La Vie En Rose and Sister Pie's Rose Pistachio Shortbread Cookies
My first pet was a brilliant rabbit named Brownie. Like Peter Rabbit, Brownie was a naughty boy. He would squeeze between the gap in our chain link fence and roam the neighborhood at night. He guarded our garbage, fighting with feral cats who tried to dig for scraps and scratched at the back doors of our neighbors, when he realized he had gone too far from home and wasn't sure how to get back. Like Peter Rabbit, Brownie also raided gardens where he didn't belong. Namely, my mother's rose garden.
Brownie had figured out something that would take me decades to learn. Roses are delicious. While I admit to sneaking him the occasional blossom, it wasn't until eons later that I found out what I was missing.
One Saturday, while strolling through a farmer's market, a lady was offering samples of her home made rose petal jelly. What a wonder that was. Luminous. Like light pink diamonds sparkling in the dawn. The taste was ethereal. Fleeting floral notes of scent and sweetness. I was hooked.
At home I sparingly spread it on scones and toast, not sure if I would ever find it again. These were the days before Amazon, before I was a food writer and had any knowledge of Middle Eastern cuisine, or the fact that such specialty grocers actually existed.
Though I frequented that farmers market whenever possible, I never found that lady or her jelly again. When Amazon appeared, I searched for rose petal jelly. For years, I would think about it and recheck. All I could ever find was jam or confiture. The reviews were mixed, and the viscosity just didn't appeal to me.
Right before quarantine, I checked again. To my delight I read a negative review bashing one of the rose petal jams. "This is a jelly!" The reviewer wrote. "How could they call this jam?" I immediately ordered it.
Two days later it arrived. The next day I left for a work trip to Montreal. Perusing the aisles at a local supermarket, I was shocked to find a display of rose petal jelly, lined up with other unusual condiments. The jar was three times the size of what I had ordered from Amazon, and half of the price, so I stocked up.
I served some of it at my holiday party, spread on top of some goat cheese and served with crackers. It was a delicious and novel addition to the charcuterie board.
Finding the rose jelly was serendipity, but culinary roses had been on my mind. Earlier that month, I was in Detroit. Googling where to eat, I read reviews that called Sister Pie the best pie in the country.
Further research revealed that the owner, Lisa Ludwinski, had trained at New York’s renowned Milk Bar, and Brooklyn’s famous Four and Twenty Blackbirds.
Lisa began the bakery out of her parents’ kitchen, eventually falling in love with the city’s West Village neighborhood and opening her shop there.
Ludwinski runs her business on the triple bottom line model: people, profit and planet.
This was sounding more intriguing by the minute.
According to Nextcity.org, “Ludwinski hires staff at $12 per hour on average, nearly 27 percent higher than Detroit’s minimum wage of $9.45 per hour; provides health insurance; offers paid sick time and a local gym membership; and gives employees free meals at work in addition to a take-home pie every month.”
The social justice philosophy with which Ludwinski runs her business just blew me away.
She also supports the neighborhood by offering a 15% discount to local residents and senior citizens, free pie-making classes for locals, and a “Pie it forward” program, in which customers can pre-pay for a slice of pie for a stranger. And these things are just the tip of the iceberg.
If only every business were run this way.
None of these things would matter, however, if Ludwinski’s food wasn’t fantastic.
It is so good that besides being featured in many national culinary publications, Lisa has been nominated for two James Beard awards, the most recent one this year.
If all of these things weren’t enough reason for me to visit, there was this quote from Bon Appetit, “We’d visit Detroit just to eat at this pie shop.”
In my mind, that totally justified the twenty two dollars in Lyft fares I’d have to pay to get there and back from my hotel. I wanted to try that pie. Nay, I needed to try that pie. Of course, when I got there Sister Pie had no pie. They had run out. I was devastated.
Enter the rose pistachio shortbread cookie. They may not have had pies that day, buy boy did they have a cookie. (Many fantastic cookies, in fact.) Buttery, crumbly, crunchy with pistachios and the same light floral taste I had loved in the jelly. It was one of the best cookies I had ever eaten.
Detroit layovers at my airline were rare. I had been there only once before in over thirty years. I figured if I ever wanted to eat one of those cookies again, I’d better learn how to make them.
An online search revealed the recipe for Sister Pie’s piecrust (https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/sister-pie-crust), but not the rose pistachio shortbreads.
There were, however, other people’s recipes for cookies of the same name.
I tried a couple of those. Though they had the same name, they were in a different universe than Sister Pie’s cookies.
My daughter, Laura, fixed the problem with the gift of the Sister Pie cookbook for Christmas. It is a gorgeous book with many, many recipes I wanted to try. (Included in it is the recipe for the popular peanut butter paprika pictured above.) Beautifully illustrated and well organized, the book is a treasure.
Not long after, a friend turned me on to Jeremiah Tower. A paragon of good taste and knowledge of what tastes good, Tower has been called the father of American cuisine. It was his menus and dinners that launched what we now call the farm to table movement back in the 70's.
A witty raconteur, Tower offers both memories and recipes in his and Kit Wohl's book, Chef Jeremiah Tower. Many things were new to me in the book, but the thing that excited me the most was Tower's recollection of sipping Champagne laced with rosewater and rose petals.
A lover of all Champagne cocktails, I couldn't believe I'd never seen nor thought of this combination. For years I've enjoyed an organic, white rose petal tea. I even bought miniature rosebuds for tea at the Forbidden Palace in Beijing. Why had I never thought to drop some of the buds into Champagne?
In true synchronistic fashion, I was on Instagram later that day and spied a tall glass of rosewater and pine nut spiked iced tea. Immediately, I retreated to my kitchen and made a glass – minus the pine nuts.
At the time, I couldn’t think of one reason that I would want pine nuts in my sweet tea. Recently, the Southern quirk of putting peanuts into Coca-Cola was brought to my attention. Now the pine nuts made a little more sense.
More importantly, though, just how many applications of roses in the culinary world had I missed? Roses popped up later that week on the birthday card from Laura, then in the new spice blend I was toying with, baharat.
I decided then and there to embark on a quest. I needed to investigate.
Rose Water, I found, has been used in many cultures around the world for thousands of years. Romans were the first document the healing powers of rose water for more than 30 ailments.
In fact, the botanical name for Wild Rose, rosaceae canina reflects the Roman use of the rose to treat bites from rabid dogs.
In Chinese medicine, roses are used as a qi, or energy stimulant. Ayurvedic and natural medicine practitioners as well as Native Americans recognized the anti-viral, anti-bacterial, astringent and diuretic properties in roses.
Rose hips, an important source of vitamin c, gained popularity during World War II due to a shortage of citrus.
Cleopatra is known to have bathed both her face and body with rose water.
“The very winds were lovesick,” wrote Shakespeare in the play Anthony and Cleopatra, as even Cleopatra’s ships were scented with rose water.
Michelangelo drank rosewater with his tea, and it is used in place of Champagne at many celebrations where alcohol is prohibited.
Before vanilla became widely available, British and American bakers used rosewater to flavor baked goods.
Most of us have heard of Turkish Delights, a jellied confection that is frequently flavored with rose and tinted pink. In Iranian and Indian cuisines, rose desserts such as ice cream, rice pudding and cold flavored drinks like lassi are popular.
The leaves, petals, hips and roots have all been used in both medicinal and culinary ways. In addition to culinary recipes utilizing the petals and rose water, syrups made from roses are also popular.
Crushed rose petals feature in spice blends such as harissa, hailing from Tunisia, Baharat, a popular Middle-Eastern flavoring, and advieh, a favorite in Persian cuisine.
Sam and I have been having a ball with harissa lately, spreading the paste on everything from meatloaf to mixing it with mayonnaise for a French fry dip.
There is a chickpea stew recipe in my post entitled, “Don’t Spill The Beans,” that showcases the warm, fragrant Baharat blend.
Though these spice blends can usually be found at specialty stores such as World Market, or online, there are many recipes out there to make them yourself.
In the meantime, I’m so excited to have been given permission to share Sister Pie’s recipe for Rose Pistachio Shortbread with you.
While most of the recipes I’ve shared with you will work well with alterations, I would not recommend it here.
To get the best results you should use high quality butter and culinary grade rose petals.
I have done a vegan version using vegan spread. Here, too, I’d highly recommend using the best quality vegan butter you can find, such as Miyokos.
Unlike many cookies that are best right out of the oven, these cookies are fabulous for days after. Sam likes them even better the next day, as they have hardened and crisped a little by then.
Though the directions call for forming the dough into a square log before chilling, I have found that the dough can be chilled and then rolled into shapes also.
The girls and I did this last week, when we cut them into flowers and added a little pink tint to the frosting for their pink princess picnic.
Many thanks to Lisa Ludwinski and the wonderful women at Sister Pie! Not just for the fantastic treats, but for permission to share this recipe. I hope you all love it as much as I do.
Sister Pie’s Rose Pistachio Shortbread
Makes 30 Cookies
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup roasted and salted pistachios, finely chopped
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons crushed, dried, edible rose petals
½ teaspoon rose flower water
Rose Petal Icing
¾ cup powdered sugar, plus more if needed
1/8 teaspoon rose flower water
½ teaspoon coconut oil, melted
3 tablespoons heavy cream, plus more if needed
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons crushed, dried, edible rose petals
Mix the dough: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, pistachios, and salt. Set aside.
Place the butter, powdered sugar and rose petals in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until very smooth with no visible chunks of butter.
Use a silicone spatula to scrape down the bowl, then add the rose flower water and mix until just incorporated. Add the flour mixture and mix until completely incorporated. Remove the dough from the bowl and shape into a square log approximately 1 ¾ inches in diameter. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 40 minutes. You can mix and shape the dough up to 2 days in advance and store it in the refrigerator until 1 hour before you intend to roll out the dough. Alternatively, you may freeze the dough for up to 3 months, then let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight before proceeding with the recipe.
Preheat your oven to 350degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it, and place it on a cutting board. Using a sharp chef’s knife, slice the cookies about ¼ inch thick. Carefully transfer them to the parchment-lined baking sheets.
Place the baking sheets in the oven and bake for 16 to 18 minutes, until the edges are just slightly golden.
Remove the baking sheets from the oven and transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool.
Make the icing: While the cookies are cooling, in a medium bowl whisk together the powdered sugar, rose flower water, coconut oil, cream, and salt until very smooth. The texture should remind you of Elmer’s glue. Yum! If the icing seems a little dry, whisk in a small splash of heavy cream. If it seems too wet, whisk in powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Stir in the rose petals.
Once the cookies have fully cooled, use a small offset spatula or knife to spread a very thin, even layer of icing across the tops of the cookies. It should be carefully smoothed, not gloppy. Return the cookies to the baking sheets to give the icing a chance to set up before serving. Store the iced cookies in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
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