Indian Shortbread Three Ways and Grapefruit Soda

I wrote recently about the delights of “locavorism” (http://www.livemint.com/locavore.htm), and the benefits, both health- and planet-wise, of eating locally sourced ingredients as opposed to those flown halfway round the world.

What I failed to mention is that while it’s no hardship to go local with Indian mangoes instead of Scottish raspberries and coconuts over parsnips, there are other items which require a little more fortitude. I haven’t, for example, managed to make the switch from olive to mustard oil and the chocolate in my baking is stubbornly Belgian. I have also failed completely to find a local butter which is good to bake with—Amul is too salty and white butter too watery—and have been a slave to the expensive French unsalted variety. Until now.

I recently went to stay at a friend’s family home in Madhya Pradesh and spent four days watching a traditional Hindu vegetarian kitchen at work, returning to Delhi with a notebook crammed with new recipes and techniques. My friend’s family still keeps a small organic dairy herd and it was wonderful to watch all the daily rituals that revolve around milk and the forgotten (in the West) skills of yogurt, butter and cheese-making.

When it was time to leave reluctantly, my friend’s mother gave me a large tub of home-made ghee to bring back and I knew my precious golden gift had to be put to some divine purpose, that is, baking.

I decided to make nan khatai biscuits, one of my favourite Old Delhi treats. Because they taste so like our own shortbread, I had always assumed Scottish roots for nan khatai, but they are, in fact, thought to be a legacy of Dutch colonizers in Surat who left behind their ovens when they shipped out.

I made two batches, one with fancy French butter and one with my Sagar ghee, giving them three chic modern toppings: pistachio and lemon, fennel sugar and grapefruit. I think it might be the start of something big in my kitchen. I can’t stress enough how much better the ghee version was—lighter, richer, crumblier—than the one made with imported unsalted butter. It may even be the best biscuit I’ve ever made or eaten.

I recommend eating these nan khatai warm, immediately after a sneaky siesta, with a glass of iced grapefruit soda—guaranteed to nudge you zestily back towards productivity.

Nan Khatai 3 Ways

Makes 18-24

Ingredients

100g of your finest ghee— preferably from cows you can see from your kitchen window

30g icing sugar

60g plain flour (maida)

50g chickpea flour (besan)

25g semolina (sooji)

1 tsp baking powder

A pinch of salt

Seeds from 4 green cardamom pods, crushed

Toppings

Grapefruit: grated zest of 1 grapefruit, blitzed in a grinder with 2 tbsp of granulated (not fine, caster) sugar until a sandy texture

Pistachio and lemon: grated zest of 2 lemons (nimbu) blitzed briefly with 2 tbsp sugar—try to keep some of the bigger pieces of pistachio

Fennel sugar: 1 tsp of fennel seeds blitzed with 2 tbsp sugar, ground to a powder

Method

Preheat your oven to 150 degrees Celsius. Grease or line a baking sheet.

First make your toppings and set aside.

Tip the ghee into a large mixing bowl with the icing sugar and whisk until light and creamy. Sift in the flour, besan, semolina, baking powder, salt and fold into theghee/sugar until you have a soft mixture.

Take teaspoonfuls (small enough so there’s no guilt at eating one of each flavour) of the mixture and roll them between your palms into a ball, using icing sugar on your hands to stop them sticking. Place them, well spaced, on the baking sheet and sprinkle on generous amounts of the toppings. For the fennel variety, decorate the top with whole fennel seeds after sprinkling with the fennel powder.

Bake for about 15-20 minutes until baked but not brown. Eat while still warm (although they keep well in a jar for a few days), with tea or grapefruit soda made from the fruit you have zested.

Grapefruit Soda

Ingredients

1 cup sugar

Juice of 1 grapefruit

Juice of one lemon

Soda water, as required

Method

Put sugar and juices in a pan with one cup of sugar and bring to boil. Let it bubble for a minute or two until syrupy, then leave to cool. Strain into a jar and keep in the fridge for up to two weeks. To serve, add ice cubes and top up with soda water.

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12 thoughts on “Indian Shortbread Three Ways and Grapefruit Soda

  1. Awee…ghee has always been a favorite here for a shortening , frying and even baking ..though baking is not traditionally Indian . The naankhatais have almost become Indian n i used to think they have come from the middle east .
    Besan was never used in Naankhatais back home , but now that you have done it so beautifully i know what i am doing when i bake it.

    Liked the grapefruit soda too….and i wish you become friendly with our beloved mustrad oil too 🙂

  2. Sangeeta – I really have to make amends re: mustard oil – it really is a terrible blind spot!

  3. These sound absolutely delicious but, of course, whilst I can get all the French butter I like (any other sort would be nigh impossible!), ghee is another matter! But I shall try the grapefruit soda.

    And I made the fig rolls again over Easter – my daughter loved them too.

  4. Hi Pamela,

    I’m the deputy editor/senior writer for the(sydney)magazine at The Sydney Morning Herald. I’m working on an article about Australian MasterChef. I believe it was terribly popular in India and I hoped you might be able to share some thoughts on it … the reaction you saw to it perhaps and any other insights you might have….
    Perhaps you could email me at stephanie.wood@fairfaxmedia.com.au if you would be happy to be interviewed briefly either over the phone or via email?
    Look forward to hearing from you.

    Stephanie Wood
    deputy editor
    the(sydney)magazine
    The Sydney Morning Herald

  5. Aah yes, I have used Ghee in baking but always found the shortbread is not fluffy enough but it works great in cakes.. Do you mind sharing the the ‘cup’ equivalent ..I dont have a weighing scale to go by weight.Thanks!

    earlybird – You can make ghee( albeit not as high quality) by melting unsalted butter on a medium flame….If you google ‘brown butter’ you will get plenty of tips on how to go about it. It does work great in some baking recipes.

  6. Hi Aparna – I found the exact opposite – the biscuits made with ghee were much lighter and all-round better tasting. I’ll work out the cup measurements next time I make the nan khatai but if you’re serious about baking, you really need to invest in some scales!

  7. I know!!! I have been thinking about getting scales forever…but I am not a frequent baker and mostly bake simple cakes which are forgiving ( I think).
    I have always found making shortbread/cookies a challenge, maybe its my technique.
    P.S. Totally loved the gajar halwa muffin recipe – was a big hit in my world.

  8. Hi, tried these today..unfortunately the mix was more like a thick batter than a dough..not sure if it is the weather or the recipe needs more flour..the taste was great ..but the look and the texture was far off

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