Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sundkhand - a fragrant confection

It is thought that sundkhand originates in Sind, Pakistan, where my grandparents were brought up. When they moved to India, they took with them the recipes of the region and continued to pass them down through generations. My parent's generation knows how to make sundkhand and I am the first of the new generation to learn, thanks to my mom constantly nagging me to make it for her.

"Sund" means ginger and "khand" means confection. It is hard to define, but perhaps it is a cross between fudge and a cookie. It has a hard exterior, but when you bite into it, there is a satisfying chew to it, mainly from gum. It has a lot of components that would possibly go into a granola bar. It is traditionally eaten during the winter, perhaps due to its warming spices. It has been said that it is also good for pregnant women. My mom says, "the spices and nuts used in the sundkhund aid in restoring the strength of the lactating mother's back which weakens during child birth, also helping to increase milk production for the infant."

Gum is the binder and giver of the chew, but it is so mysterious. I am in the process of finding out which kind of gum it is and what other purposes it has. My relatives say it's extremely healthy, but I'd like more research before I can attest to that. My mom always buys these beautiful jewel-like pebbles from India for me, and we grind it into a powder when we're making sundkhand.
Numerous exotic spices go into making this special treat. Heady saffron, mace, nutmeg, cardamom and lots of ginger powder. We always buy dry ginger and grind it into a powder, but if you can find quality, fresh powdered ginger powder, you're welcome to use it.

Mace is a beautiful specimen -- it almost looks like a dried coral flower, but it is the inner web of a nutmeg shell -- fascinating! Here is a picture of it:
Most of my ingredients are from India. The black raisins used in this recipe are extremely dry and a little tart, which imparts the best flavor and chew.

The key to this recipe is to take the time to make it. It can take up to 2 hours to make if not prepared in advance. It is important to chop the nuts in a particular way -- they must be slivered into not too thin slivers - enough that you can bite into a good nut, but certainly not be too pebbly and overbearing. I have tried taking the shortcut and pounding it and free-formly chopping, but it just doesn't taste the same as when one slivers.
Prepare in advance: Sliver the nuts up to 3 days in advance. Grind the gum up to a week in advance. Grind the spices on the day of preparation so as to not lose any of the grind's freshness. (The coffee grinder is your best friend for this recipe!) Melt the butter and skim off the solids up to 2 days in advance and store in the fridge.

It has taken me almost 5 years to perfect this recipe. I am always pestering my aunt to teach me how to make this delightful treat over and over again because it is rather complicated. Sometimes if not measured correctly, and if the sugar syrup is not at the proper 'one-line' stage, one can end up with an extremely hard sundkhand, and sometimes it can be a gloppy doughy mess as well. These are expensive ingredients so it is important to test a small batch first.

Makes 16 pieces

110g salted butter, turned into clarified butter, or "ghee"
110g (3/4 cup) spelt or whole wheat flour
2/3 cup dried black raisins
1/4 cup white poppy seeds
110g (1/2 cup) gum, ground to a powder
130g (1 1/3 cup) slivered almonds and pistachios
160g (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
120g (1/2 cup) water
1 tbs + 1/2 tsp ginger powder
2 tsp cardamom powder
1 1/2 tsp mace powder
1 tsp nutmeg, freshly and finely grated
A pinch of saffron
A pinch of salt, if using unsalted butter

1. Grease an 8x8 inch pan and make clarified butter or "ghee:" In a heavy bottom pot, heat butter on medium low. When it starts to sizzle, lower the heat and allow to gently cook until most of the white solids have surfaced to the top. Take off the heat and allow to sit for 30 minutes, then skim off the white solids carefully with a fork or slotted spoon. (You can save these fatty solids for toast or anything that deserves richness.)

2. Add flour to the heavy bottom pan with the ghee on medium low heat. Using a small egg beater or whisk, whisk ghee and flour frequently so that it does not catch at the bottom of the pan. Adjust the heat to low if too hot, but a slight simmer is good for this puree-like mixture. (If it looks too thick and clumpy, you might want to add another tablespoon of butter or ghee). Be careful not to burn the mixture. Cook until an aroma of roasted flour is emitted, and when the mixture is one shade darker -- this takes about 7 - 10 minutes. Take off the heat while you work on the syrup.

3. Begin sugar syrup: In a separate pan, heat sugar and water on medium heat and allow to boil for 3 - 7 minutes. Dip a spoon from time to time and then dip your index finger into the syrup (careful, it's hot!) and then press your syrupy finger onto your thumb -- when the syrup is ready, you will see a line forming when you press the syrup between your fingers. Remove from heat -- do not overcook.
4. Put the flour and ghee pot back on medium heat and add the dried raisins. (Switch to a wooden spatula for stirring). In about a minute, the raisins will plump up, and then add the poppies and all saffron threads and all the ground spices. Gradually, in about 4 increments, sprinkle in the gum powder, stirring constantly so that the gum is uniformly incorporated. At this point, the mass will have formed into larger clumps and look dry.
5. Add the nuts and stir until they are nicely toasted, about 2 - 3 minutes. Turn off heat. Add the hot syrup into the mixture and stand back as it bubbles. Turn on the heat on medium again and cook only for up to 1 or 1 1/2 minutes, stirring always, until it clumps together. This is done to activate the gum and syrup and to make sure that everything mells together. The mixture will be a shiny bronze color (as the sundkhand cools, the shine will dissipate).

6. In a buttered 8x8 inch pan, pour the mixture and press down with a spatula to level and smooth out. With a knife, *pre-cut almost halfway through to about 16 diamond or square pieces. Cool completely and store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Serve warm with coffee or tea. It makes a perfect present for someone special.
* If you don't pre-cut, the sundkhand can be really hard to cut and requires diligence.
**It is recommended to warm pieces in the microwave or oven for a few seconds -- it has the best chew factor and the spices are re-awakened.

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