Sohan-e-Asali: Almond Saffron Brittle in the Persian Manner

Sohan-e-Asali

Bon Bons in Lahore

Mini Market in Gulberg was less than a kilometre away from our family home. On hot summer nights, after dinner, we would walk to the market with my parents, cousins- Saadiya & Ashi, my uncle- Kaka Tarik and my aunt- Aunty Shahla. With 10 rupees to call our own, Saadiya, Ashi and I  would buy a Polka mango flavour ice cream, the kind you eat out of the cup with the tiny wooden spatula. Then we’d move on to buy Mitchell’s bon bon sweeties from the nearby kiosk to add more sugar to the mix.

Sohan-e-Asali

Emerging from our gated home, we’d walk past the khajooron wala ghar; the home with the date tree. “That house is haunted,” my cousin Ashi would tell us, her brown topaz eyes widening, “there are jinn which wrap themselves around that tree at night.” Ashi had guzzled a whole jug of a goat’s fresh blood when she was 5. And we knew it was true- because she had told us all so, even if we had not seen it. She continued to tell us the story about the jinns with her ponytail swishing left and right. Ashi had hair that I envy to this day- like golden brown spun silk.

Sohan-e-Asali

For 1 rupee you could get 4 bon bon sweeties. So for 5 rupees we could get 20. Each sweety was brittle from outside, almost cracking your teeth, and inside was this soft, gooey sweetness. My favourite was raspberry. As the vendor stuffed the sweeties into the khaki envelope one by one, I made sure he didn’t add any lemon or lime flavours. And if he did, I’d just palm them off to my Baba. He liked sour sweeties.  The adults would buy a chocbar or maybe have some paan with a bottle of cool of RC Cola. Ashi would buy imli tamarind paste candy which is sweet and sour and makes your mouth pucker up with each bite. (Imli was verboten, as it would “catch” our throats and make us cough, but we didn’t fear our parents’ wrath; for it tasted far too good.) Saadiya would buy an asssortment of Mitchell’s sweeties. And once home, we would pile it all together and share the goodies whilst playing carom board till the wee hours of the morning.

Ashi always used to win.

Maybe it was that goat’s blood she had had as a child.

Sohan-e-Asali

Those days are long gone now, as we can no longer walk to Mini Market due to the traffic congestion and the sprouting of commercial buildings near our home. In fact, no one walks along the streets of Lahore, the city of my birth, anymore. I miss those dense summer nights, with Kaka clutching his cane, walking behind us as we scurried ahead of him, giggling and looking forward to getting our sugar fix.

Sohan-e-Asali

These Persian sweeties I prepared are a far cry from the bon bons of my childhood, but think of these more as sweeties for adults. Caramel notes from the honey with currents of saffron running through it, almonds for textural crunch, and pistachios for adornment. The heady taste of sugar sends me right back to those evenings walks to Mini Market with my family; especially Saadiya and Ashi.

Serves 4 during tea time
You will need a tray lined with parchment/wax paper
NB: Don’t let the colour of the sugar darken. I have deliberately recommended that the colour be light golden. I have found that if you let it caramelise (darken) too much, it will mask the flavour of saffron. If you prefer your brittle darker, then you can let it cook a few more minutes than what I have recommended.

Ingredients:
*1 cup sugar
*3 tbsp butter
*2 tbsp honey
*1 1/2 tsp saffron, crushed in a mortar and pestle, add 2 tbsp of water to it
*1/2 cup slivered almonds, unsalted
*1/2 cup slivered pistachios, unsalted

Preparation:
*In a medium saucepan, add sugar, butter and honey on medium heat.
*Stir for 7 minutes or till the sugar melts and the colour turns a light golden. (NB: Be careful not to let it darken too much, or it will taste bitter.)
*Add the almonds and stir gently, do not over mix. Slowly, the mixture will begin to darken.
*At this point, add the saffron water.
*Drop a spoonful of the mix on the parchment paper, if it quickly solidifies, turn the heat to low and start to dollop a spoon each onto the parchment/wax paper.
*Allow to cool for 1 hour.

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Comments

  1. You’ve made me absolutely drool… what a completely delicious recipe. Heavenly post as ever my darling. xxx

  2. I love the colors. I am tempted to make these right now as I have all the ingredients. :)

    ps-my cousins always used to tell me jinn stories and for some reason they always dwell in trees, mine would say in the neem ka darakht and have ultay paon. hehe.

  3. shaymaaa kyaa yaadain taaza kardeen, the bon bons were my fave and like your dad i loved the lemon and lime ones. Lol @Nadia I so remember the neem ka darakht associated stories. We have a village on the outskirts of Lahore and we (us cousins) would all gather up under thick duvets in our nana’s haveli in the winter hols and eat roasted peanuts and share scary stories involving stories based around scary old trees. Loved the recipe- the brittles look like colorful jewels thanks for sharing:)

  4. lovely description of childhoood memories and love the recipe!

  5. Hi Shayma,

    I came across your website through “Turmeric and Saffron” and I am ecstatic to see this recipe, among all the others.

    Thank you so much for sharing your recipes, stories and heartwarming ideas with us.

    All the best and looking forward to more delights,
    Azarakhsh

  6. razzledazzle says:

    Shayma,

    Wonderful to be visiting again after a long while! Your webpage always delights and like others have said, makes my mouth water. Lots of love.

  7. maliha shah says:

    how i love mini market and main market and gulberg!the places of my childhood:)thanks for taking me down the memory lane as i sit in cold cold islamabad:)and ah bon bons!!i still keep a packet tucked away in my cupboard and occasionally when my girls have been very good the fairy leaves 2 each under their pillows!imagine my delight when i rediscovered them when i moved back to pakistan!
    i absolutely love your recipes and the gorgeous pics that accompany them.you are truly gifted!keep it up:)))

  8. RC cola? OMG – that stuff was awful. I remember that and Thumbs up cola!!
    This brittle though is calling my name. I wish I was able to grab a piece from my screen, make myself comfy and re-read this lovely post! You always manage to evoke so many of my own memories!

  9. Love the saffron and the honey in this almond & pistachio brittle! lovely pics as usual!

  10. Wonderful recipe and especially writing; i could picture you and your siblings and relatives going out into the streets of Lahore for your sugar fix; I had similar childhood memories too, except ours would be sesame sweets and chiclets and cones of spun sugar.

  11. The colour you got from the saffron in those bon bons is gorgeous, much like the colour in your stories of bygone Lahore. It’s making me pine for something I never experienced…

  12. This looks exotic and gorgeous!

  13. Once again a fantastic write up. I studied up till 5th grade at Beaconhouse Liberty campus and mini market reminds me more of the delectable anda shami burgers sold at Burger Corner. I never was a fan of Mitchells’ Bon Bons but adored their milk toffees, butter scotch and Jubilee chocolate bars. Nowadays I dread going to mini market solely because of the traffic mess over there.

  14. Polka ice cream, Mini Market, Gulberg…all wonderful memories. Fantastic post as always.

  15. What a great story teller you are. I can relate to your forays into the markets because it was very similar to my experiences in New Delhi, which has a similar sister culture to yours across the border. I tried your spinach recipe from Food 52 [replaced shallots for garlic] and loved loved it.
    Love your blog and your stories.Your recipes are so easy to follow and practical.
    Thanks for this wonderful space.
    Sandhya.

  16. Such a lovely post – esp when the “dense summer nights” you describe seem so far off x

  17. Those look so beautiful.

  18. @MrsT Ah, thank you, my lovely. x s

    @Nadia @Taani What beautiful memories! You have both reminded me of the times we would hide under the razaiaan (duvets) in my Nani’s house and eat chilghozay (roasted pine nuts). Or tell each other stories about the churail (witch) with ultay pair (backwards feet). We are lucky that we had cousins that we were close to. It’s a blessing. Kya yaadein tum donon ne bhi meree tazaa kar deen. x s

    @Ashoo Apa Thank you. x s

    @Azarakhsh Thank you for visiting my blog. I love Azita Joon’s blog very much, too.

    @Razzledazzle And I am so happy to see you’re here reading my posts again. Happy New Year, R. x s

    @Maliha Thank you, Maliha. That’s so wonderful that you are back in Pakistan, my husband and I hope we can return to Pakistan one day too, when things start to stabilise somewhat- inshallah, one day they will. We miss it immensely. And I love that you share your bachpan ke bon bons with your children. That’s so sweet.

    @Meeta I *love* RC Cola! Sweet, syrupy and bubbly :) Thanks for the kind words, Meethi Meeta. x s

    @Sara Thank you, m’dear. x s

    @TasteofBeirut Joumana, thank you. We all have our favourite childhood treats etched in our memory, don’t we? The cones of spun sugar sound delicious. x s

    @TheGrubWorm Thank you so much. The trick there was to make sure the sugar didn’t caramelise too much- so that the saffron colour and flavour could seep through.

    @Anushruti Thank you. Happy New Year to you.

    @Umair Thank you. I love and miss those shami kebab burgers. When I was growing up, they were for 5 rupees. Now they don’t even exist in Mini Market. It’s so sad. Do you know where to find them in Lahore? I think my Mamoo (maternal Uncle) said they are available in androoneh shaihar (Lahore’s Old City).

    @AJQ Thanks, as always.

    @Vegetarianirvana Sandhya, you are very kind. I don’t have a lot of vegetarian recipes here (we like our meat!) but I do hope you’ll visit again. You guys in New Delhi across the border have lots of gorgeous food- very similar to food in Lahore- and the cultures are also very similar, as you pointed out. Do you follow my twitter friend’s blog- Eat and Dust? It’s a wonderful look into street food in Delhi. Thanks for visiting, Sandhya.

    @KSalty Her Royal Saltiness- thank you. x s

    @Gin and Crumpets Thanks, lovely. x s

  19. I am a great fan of her blog as well and dream of attending her uparwali chai when I visit Delhi.

  20. Barkat Market Garden town. Shadman Market and the odd street side stall. The best ones made with real beef are sold near chauburji (a place called KB burgers) but it’s a headache just getting there.
    Depending on the vendor they are sold for anywhere between 35-65 Rs now.
    P.s next time you visit, look up restaurant reviews at tossdown.com. Written by customers so one knows where to go and what to avoid. Hope it helps.

  21. Reading through your posts bring back a lot of my memories too. So beautiful. The brittle is as elegant as it can be. I want to bite into them now. I am going to give this a try.

  22. I’ve never been a huge fan of saffron (I know, words of a heathen), but these sweet treats have me wanting to give it another try. Lovely – S

  23. @Umair Thanks- there is also a place off the Mall Road, in a little alley, it’s near Lion Art Press. We had our wedding invitations designed by them so I went there a lot-and was told that these burgers are available near their offices.

    @Soma Thanks for your kind words.

    @OuiChef Steve- not at all- my mum uses the word ‘hate’ for saffron- finds it medicinal- so you’re not the only one who doesn’t like it. Not heathen at all ;) Thanks for the lovely comment, as always.

  24. What a beautiful sight to behold, and gorgeous play of colours Shayma. Sorry I’ve been missing, but I’ve missed all this beauty. Loved the post, goat’s blood and all, and the connect behind the candy. LOVE the pictures. HUGS!! Catch u on twitter! {NICE new look; I’m loving it!!}

  25. @Deeba Thanks, Deebs. x s

  26. O I love these! My Persian friend always has these at her house and I’m always munching on them. I actually never knew they had saffron in them though. PS- i love the new design– looks great!

  27. looks divine. reminds of the ‘Gur ki Toffee’ that ami makes every time she gets a bag of Gur from Charsadda.

  28. Beautiful bonbons S, love saffron and can just imagine how delicious these taste, even on cold winter nights.

  29. Wow loving your writing as always. I wish my memories of Lahore were as clear as that but mostly I remember playing with my cousins and not much in terms of eating or drinking. I wanted to tell you that I have tried a few of your recipes and they turned out quite well if I do say so myself (I’m a pretty novice cook). So far I’ve tried the roasted butternut squash, the plain rice and daal and aloo baigan. Thanks for your great recipes and for making me want to cook!

  30. Shayma, I love the nostalgic story behind the brittle. Ever since I’ve discovered your blog, I feel that you’ve opened my eyes to a visual culinary experience that I know little about. I’m sorry I didn’t get the chance to reply to a comment you left on my blog. I hope you’ve had a good break over the Christmas/NY break.

  31. This was so good! My heart was breaking when I put so much saffron but it was so worth it. Growing up I saw my dadi keep her saffron under lock and key in her own closet, making me a saffron hoarder till now…

  32. The saffron here is just lovely. What a beautiful post.

  33. Dear Shayma,

    I discovered your blog an hour ago and having been drooling over it ever since. My mother is also Persian, from a town in Mazandran by the Caspian Sea. My father is Indian and my parents now live in India. I live in DC and my husband and I are awaiting the arrival of a new family member. Needless to say, I am frequently hungry these days and always craving for foods of my roots. I find it relatively easy to recreate Indian dishes except for chaats but recreating North Iranian dishes is another story. I can not find most of the local/wild herbs here and the ingredients that I can find all seem denatured. Iranian restaurants here only specialize in kababs and I am not a big meat-eater. Dishes like koresht torsh tare, khoresht aab ghoore, authentic zeytun parvardeh, kabab bademjaan torsh, maahi gerdebich and kocher are unheard of to Iranians and impossible to recreate here. Even the sabzi khordan here never tastes and smells the same. The pictures and stories on your blog make me feel so nostalgic and hungry!! Thanks for sharing your recipes and memories :-)

  34. I came across your blog via “Eat like a Girl”‘s post on Alan Rosenthal’s Persian Stew. The stew & your post on those gorgeous looking Brittle sweets took me back to when my (now ex) mother-in-law used to send me boxes of fantastic sweets & other culinary goodies from Iran. I now have a stall at Borough Market, London where I specialise in gluten-free cakes but also hand-made confectionery. I’m v tempted to make these for Norouz in March for my stall. I’m sure they’ll go down a treat with all my customers. Thank you.

    Caroline

  35. Your persian sweeties are simply tantalizing! Ciao!

  36. Hello,
    I’ve been following your blog forever and i absolutely love everything you ever post! Everything turns out brilliantly too. Just one question about the Sohan-e-Asali, my sugar, butter and honey mix was on the stove for around 10 minutes but for some reason it wouldnt melt, and so the resulting brittle was not clear but actually cloudy and crunchy (but still amazing! :)) Is there any particular sugar that i should use? Also what would be the best honey to use here?
    thank you soo much for everything.
    H

    • @Hina Hi, thank you for the kind words. I cannot say exactly why your sugar, butter and honey mix didn’t melt, but perhaps you need to give it more time? The resulting mix will be a bit cloudy, indeed, dont worry, as long as it is crunchy and not chewy. Acacia honey is easy to find, you could try that.

  37. I’ve wasted three pounds of sugar during the past few days trying three different sohan recipes with none coming out right. I gave it a last try with yours, and there is it, beautiful golden sohan with a great flavour. Thank you!

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