Nankhatai – Eggless,Crunchy, Buttery, Fragrant Cookies..

” Amma , How come we never can make this at home ?” was the question that stumped my mom , a few years ago. An impish curly-haired moppet of say 7 years , asked my mom  this question. Now make no bones about this , my mom had this uncanny ability to plunge into things  that challenged her whole heartedly .. When she had a mind to it 🙂 Nothing is / was impossible was the motto! Usually the task of running a business alongside my dad, her passion for gardening, the occasional tuition lessons at home and oh yes, the new-found interest in baking all were worth the effort. In fact the last passion in particular had  a very profound effect at home … Baking sessions of eggless cakes and cookies and more using the pressure cooker and dry sand method. And add to this the multi-talented grandmom of mine, my mother’s mom would have a gazillion inputs and variations and innovations on the way.  It was  a madcap session at home sometimes punctuated by the heat from the kitchen, laughter and excited talks and voices of the ladies gathered at home and I could be looking at new experiments in jams and jellies or pickles or home-made ketchup to grand desserts and more. Now this was the good old days of Chennai ( Madras) in the late 80’s. At that point the heat and humidity of the Madras weather, compounded by the large cooking sessions could have driven any sane person nuts, but we of course were grandly buffered by the tree-lined streets of my hometown. No A/c at that time folks, just good old ceiling fans, stand fans and hand fans and breeze from the courtyard 🙂

A visit last year to my place of birth though had me cringing of course ! Sigh ! No tree-lined streets , but more and more commercial properties and even more dust .. Why ? Why? must we lose what we have to understand the fragility of all good things in life. Any way I am digressing, the curly-haired moppet, yours truly fast forward a few years down the lane ( Alright, I am being vain, fast forward many years down the lane .. Sigh !!!) with the curly hair being occasionally tamed 🙂 ) was sort of pleaded by the youngest tyke to make something yummy. Pretty please with a cherry on the top!!!!

This after gorging on lemon cupcakes , which we of course generously shared with visiting cousins.

Now remember the question I had asked my mom? Well the subject of discussion was this crunchy, butter drenched, flattened biscuits (Yes, the British influence, what can I say ,these are called biscuits in India ) or cookies was devoured steadily by the ilk of my cousins and self. The goodies in question were brought in by my aunt from Pune. Amidst the gaggling of kids and cousins, there were faint snatches of discussions and baking method. I have no clue on the outcome of this, but for some reason I was treated to this bit of beautiful memory from yesteryears.

When you troll the internet, you will find a gazillion variations if this cookie/shortbread/biscuit . Whole wheat version, the Besan ( chickpea flour ) version, the Sooji ( semolina ) and Besan version. Everyone and their cousin will have some thing on this and more 🙂

But harking back to simpler times,  these cookies are made with butter , APF and sugar as the main ingredients. Yes , whole wheat makes it better (I do have a version I use and will post it as well ), but remember these are the snatches of comfort from a bygone era.. Indulgent at the best . And an occasional indulgence never really harmed anyone .. Occasional being the keyword 🙂

Prep time : 15 min  Bake time : 18-20 min   Yield : 16-20 cookies          

Shelf life : You are joking right ? (Ok if you really want  to, it should stay for about a week and more in an airtight container)

Ingredients :

  • All purpose flour : 1 Cup
  • Unsalted Butter at room temperature : 1 stick = 8 Tbsp.= ½ Cup
  • Salt : a tiny pinch ( to enhance the flavor)
  • Baking Soda : ½ tsp.
  • Fine Granulated sugar : ½ Cup
  • Cardamom pods : 12-14  pounded well to yield a nearly fine powder
  • Saffron strands : a generous pinch, slight warmed and crushed well to be mixed
  • Chopped nuts of your choice : Optional – 2 tsp. for garnish 

Method :

  • Cream the butter and  sugar in a big mixing bowl. Cream it well until the sugar granules are nice and invisible in it. The creaming is essential to get the texture and ensure proper baking too. Powdering the sugar absolutely helps, but remember to add a tad less than the 1/2 cup called for.
  • In an another bowl, whisk together sifted all purpose flour, baking soda, salt, crushed cardamom pods, saffron. Whisk it well to aerate it and to ensure even distribution of the soda and the fragrant spices.
  • Add the dry mix into the creamed mixture and form a soft pliable dough. Honestly you should not need any liquids to bind this dough and  this will be  a super soft one. ( yep, it’s loaded with butter)
  • Refrigerate it for say 20 min. ( I believe this would make crispier cookies)
  • Pre heat the oven to 350 deg F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  • Pinch out small globes from this and make a nice smooth cookie balls. Indent  with  the flat side of the fork to lend it your touch. Place it about 2 inches apart from each other to ensure good baking and breathing space.
  • Garnish with chopped nuts( pistachios in my case ) ,
  • Pop it into oven and bake it for about 18-20 min.
  • I baked  mine for 20 min, because we love the crispy-crunchy-melt-in-your mouth kind of cookies. These do not change color much – Careful do not over bake them or burn them ! You just might notice a slight browning at the base of the cookies .
  • The fragrance alone can drive your resistance away 🙂
  • Let it cool on the wire rack(And if you do not keep an eagle eye, a few of them would be sampled and to be just sure again would be sampled again).
  • Store in an airtight container (this happens only when my tykes are away and no one is at home to sample the wares albeit for a short period of time).
  • Enjoy!

( Now please excuse me as a steaming cup of  Ginger Chai is calling my name!!! )

 

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Saffron Kalakkand – Quick and Easy Cheese and Milk Fudge with Saffron and nuts

Fresh, dewy eyed and eyes full of spark a young lady landed on the shores of opportunity in the land of the grand USA some 16 plus years ago. While the young lady has progressed in age , thoughts and wisdom, marked by the appearance of few strands of gray ( honestly, truly, I noticed 5 in total),the spark ala dimmed a bit, but still bright I hope nonetheless.

One of the first people I met, was a happy foodie couple in Boston. At that point, A1 was yet to put in an appearance, and I was happy to meet people ( ignorant of any of the pyramid scheme trap and happily oblivious as well ). While the “come over for tea” turned into recruiting for the scam/scheme and I could not wait to get out faster, I did notice these gorgeous milk burfi’s. I also did sneak in more than one. Hey if I had to sit in and listen to all that yakking on gold and gorgeous things within arm’s reach, might as well do it with some indulgence.

In any case, today on father’s day DH was in a bit of a mood. Happy smiley face, clean counters, dishes done, emptying dishwasher and more. Well no complaints, cause I love this mood. A nice card, a self bought “surprise” on the homey , techy, front and great family time. And I decided to do something that so grandly resembled hours of labor while actually needing a few min of microwave time. The best part was I did not need to hunt for the ingredients. My awesome neighbor/ friend/ b – partner decided to donate to me 3 huge tubs of Ricotta cheese before her trip to India. 2 Thumbs up! I suppose more Ricotta cheese recipes need to be made now!

This has been the perfect day and weekend is done ! But hey summer holidays on and no school tomorrow.. Which means more staying up for the kids.. Love this !

#FDMenu

Saffron Kalakkand – Quick and Easy Cheese and Milk Fudge with Saffron and nuts

Ingredients:

  • Low Fat or Part Skim Ricotta Cheese – 16 oz
  • Non fat Condensed Milk – 14 oz
  • Saffron strands : a pinch
  • Cardamom Pods – 1/2 tsp
  • Pistachios – 6
  • Almonds – 10
  • Ghee or melted butter: 1 tsp to serve as grease

 Method:

 Prep work :

  • In a spice grinder, add in the saffron strands and cardamom seeds and fine grain powder these without adding water.

 Prep work 2:

  • Finely chop the pistachios and almonds in a food processor or spice grinder.

Process:

  • In a microwave safe glass bowl or container, mix the Ricotta Cheese and the Condensed Milk well. I used a wire whisk to break out the lumps and completely homogenized the mix. Took about 5 min or so
  • Cook in the microwave for about 12 minutes uncovered. Keep an eye out for the bubbling mix. Stop and scrape the edges and re-do this process. I did this step in about 5 stage intervals of 3 : 3: 2:2:2 min cooking . I suppose you can go all out and cook in lower intervals, but I just needed to keep a clean microwave oven. No spill mess 🙂
  • Next microwave covered for about 6 min or so. Stop every 2 min , scrape the sides stir and continue.
  • Just before the final 2 min stage add in the cardamom and saffron mix. Cook for a final 2 min. The heat in the cooked milk fudge will release the flavor or the saffron and cardamom and you will see the beautiful color of the saffron permeating the fudge mix.
  • The final stage should resemble soft crumbly mix . Slightly wet and moist mix would be the ideal stage to stop the cooking process.
  • In a square serving container , grease the bottom with ghee or melted unsalted butter. Go easy the grease part. The idea is for easy release of the pieces not to drench it !
  • Pour in the hot fudge mix in the prepped container with grease and add in the crushed nuts mix on the top and pat down to resemble an even surface.
  • Cover and allow to set in the refrigerator for an hour or so.
  • Cut into beautiful squares and serve!
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Cashew Cranberry Rava ladoos – Semolina Mounds (rounds) of Festivity

I think I simply got bit by the festive bug severely. Seriously, this Diwali I seem to be favoring the creation of sweets or mithai more over the savory, spicy crunchy stuff. Maybe it has to do with the awesome piece of news I received last week. In any case, “more the merrier” seems to be the motto as I favor this creation. My oldest loves these and my youngest will eat anything that is a ladoo 🙂 the rest of the family don’t really need an excuse.

This particular mithai is super quick, no seriously super quick to make and I barely have any stove time involved in it at all.

Prep time :  15 min

Make time : about 15 – 20 min

Yield : 20-24 ladoos

Ingredients:

  1. Semolina/Cream of wheat/ Sooji/Rava : 2 cups
  2. Sugar : 1.5 cups
  3. Melted Ghee : needs to be in the warm liquid form – about 1-1.25 cups.
  4. Raw Cashewnut powder : Totally optional: 1/2 cup – I just added it in, cause I had some leftover from making Kaju Burfi.
  5. Cashewnuts pieces : 2 tbsp : toasted or pan-fried in ghee
  6. Dried Cranberries : 1 tbsp : Panfried in ghee
  7. Saffron : a few strands
  8. Cardamom pods – 10-12
  9. Milk : 2 -4 tbsp ( if required)

Method:

  • In a microwave safe bowl, add in the 2 cups of semolina and microwave it for about 5 minutes in total in 2 minute intervals. Now keep an eye on it, as you want this to be toasted not burnt. When it turns a light brown color, keep it aside to cool . Say for about 5 minutes or so.
  • Once it cools down, pulse the semolina in a blender to coarsely powder it. Add in the sugar and pulse it once again.
  • Slight heat up the saffron strands and pulse it with cardamom pods.
  • Give a final spin in the blender incorporating the semolina, sugar, saffron and cardamom and the cashew nut powder if adding it in.
  • Remove this dry mix in a work bowl and add in the toasted/ pan fried cashew nuts and  cranberries.
  • Gently mix it to ensure the nuts and berries are distributed evenly.
  • Now add in the melted ghee in liquid and warm state, a few tablespoons at a time. The idea is to gently mix in small portions and roll in to spherical globes or ladoos.  If you are having difficulty shaping the ladoos or want to restrict the use of ghee, then add in the 2 tbsp of milk and gently mix it in. the idea is to get the mix wet not soppy. If required add in the remaining 2 tbsp of milk as well.
  • Place the ladoos on a flat plate to rest and air dry. ( The ghee solidifies to maintain the spherical shape)
  • In about 15 -20 min, the ladoos should be ready to be devoured.  ( I am missing quite a few  by the time the post is done 🙂 )

Notes:

  • I did not use milk to make these ladoos. Especially since I am going to be sending a few in a care package and I did not want to reduce the shelf life.
  • Finely chopped pistachios can be added to this and it makes it even more delectable!
  • The coarseness of the semolina to be used is a personal preference.
  • I used a little under a cup of ghee to prepare the ladoos. Usage of ghee can vary depending the raw material used.