My friends Goli and Ali Hazrati were lamenting the fact that the ghotab pastries available in London were nothing like the ones they remembered from their childhoods in Iran. I turned to Margaret Shaida's The Legendary Cuisine of Persia, took a leap of faith, adapted it and nervously took my attempts to a Nowruz (Iranian New Year's Day) dinner party at my friends' house. There is nothing so gratifying to witness as the satisfied, ecstatic faces of homesick expats.
For the yoghurt pastry
125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
finely grated zest of 1 small lemon
2 egg yolks
125g plain Greek yoghurt
190g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
oil, for deep-frying
For the filling
30 cardamom pods
70g icing sugar, sifted
130g almond meal
80g icing sugar, sifted
1. Place the butter and lemon zest in the bowl of a cake mixer fitted with the paddle and beat until creamy. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition, then add the yoghurt and mix to combine. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, then on low speed gradually beat into the creamed mixture. Turn the mix out onto a clean workbench – the dough will be quite sticky at first – and knead gently until smooth and no longer sticky. Place the dough in a bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm room for at least an hour, or up to three hours.
2. Meanwhile, use a mortar and pestle to lightly crack the cardamom pods to release the seeds within. Alternatively, use the flat side of a large chef's knife and press down firmly on the pods. Discard the pod's outer shell, and grind the seeds to a fine powder, using either a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder. You should have 1¼ teaspoons of powder.
3. For the filling, mix together the icing sugar, almond meal and one teaspoon of the cardamom powder in a bowl and set aside. Mix the remaining ¼ teaspoon of the cardamom powder with the 80g sifted icing sugar for dredging the pastries later.
4. Lightly flour the workbench, and roll out the dough to about 2mm thickness. Cut out 8cm circles with a cookie-cutter, re-rolling the scraps to make more circles – you should have about 30 altogether. Place two teaspoons of the filling mixture onto the centre of each round, dampen the dough edges with a bit of water and seal together to form a half-moon, then curve the ends to form a crescent.
5. Heat oil in a frying pan and deep-fry the pastries, a few at a time, until golden brown (about four minutes). Drain them on paper towel, and while still warm, gently roll each pastry in the cardamom-flavoured icing sugar so it is completely coated. Repeat with the remaining pastries. Just before serving, roll each pastry once again in the remaining icing sugar.