I first tasted rosewater several years ago at my stepdaughter’s first grade class party, which was thrown by a lovely Persian family. They served rose ice cream, a rich and creamy rose-flavored concoction that was absolutely heavenly. I’d come across rosewater many times in my vintage and historical cookbooks; it was one of the most common flavorings in Medieval England and Colonial America. Its early popularity in America waned as vanilla extract and other flavorings became more widespread, however rosewater remains a prominent flavoring in Persian, Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine.
Though the idea of rose-flavored foods and beverages may seem slightly odd, when used properly the floral essence of rosewater is light and lovely – not at all overpowering. The practice of using steam to distill oil from flower petals was discovered sometime around 1000 BC. The method was initially used to administer drugs, but it wasn’t long before flower essences like rosewater and orange blossom water were used in cooking and creating perfumes. In the case of rosewater, fresh Damask rose petals are used. During Shavuot, rose is traditional with Sephardic Jews, who refer to the holiday as “the Feast of Roses.”
I’ve been wanting to create a dessert with rosewater for a few months now. Inspired by that first taste of rose ice cream, I was set on making something sweet and incorporating both rosewater and pistachios (another popular Persian ingredient). I originally tried this concept with brownies, but something about the flavor combination didn’t work for me. My genius assistant Ashley suggested we try it with blondies. The first try wasn’t quite right; it was missing some richness. I decided to brown the butter, which adds a nutty depth to the flavor, and I added some white chocolate chunks. The resulting tender, cookie-like blondies were rich, exotic, and completely irresistible. Top a warm blondie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream if you’re feeling totally decadent.
Rosewater can be found at most Middle Eastern and kosher markets. If you’re having trouble locating or you’d rather not use it, feel free to substitute 1 1/4 tsp vanilla. But I really suggest you try the rose flavoring, it’s kind of magical. Have you ever cooked with rosewater?
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- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup canola or grapeseed oil
- 1 1/4 cups brown sugar, packed
- 2 large eggs
- 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
- 3/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt (heaping)
- 1/2 cup raw pistachios
- 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
- 2 tbsp rosewater
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a small saucepan, whisk the butter over medium heat until it turns golden brown and has a nutty aroma. Careful, don't let the butter burn. Remove from heat as soon as it's golden and place the pan on a cool surface.
- Once the browned butter has cooled, transfer to a mixing bowl and combine with the oil, brown sugar and eggs. Whisk till well combined.
- In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Combine thoroughly with a whisk.
- In a small bowl, toss the pistachios and white chocolate chips with some of the flour mixture. This will help prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the batter during baking.
- Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture along with the rosewater and mix very thoroughly.
- Fold in the floured pistachios and white chocolate chips, along with the flour they were tossed in.
- Grease a 9x9 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and pour in the batter.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the center of the blondies has set and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Marks, Gil (2010). Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. Wiley. Hoboken, NJ.