflow down to the building interiors. This was an important ancient engineering feat that provided a natural reprieve from the environment in the absence of electricity.

Yazd, along with Isfahan and Shiraz, is known for having the country's best and most resourceful architecture. One sight of the famous wind trappers, and you know you're in Yazd.

 Image from SurfIran

Yazd is also well known for its prominent role in its country's religious history. Zoroastrianism is an ancient Iranian religion, centered around its supreme being, or god, Ahura Mazda. It is one of the oldest religions in the world. 

When the Arabs invaded Iran around 650 AD, in what is often historically referred to as the Muslim conquest of Persia, they brought with them a movement to forcibly convert Iranians to the religion of Islam. During this time, many Zoroastrians fled to India (and were subsequently called Parsi, or Parsee, in their newfound land). Yazd was also a common destination wherein many Zoroastrians hid. And Yazd remains in present day as a major Zoroastrian focal point.

Chaharshambe Soori

Zoroastrianism holds an important place in Iranian history, as many of the currently practiced cultural events arose from Zoroastrians. Chaharshanbe Soori, which translates to Wednesday Celebration, is a popular Iranian tradition that has been passed down over thousands of years, in which family members run and jump over open fires. The celebration is held on the last Wednesday of each calendar year, to represent the close of the current year, and a new beginning in the forthcoming year.

Zoroastrianism has also contributed meaningfully to societies extending beyond Iran. The name for well known Japanese auto manufacturer Mazda was inspired directly by the Zoroastrianism deity.

It's worth noting that one can only be born Zoroastrian - one cannot convert into Zoroastrianism during the course of one's life. 

Ahura Mazda - Image from World History Encyclopedia

Of course, Yazd is recognized for its desserts. No other region in the country offers a comparable breadth of original sweet creations. Dessert plays a particularly important role in Iranian daily routine, more so than in many other cultures. It is customary for Iranian families to enjoy a little bit of sweets after every meal. These are usually enjoyed with warm tea.

Besides Cake Yazdi, Yazd is also home to its own version of baklava. Known as Cake Baklava in some circles, the Yazd baklava approximates a traditional flour-based cake, while delivering the familiar buttery, nutty baklava flavors.

A similar dessert that accordingly traces its origins to Yazd is Loz (pronounced like the successful American home improvement chain, Lowes. Note: Lozi means diamond in Farsi). This gluten-free treat combines sugar, saffron, cardamom and almond flour. It is presented like baklava, cut into bite-sized diamond shapes. Loz is rich, sweet and flavorful.

Pashmak - Image from TasteAtlas

Pashmak is another wonderful treat that hails from Yazd. This dessert is alternatively called Persian Cotton Candy, and it resembles long colored strands of fine hair. The texture is soft, as one would expect, but it also has crunchy components as well. Many Iranians swear that Pashmak is superior to western cotton candy.

One final dessert worth mentioning is Qottab (or Ghotab), an absolutely mouthwatering treat that features a crispy, flaky pastry shell filled with crushed and cinnamoned walnuts and almonds. Covered in powdered sugar, it is like a nutty powdered donut from Heaven!

Qottab - Image from Ahead of Thyme

The Cake Yazdi recipe itself has seen several different variations, with and without rose water, with and without saffron, with and without sprinkled pistachios. In this author's opinion, the recipe without either saffron or rose water, while tasty in its own right, is rendered somewhat unexceptional (un-Iranian?) when compared to its other muffin or cupcake brethren.

We've sampled numerous Cake Yazdi recipes and perfected what we believe is the most delicious and traditional recipe. No other version compares. We invite you to try it now! Aashpazi Irani!


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