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Indian shortbread cookies fit for tea, a special occasion and an all round winner. The ghee aids to a light, crumbly texture making for a cloud like Nankhatai. They are easy to make and addictive to eat. More importantly perfect for Raksha Bandhan.
When I tell you I could stuff 5-6 of these cookies in my mouth at the age of 12, I am not joking you. These cookies were mandatory during a celebration, considering they are eggless they were perfect to share with neighbors. With dad celebrating all the Hindu festivals at home and mum celebrating all the catholic festivals at home we barely had the time to equip ourselves before the next one came along.
Nankhatai’s were made during Diwali, Dusshera, Raksha Bandhan and basically anytime we felt we were running low on sweet supplies at home. Our household wasn’t one to make biscuits, cookies and cakes from scratch – so if we made something from scratch it was a very big deal and we ensured we excelled in it.
I must be honest here and briefly discuss the source of my recipe. It all starts and ends with Cecilia. She was for the major part of my childhood memory a help at home (in Bombay) and would start her day in the morning with us and leave by evening. Apart from her house hold chores, I loved playing mock restaurant with her whenever she got the time. She would make the best “home food” and I always looked forward to her meals. She used to make these cookies and studded each one with charoli seeds (Calumpang nuts), they were feather light and buttery.
I never got around to learning how she made them cause I was too interested in eating them then. Today I’ve made them at home numerous times and every time we have them over tea or coffee mum and I talk about Cecilia and sometimes we even call her up and have a catch up chat.
There are 2 main ways to make Nankhatai’s. You can cream your fat and sugar together before adding the dry ingredients, rolling into balls and baking. The other way is, to pour the fat into the dry ingredients including castor sugar here and mix with your fingers until the ghee has gotten absorbed by the besan (gram flour). I prefer the later and there is no right or wrong way to make them, as long as you get the desired texture, taste and overall look.
The ingredients needed to make these cookies are pretty straightforward. You need flour, gram flour, semolina, sugar, cardamom and ghee. Yes, a good pinch of salt does make a difference in the preparation process. I like to stud each Nankhatai with a cashew nut but you could also use chopped pistachios and it would be fine. I’ve had many Nankhatai’s that are studded with peanuts as well.
There has been a great deal of debate about ghee. Can you make these without ghee? What happens if you use butter? Can you use home made clarified butter? There are endless questions on the kind of fat to be used here. I prefer and will always say this, ghee. Now there are vegan options with coconut butter and vegan butters which work, they still hold their shape and taste yummy but they don’t have that authentic Nankhatai flavor. Hence I recommend if you can use ghee don’t think twice, do it. But if you can’t due to allergies or no access to it, try making ghee at home or use the options mentioned above.
Before baking the cookies you must let them rest for a few minutes, this helps them hold their shape and not crack too much once baked. I like rolling the dough between my palms however if it keeps breaking knead the dough a little more. If it is sticky add a little more flour and knead again. Ideally you want to add the ghee in 3 parts this will help you understand how much ghee you will need to form a ball of dough.
I bake these in an oven however, you can make them in a microwave oven or the age old Indian method of baking in a cooker or over the stove. Below mentioned are the baking details:
Oven – Bake the rolled balls in a preheated oven at 180℃ for 10-12 mins until risen, dry to the touch and lightly colored.
Microwave oven – Bake the rolled balls in a preheated oven, on the middle rack at 190℃ for 9-10 mins. Either heating should be bottom alone or if you have a fan use top and bottom heating with fan.
Heating microwave – No preheating required, bake the rolled balls for 2-3 mins. I would recommend opening the microwave door every 1 minute to check the texture of the cookies. Also, bake only 3-4 at a time depending on how large your microwave is. Adjust the cooking time as needed but remember, they should be dry to touch on the top, risen and slightly colored.
Cooker – Preheat the cooker with salt or sand at the bottom (almost 1 inch worth)and place a wire rack on top. Cover and heat this for 10 minutes or so. Place a plate with 4 cookie dough balls over the wire rack. Cover the cooker without the rubber insulation and whistle. Bake for 15-18 mins until risen and dry to the touch. You won’t achieve much color with this method of cookery.
Once baked these cookies last well in a glass jar for uptown 2 weeks, if it lasts that long. Alright, with that I have covered most of it, do give this recipe a try and am sure you will enjoy making it. Happy Raksha Bandhan Ninjas!
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- Large mixing bowl
- Baking tray
- Wire rack
- 120 gm Flour
- 60 gm Gram flour
- 30 gm Semolina
- 70 gm Castor sugar
- 5 gm Cardamom powder
- 5 gm Baking powder
- Pinch of salt
- 115 gm Ghee
- 20 pcs Cashew nuts
- Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine.
- Add the ghee in 3 parts and using your fingers rub into the dry ingredients.
- Keep adding the ghee until all has been used up and keep massaging the ingredients together to form a ball of dough. Be patient as this could take time. You might not need all the ghee hence mix the ingredients well before adding all the ghee.
- Once you’ve got a dough divide it into 20 little pieces and roll between your palms to make a ball.
- Place on a plate and using your thump making an impression into the ball. Stud it in the center with a cashew. Repeat until all the dough is done.
- Chill the dough in the fridge for 10 mins.
- Preheat the oven to 180℃ and bake the cookies for 10-12 mins until risen, dry to the touch and lightly colored.
- Remove from the baking tray and leave to cool over a wire rack.
- While mixing the ghee into the dry ingredients be patient and massage the ingredients together until all the dry ingredients have absorbed the ghee.
- Don’t make a very deep thumbprint into the cookie, this is to help the cashew nut stick and not fall out upon baking.
- You must cool the cookies on a wire rack as the heat from the baking tray will over bake the cookies.
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