According to The Telegraph, Sweden is among the top ten of coffee consumers in the world. It is true, this black gold is second to water over here. I remember growing up and even now, after having traveled anywhere- coming home to me was/is landing in Arlanda and being greeted by the smell of wood and fresh brewed coffee. It is what my preschool smelled like, it is what a doctor’s office smells like, it is safe to say it is what Stockholm smells like. Coffee is holy, Coffee is good. In fact, Swedes have a ritual which is kin to religion and it is called fika . It is all we do here, in fact, it is a WONDER how Sweden has gotten so far in many things with the amount of fika that goes on. However, if there is a people that can match Swedes with their love of Coffee it is the Arabs.
Just like coffee in the western world, depending on where you are from in the Arab world it is prepared differently. The coffee is prepared with heart and soul and much love goes into that tiny cup. In Egypt, we boil ground coffee that is often spiced with either cardamom, cardamom and nutmeg, mastika, or mastika and nutmeg. Before spicing the coffee, you first choose if you want light roast, mid roast, or dark roast and then you spice it. Once you have your ground coffee we prepare it in a kanaka over low medium heat. The point is to get it really hot but to not let it boil! once you see it begin to boil, remove it quickly off the stove and pour it slowly into a small fincan. By doing this you guarantee a nice “wesh” (meaning “face” in the Egyptian dialect of Arabic) to your coffee. This is such a serious ordeal that a customer has every right to return his/her coffee in a cafe if it is served without a “wesh”. So, I am lucky like that. I understand the importance of a good cup of coffee as well as I understand the importance of fika. One of my favorite personal rituals.
However, a coffee alone….is quite lonely and fika is not just about the coffee, it is about the company and most importantly about the pastry. As I look closer, it is not only the love of coffee that the Swedes and Arabs share in common but it is also their choice of spices in desserts- they are the same. Swedes and Arabs simply use them differently. Some of the most common spices you will find in Swedish buns are saffron, cardamom, and cinnamon. Arabs use all three in their coffee and tea (and desserts of course). I began to mull things over one day and thought…”hmmmm, what is something that I really enjoy with tea or coffee?” the answer came to my mind rather quickly: SCONES! Then I thought some more…what would an Egyptian scone look like… taste like? what are some flavors that are ubiquitous in Egyptian desserts or sweet foods? and slowly- a simple recipe for my own Egyptian scones began to unfold. In order to find out whether it would be a success or not- I went ahead and tried it!
The Scones consisted of the usual ingredients for regular British scones but I added cinnamon, cardamom, and chopped pieces of Medjool dates. On the side of the scones I served a sweet Tahini Cream and Date Molasses. To top it off, I served the scones with a cup of freshly made Arabic Coffee….and my, my, my Fika got mama a brand new outfit with a new pair of high heeled shoes! It felt like I was eating all the jokes in a small four chaired cafe, the smiles of people having a good day, the sound of a victorious old man winning a game of backgammon, and the steady rays of twilight sun shining through an open window. It was warm and deliciously beige and brown. Like teenage earth. Like the voice of Billy Holiday on a lazy Saturday afternoon. For me, it was fun to bake a dessert so sweet, but above all, to find a space where both my cultures meet.