Desi Shortbread – mouthfuls of toffee, buttery, crumbliness

As I cool off for a few weeks in Scotland, India sometimes doesn’t seem so far away. From my window I can see shops like Bombay Nights, selling sparkly lehengas and Bollywood DVDs; there’s the Mumtaz Mahal sweet shop, purveyors of barfi and gulab jamun to the greedy; and umpteen Indian and Pakistani grocers selling parathas, paneer and ghee.

Edinburgh is a dinky, sleepy capital with a population of less than half a million, but it has embraced its Indian community with a passion. There’s an Indian takeaway on every corner, it’s home to one of Britain’s oldest Sikh communities, and every summer our local park jumps to the bhangra beat when local band Tigerstyle, whose music appeared in the film Singh is Kinng, performs at the city’s annual “Mela”.

We have everything from the cheap and cheerful, flock wallpaper curry houses where chicken tikka masala is still the order of the day, to dosa cafés and a new generation of talented young chefs such as Tony Singh whose Oloroso restaurant is one of Scotland’s most innovative and fashionable eateries.

Scots also have a long, chequered history of trying to export our culinary “specialities” to India. Glasgow comedian and broadcaster Hardeep Singh Kohli recently embarked on a mission to introduce Scottish “cuisine” to India: His attempt to interest a Srinagar boatman in fish and chips made for a hilarious chapter in the resulting book, Indian Takeaway: One Man’s Attempt to Cook his Way Home.

Whilst I accept haggis will probably never make much of an impact, I won’t rest until the fabulous but much derided Deep Fried Mars Bar has found a place in every Indian heart. Early trials have been encouraging—restaurants around Kullu Valley where we stay in July now think nothing of rustling up a “Bar One Pakora” for us.

Nowhere is our shared culinary history more evident than in our mutual love for biscuits; we can match each other crumb for crumb with macaroons, Marie and Bourbon biccies. For today’s recipe, I’ve given Scotland’s national biscuit an Indian makeover. The ubiquitous shortbread, probably a distant relation of India’s nan khatai, is the last word in simple, sweet, butteriness.

I decided to transform the shortie’s natural homeliness into go-get-’em brazenness with the addition of cumin and jaggery. These biscuits are delicious on their own, allowing an uninterrupted appreciation of both sides of their heritage but to complete the transformation from Ma Broon to Bipasha Basu, I filled little chai cups with shrikhand and mango purée for dipping. Oh, did I mention that those grocers across the road are also piled high with boxes of Alphonso mangoes?

Cumin and Jaggery Shortbread Biscuits

Ingredients

250g unsalted butter, softened but not melted

150g caster sugar

Click hereto view a slideshow on how to bake shortbreads

110g cornflour

300g plain flour (maida)

2 tsp roasted and ground cumin (zeera)

50g finely ground almonds

1 egg, lightly beaten

150g powdered jaggery

Method

Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Lightly grease a large baking sheet.

Cookie jar: The shortbread is probably a distant cousin of nan  khatai. Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Cookie jar: The shortbread is probably a distant cousin of nan khatai. Priyanka Parashar/Mint

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and soft. In another bowl, sift together the flour, cornflour, almonds and cumin. Add half the flour mixture into the butter and sugar and mix well. Add the remainder and knead gently until the mixture holds together. Form the mixture into a long sausage shape of about 2 inches in diameter. Chill in the fridge or freezer for about 1 hour.

Sprinkle the powdered jaggery evenly on to a large sheet of baking paper. With a pastry brush, paint the outside of the sausage with the beaten egg, then roll the shortbread in the jaggery until completely covered. With a sharp knife, slice off discs about a quarter of an inch thick, then place, well-spaced, on the baking sheet. Bake for about 15-20 minutes. The biscuits should still be pale and the jaggery will have spread out to form a frill, but be careful not to let the jaggery burn.

To make the shrikhand, hang 1kg of plain yogurt in a muslin cloth for about 4 hours. Mix a good pinch of saffron with some warm milk, then beat into the yogurt along with a teaspoon of ground cardamom and sugar to taste. In a food processor, whiz a couple of peeled mangoes to a pulp. Pile the shrikhand into chai glasses, top with the mango purée and maybe some edible silver leaf (varq).

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Apricot and Jaggery Upside Down Cake

For this week’s Mint column, I made a  gooey Jaggery and Apricot Upside Down Cake using the gorgeous Himachal apricots that are in the Delhi markets at the moment.

I got to sneakily take a few pictures while  (Mint photographer) Priyanka had her lights out – love these oranges and greens.

Here’s the Mint column – click on the link in the text to see a step-by-step guide to making the cake:

A Loved-Up Upside-Down Cake

Pamela Timms tells us the recipe of apricot jaggery cake

Piece of cake | Pamela Timms

// My book group is the social highlight of every month: The company is great, the wine flows, the food is always gorgeous and sometimes we even get round to discussing the book. This month we’ve been reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett; a gripping tale of racial discrimination and kitchen drama set in 1960s Mississippi. Of course, I was moved by the plight of the black maids in the story and swept along by the struggle for equality, but for me the real hero of the book is the food. The pies, puddings and roasts of the Deep South are so vividly depicted that you can almost taste Minny’s Caramel Cake, one bite of which, we learn, can “make you feel loved”.

Click here for a slideshow on how to bake caramel cake

Also Read | Pamela’s previous Lounge columns

Almost, but not quite, so I decided to try and recreate some of that magic in my own kitchen by “caramelizing” an old favourite from my childhood. The “Upside-Down Cake” is a classic from the 1970s where fruit, sugar and butter are put into a cake tin and a cake mixture is then spread on top. When cooked, the cake is inverted and the sticky toffee fruit is on top.

Season’s special: Jaggery drenches the apricots and makes them  soft. Priyanka Parashan/Mint

Season’s special: Jaggery drenches the apricots and makes them soft. Priyanka Parashan/Mint

In the very un-exotic Britain of the time we had to make do with tinned pineapple but one of the great compensations of an Indian summer is that we’re spoilt for choice with all the magnificent soft fruit from Himachal: cherries, apricots, peaches and soon, plums. I chose apricots as they’re particularly plump and flavoursome this year.I also had a hunch that jaggery might provide a more intense caramel hit than the traditional white sugar and butter. The jaggery didn’t disappoint (how could it?), turning this old faithful into a real heart-stopper, drenching the apricots and almondy sponge in what can only be described as a loving spoonful. I’ll never know how it would rate alongside Minny’s Caramel Cake but the look on my daughter’s face when she took her first bite told me she wasn’t thinking about civil rights. And that’s good enough for me.

Apricot Jaggery Cake

Ingredients

650g apricots, the plumpest, ripest you can find

Caramel

175g powdered jaggery

6 tbsp water

Syrup

300g caster sugar

600ml water

Cake

2 large eggs

100g caster sugar

125g unsalted butter, softened

125g plain flour (maida)

2 level tsp baking powder

1 heaped tbsp of peeled and ground almonds

Method

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Line a 25cm round cake tin with aluminium foil—this is important especially if you’re using a loose-bottomed tin, to stop the caramel sauce from seeping out.

Cut all the apricots in half and take out the kernels.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the jaggery and 6 tablespoons of water until the jaggery is completely dissolved. Bring to the boil and let it bubble for a couple of minutes until it starts to get syrupy. With jaggery this happens much faster than with white sugar, so keep watching. Leave to cool for a couple of minutes, then pour into the cake tin.

In a pan large enough to hold all the apricots in a single layer, heat 300g caster sugar and 600ml water until the sugar has dissolved completely, then bring to the boil. Working quickly, slide the apricots into the pan, cut side down. Boil for 1 minute, then turn the apricots over and boil for 1 more minute (don’t poach the apricots for more than 2 minutes in all because you need them to hold their shape). Quickly remove the apricots from the pan and arrange, cut side down, on top of the jaggery caramel.

To make the cake, put the eggs, 100g caster sugar, butter, flour, baking powder and ground almonds into a bowl. Using either a food mixer, hand-held blender or good old wooden spoon, beat until the mixture falls off a spoon tapped on the side of the bowl. If it isn’t soft enough, add a tablespoon or two of the apricot poaching liquid.

Spread the cake mixture on top of the apricots and jaggery. Bake for about 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Let the cake cool for a couple of minutes, loosen the sides by running a knife around the edge, then place a serving plate on top of the tin. Carefully flip the tin over to let the cake rest, jaggery and apricot side up. Serve warm with a huge dollop of cream.

Pamela Timms is a Delhi-based journalist and food writer. She blogs at https://eatanddust.wordpress.com

Write to Pamela at pieceofcake@livemint.com

A Walk in Khari Baoli Spice Market

All my birthdays and Christmases came at once last Thursday when good friend Nita offered to help me explore  the area around her family’s office in Khari Baoli Spice Market. Now,  I never need much of an excuse to go to Old Delhi but when an insider offers to show you around, it’s time to drop everything and run!

Three of us  set off  mid-morning  for what would turn out to be one of my most memorable days in Old Delhi.  We started at the Naya Bazaar end of Khari Baoli – Nita’s friend and foodie extraordinaire Anil, on holiday from his home in Paris, also came along and brought a certain ‘Je ne sais quoi’ to the jaunt.  Anil has the most amazing ability to get people to behave naturally in front of the camera and I spent a lot of time pestering him for tips – hope something has rubbed off!

For once, though, this wasn’t an eating trip, but a time to look, listen and try to scribble down as much as possible as fast as possible –  Nita was wonderful at coaxing out the kind of in-depth information that my ‘tuta puta’ Hindi prohibits, and by the end of the day my head was swimming with the discovery of new foods, recipes, folklore and family history. We also returned home with a whole heap of new (to me)  ingredients to play with.  Wah kya bat hai? as they say in these parts!

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