We showed up at her home without an appointment, but Monir Hosseini, owner of White Orchid bakery, invited Phoenix New Times in with a big smile on her face (and rollers in her hair).
“Would you like some tea?” she asked.
That’s the Iranian way. Guests are always welcomed, and everything starts and ends with tea.
Hosseini has been making Persian pastries for the past eight years, but she also has a degree in calligraphy and fine arts. If you look around her dining room, you’ll see Persian calligraphy, an abstract painting, and a miniature mural (a style, not size, of painting originating in Iran between the 13th and 17th centuries that depicts religious or literary stories). All her works.
“When I first moved to the U.S. in 2003, I took some of my miniatures to a few Old Town Scottsdale galleries, but they turned me down because my work didn't fit the gallery's theme,” Hosseini said. “I thought, 'Well, those are my two skills, calligraphy and art.' So, I started offering classes at home." She still does.
But after about five years, she needed additional income.
“I was not a 9-to-5 office person. I thought, 'What kind of creative work can I do?'” she said. "Baking came to mind.”
She first baked for friends and family. From the beginning, people loved her pastries. Then a friend bought a big order of sweets for a 200-person anniversary party. Not having much business experience, Hosseini charged a fraction of what they were worth.
But the investment paid off. The party was around Nowruz, or the Iranian New Year. When she showed up to a few New Year gatherings, strangers were asking for more pastries.
Encouraged by the reception, she took on the challenge. This is no introverted artist.
"People just loved what I baked to the point that I decided to convert my garage into my baking workshop," Hosseini said. “Honestly, I got lucky."
Around this time, 2012, Hosseini named her business White Orchid (peace, friendliness, elegance). She was also approached by Caspian Food Market, the Persian bakery in Scottsdale. They wanted to carry her products. Good news. But once she made the deal with Caspian, her assistant left. Bad news.
“I remember making 80 boxes of cookies for Caspian for Nowruz and delivered them in the morning,” she said. “By midday, I got a call from the owner in a panic asking me for more. I had one noon nokhodchi mold.”
Noon nokhodchi is a chickpea cookie about an inch in size and shaped like a four or five-leaf flower with a dot of saffron, or a pistachio sliver, or crushed pistachios, in the center. Typically, Iranian pastry shops have larger molds to allow cutting multiple cookies at a time. But Hosseini had just the one.
“I stayed up until 3 a.m. cutting cookies," she said. "One by one.”
Before the pandemic, Hosseini frequently traveled to Iran for training and baking-related purchases. She has also replaced her single noon nokhodchi mold with the pastry shop version, making her life much easier.
“I must admit," she says, "that when I go to a pastry kitchen in Iran and realize they are doing what I’m doing, it’s a huge validation for me as a self-taught baker.”
Now, she only prepares a few base cookies in advance and has expanded to cakes.
But for all her products, she uses specific ingredients. Clarified butter. Clotted cream, not fondant. Real fruits, not artificial flavors. Natural colors, not dyes. The green comes from pistachios, yellow from saffron, red from cherry jam or beet juice.
With Nowruz 2021 on the way (March 21), you can find Hosseini's pastries at Caspian Food Market or order them by phone (480-203-6974). She has a photo-heavy online menu in both English and Farsi. For large parties, she requests one-week advance notice.
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