"T’aarof Bread Pudding"

Persian culture has a fascinating custom called “T’aarof”that can be somewhat exasperating if you are unfamiliar with its complexities. It is a form of civility comprised of an abundance of polite phrases, language, and behaviors that can get rather extreme if you are not aware of what is going on. At its most artful it is a verbal dance allowing you time figure out the intentions of the other party. If you are at someone’s house and they offer for you to stay and have dinner, t’aarof dictates that you immediately refuse even if you would like very much to stay. You are allowing for your hostess to have offered out of politeness. She might not really want you to stay. Get it? She will offer again, but then again you will refuse. This will go on at least three times while each of you figures out the real intentions of the other. If you should actually stay for dinner you will find yourself in an endless round of ‘taarof as the hostess offers you more food but you must refuse for fear of looking like a glutton. She will offer again, of course. You can accept on the third offer, if it is made. In the world of ‘taarof you have to be careful as you could end up either hungry or overstuffed depending on how you play it.

As you can gather, this is extremely difficult to the newbie or unskilled. And while you are permitted to request no t’aarof-ing (“t’aarof nakonid”), that itself is a suspect request that could be t’aarof! As a westerner just being introduced to Persian culture I was unfamiliar with what was going on. It lead to some unusual, awkward, and often humorous moments while I figured this custom out. You should have seen the looks I got on one of our first dates when I immediately accepted an offer of the hostess to send me home with leftover food! They sure had a laugh at that one while I tried to explain that in my culture it would have been rude to refuse such an insistent request. And imagine my surprise when I once complimented a gentleman on his watch and he very insistently offered to give it to me!
There are other forms of t’aarof but mostly the practice involves saying a lot of things that you might not really mean — knowing all the time you won’t be taken literally because the other party knows you don’t mean it. Got that? The overriding value, however, is always about showing proper humility while doing all you can to be hospitable. Eventually, what I at first found to be somewhat annoying and puzzling is now quite charming. I marvel at its masters.

So what does this have to do with bread pudding you might ask? Good question! I realized the other day that I had been way too indoctrinated into the ways of t’aarof when my dear friend Michelle surprised me by taking me up on my offer to bring something to her dinner party.
“We are very excited to see you, what can we bring?”
She quickly responded with, “how about dessert?”.
T’aarof would have dictated that Michelle refuse my offer! I totally expected her to say, “nothing!” and I would have brought wine anyway. Even if I had offered again she would have still been obliged under t’aarof to refuse me. I have grown so accustomed to a world filled with t’aarof that I forgot to realize Michelle, my dear friend since college, didn’t play by the Persian rulebook. Duh!Nevertheless, I took this for the huge compliment it was and quickly settled on bread pudding for my contribution. Michelle was entrusting me with the dessert at her dinner party and I wanted to be sure it was something great and deserving of the honor. Now, I have never really met a bread pudding I didn’t like but when I saw this recipe on a blog I love I saved it away as a sure hit for some future dinner party I would host. Since t’aarof is all about doing more for others than you would do for even yourself I was quite honored to be making it for Michelle and her family.

I followed the recipe closely but left the bread crusts on as I was after a more rustic pudding. Make this just before your guests arrive and gently reheat just prior to serving. Be sure to go look at Jennifer’s blog and the pictures she took of her prep of this wonderful pudding. I’ll be making this one again for sure.

Apple Rum Raisin Bread Pudding
Inspired by Bon Appétit

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

⅔ cup raisins
2 tablespoons dark or spiced rum
2 cups whole milk
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla
4 cups packed Challah or Brioche pieces, cut into ¾-inch cubes (you’ll need one loaf but you won’t use all of it)
1 large tart baking apple such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, cut into ⅛-inch slices and cut in half.

For Serving
Vanilla Ice Cream

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray 11×7-inch glass (or equivalent 2-quart) baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Place raisins and rum in a shallow bowl and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Let raisins soak in rum while you prepare other ingredients.

3. Whisk milk, eggs, sugar, melted butter, cinnamon, salt and vanilla in large bowl to blend. Add challah cubes, sliced apples and raisins with rum and fold together with a large spatula. Pour mixture into prepared baking dish, flatten with spatula and make sure apples and raisins are evenly distributed. Let stand 15 minutes.

4. Bake bread pudding until top is golden and center is set, about 55-65 minutes. Spoon into bowls, top with vanilla ice cream and serve.

About Trevor Kensey

To be truthful, I don’t know what “Sis. Boom. [blog!]” means either. The name implies something explosive just happened I suppose I would like it if each post would make made a small ‘boom’ in your day or at least a fizzle. Even though a recipe is included with every post I have a hard time calling this a “food blog” or even myself a “food blogger”.

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  1. Khali Khoob Trevor Joon!

  2. Love this! It’s the exact oppoosite of my husband’s Sicilian grandmother (and the other female relatives on that side of the family) — if you do not bring something, you are absolutely in the dog house. And if you do not take food home, it would ba a huge insult! The social importance of food in every culture is amazing!

    p.s. I do read (and love!) the haikus:)

  3. I’ve been thinking a lot lately of these instances where food intersects culture and daily life and hope to post more about it as it relates to my own life.

  4. Maybe your new blog about culture and daily life should be called “Fiddler On T’aarof”…

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