My father’s sister, Auntie Violet, is the best cook I know. For various holidays, we would go to her house on Long Island, where she’d been cooking for days and days. The air was always thick with Arabic perfume and the orangey smells of cumin, paprika, and cinnamon. Auntie would make heaps of desserts, stacking them high on a platter, and as the cooking continued and the day went on, people noshed: a nut and honey turnover here, a date and almond ball there. One day I caught Violet’s husband, my Uncle Jack, unearthing a shoebox from below the kitchen table. He stuffed a different kind of dessert into his mouth and grinned at me guiltily when I caught him. In the years that followed, he never said anything about the missing shakrlama from his stash, which I thoroughly enjoyed and which was smart because I never ratted him out. I’ve since discovered they were his absolute favorite and the very thought of sharing any—no matter how many Auntie might have made for the general public—made him cringe, and so she didn’t. They were for him and him alone. And me.
Because every Iraqi Jew will tell you his or her tried-and-true recipe for shakrlama faster than you can say salamat, I felt I had to include an amalgam of my favorite versions in the novel, a nod to the characters’ heritage and to mine.
Read about shakrlama in Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots:
Lorca, a lost and lonely teenager and one of Apricots’ narrators, is desperate for the key to her mother’s happiness. In her quest, she finds her way to Iraqi Jewish cooking classes taught by Victoria, an 85-year-old widow who is equally lonely and looking for the key to happiness too. Together, they make cardamom cookies, hoping it will bring them one step closer to what they’re looking for—and will nourish them as only the perfect cookie can.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 12 cookies
A crisp, buttery almond cookie flavored with rose water and cardamom.
½ cup (1 stick) softened butter
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 cup plus 1 teaspoon sifted all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon rosewater
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Handful of pistachio halves or sliced almonds, for decoration
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Combine butter, sugar, flour, cardamom, rosewater, vanilla, and salt by hand or with a mixer. Knead well.
- Form into cakes about two inches in diameter and one-quarter inch thick. Space them one inch apart on prepared baking sheet. Decorate with nuts. Refrigerate for fifteen minutes.
Bake for eight to ten minutes, or until cookies are pale golden brown but cooked through. Cool and store in a tightly covered box.