Cake Yazdi Tastes of Warm Desert Air and Childhood Memories

published Mar 7, 2023
Kitchn Love Letters
Yazdi Cake Recipe

This traditional Iranian cake has an intoxicating fragrance of rose water and cardamom. Its dense crumbs belie the richness of its flavor and, paradoxically, tender texture.

Makes12 individual cakes

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Yazdi cake from Yogurt & Whey: Recipes of an Iranian Immigrant Life by Homa Dashtaki.
Credit: Chris Simpson

I was born in Iran and spent my childhood summers in the hot desert climate of our village in the Yazd province in the center of the country. It was in these streets that I ran free: playing with cousins and courting mischief with fellow neighborhood kids; taking naps when it was too hot to play under the blazing afternoon sun; and screeching with delight when the irrigation channels flowed, chasing the incoming water from grove to grove. There is nowhere else on earth where my bones feel more comfortable. 

The nostalgia I feel for both that time and place is baked into Cake Yazdi, a traditional cake famous in these parts. Like the desert, this cake is seemingly dry compared to other sponge cakes. Its dense crumbs belie the richness of its flavor and, paradoxically, tender texture. And like the desert’s night air, it is intoxicatingly fragrant — kissed by rose water and cardamom. 

The best Cake Yazdi is made in the bakeries of Yazd, where I am convinced, the longitude and latitude lines of the city are part of their secret recipes. For years, I had neither the courage nor the arrogance to try and recreate it. I was too afraid to get it wrong. As if merely trying would burst the exuberant safety of my childhood memories. 

When I found out that some versions of the recipe contained yogurt, my confidence as a yogurt-maker humbled me to try and capture the essence of the cake. It ended up taking me seven years and dozens of failed batches. When I got the taste right, the texture was wrong. When I got the texture right, the taste was slightly off. I think I finally got somewhere once I let go of the gravity of the memories and just followed my senses. Now, when I bake the recipe that landed in my cookbook Yogurt & Whey: Recipes of an Iranian Immigrant Life, I feel unbridled joy when my childhood friends, who share a nostalgia for Yazd, react as though they are tasting home in this perfect little cake. 

Traditionally these cakes are made in small fluted molds, each a single-serve portion, but for home-baking ease, I’ve opted for muffin tins. While a bit fiddly, the texture is significantly improved by separating the egg yolks and whites. And, of course, my favorite ingredient, yogurt, tenderizes the batter. 

Yazdi Cake Recipe

This traditional Iranian cake has an intoxicating fragrance of rose water and cardamom. Its dense crumbs belie the richness of its flavor and, paradoxically, tender texture.

Makes 12 individual cakes

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons

    (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing the pan

  • 1 cup

    all-​purpose flour

  • 2 tablespoons

    rice flour

  • 1 teaspoon

    baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    baking soda

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 2 teaspoons

    ground cardamom

  • 2

    large eggs, at room temperature, separated

  • 1/2 cup

    sugar

  • 1/2 cup

    plain whole milk yogurt

  • 1 tablespoon

    rose water

  • 1 tablespoon

    chopped pistachios

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle position. Grease a 12-​cup muffin tin with butter.

  2. Sift the all-​purpose flour, rice flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cardamom into a small bowl. Whisk thoroughly till fully combined. Set aside.

  3. In a separate small bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. Mix in the melted butter, yogurt, and rose water and gently whisk until smooth, another 2 minutes.

  4. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until fully integrated. Add the egg whites until you have a uniform mixture, gently folding to not deflate the eggs. Fold in the pistachios.

  5. Divide the batter among the muffin cups, filling three-​quarters full. Bake until the tops are browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

  6. Let the cakes cool completely before unmolding them. Serve with tea (this is a must). Store any leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Recipe Notes

Excerpted from Yogurt & Whey: Recipes of an Iranian Immigrant Life by Homa Dashtaki. Copyright © 2023 by Homa Dashtaki. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

Equipment Variation: These cakes are traditionally baked in fanned muffin tins, making individual tea cakes. You may use standard muffin tins.