Now what I’m about to say may cause a painful parting of the ways in the year’s mission, but I can’t put it off any longer. The plain fact is I love ghee, I love cooking with it, I love eating it, I love the way it transforms everything it touches, I even love the beautiful tins it comes from. I could eat it till the cows come home and the way 2010 is shaping up, I’m going to need a lot of cows to come home.
I know this may have been a shock and a few of you will now feel the need to form a more meaningful relationship somewhere with ‘health’, ‘low-fat’ or ‘salad’ in the title. I’ll be sad to lose you, obviously, I’ve really enjoyed having you along these last few months, our trips to Old Delhi were really cool, but well, If I couldn’t keep you, you were never mine. Before you go, though, at least concede that the tin is really, really pretty!
If, on the other hand, you’re a ghee worshipper, then this is a really, really safe place for you to be and I’m really going to make it worth your while. OK, now we all know where we stand, lets get busy.
A few days of grey skies, cold winds and heavy showers here in Delhi have been an excuse, not that I ever need one, to linger under the duvet with something buttery and sugary – preferably with two spoons! One of the most wanton, wtf-I’m-cold-and-in-need-of-comfort dishes I’ve ever come across is Shahi Tukda, the mighty Indian bread pudding.
I first encountered Shahi Tukda a couple of years ago on an Eating Out In Delhi adventure – in fact I think it may have been that very night my obsession with street food began. We’d already eaten our fill of kebabs and biryani when the group’s organiser, Hemanshu, suggested we push ourselves to the limits of gastronomic endurance with a plate of ‘bread pudding on steroids’. That first mouthful suddenly made me feel at home with Indian street food because deep within the bubbling, buttery, sweet spiciness was something very recognisable – good old British bread and butter pudding.
Of course, the Indian street version has evolved into its own thing: the bread is first fried in ghee before being soaked in thickened, sweetened, lightly spiced milk then topped with nuts or glace cherries and warque (silver leaf) before being left to bubble and intensify over a flame for hours on end.
Since that first time I’ve eaten Shahi Tukda many times, in fact I find it difficult to pass by, especially when it’s nippy and I can kid myself I need the extra calories. I ate some from this young man in Matia Mahal one chilly morning last week – he claims there’s nothing to it but bread, milk and sugar but I suspect that old street vendor ruse of leaving out a key ingredient!
I decided to give it a go at home one evening last week when friends were coming round – I had a hunch it could hold its own as a glamorous dinner party pudding. And you know what, the Shahi Tukda didn’t disappoint, as you might expect from something that means ‘Royal Morsel’
The recipes I’ve found say Shahi Tukda should be served chilled but right now I’m not ready for cold – get back to me in May though and it could be a completely different story – and in any case it’s always served hot on the street and that’s the task I’ve set myself. I had a couple of attempts – the first time, I thickened the milk rather too enthusiastically and ended up with Milk Cake and had to start again.
Once you get the milk right, this is extremely easy to make and even easier to eat. My Shahi Tukda was a paler, lighter pudding than the street version and my thickened milk soaked in rather than sat on the top but it more than held its own as a dinner party dessert – not least because its dramatic appearance belies the minimal effort involved, which could make it a regular around here. When I heated up the leftovers the next day (which I confess I did several times) it was definitely getting closer to the sticky, toffee-ish consistency of the street dish.
6 slices of soft white bread, crusts removed and cut in half
1 cup of ghee
2 litres of milk
1 cup of sugar
2T sultanas (kishmish)
2-3 drops kewra essence or rosewater to taste
Seeds of 5 green cardamoms, ground
Chopped pistachios, almonds or glace cherries and Warque (silver leaf) to decorate
First thicken the milk by bringing to the boil in a large pan (preferably one that doesn’t have a tendency to burn). Lower the heat slightly and let the milk bubble away till reduced by half. Keep stirring to stop the milk burning on the bottom of the pan. When the milk is the consistency of single cream and has a more buttery colour – just like tinned evaporated milk in fact – take off the heat and stir in the sugar, cardamom and kewra/rosewater.
While the milk is reducing, heat the ghee in a frying pan then fry the bread until a deep golden brown. On the street stalls Shahi Tukda is quite dark so I think they fry the bread until almost burnt. When all the pieces of bread have been fried set aside.
When the milk is ready put the fried slices of bread in and cook gently for 5 minutes or so. Remove the bread carefully and place in a serving dish. Sprinkle the sultanas over the bread then pour on the milk. Leave the milk to soak in some more and give a royal flourish of nuts and sliver leaf before serving.