Monday, December 20, 2010

Indian shortbread

Naankatai is a buttery cardamom scented cookie that melts in your mouth. It is addictive to eat and quite a treat. My aunt Kusum demonstrated how to make them on my last visit to India. I'm eternally grateful for her recipes, especially this one.

When Kusum used to make these for us in Bombay, she would have to rent an oven in town because my grandparents didn't have one. So, she would make the dough at home and roll out each cookie and take an auto (cab) to town to bake them. The smell of these warm cookies wafting through the air is just unbelievable.

Other than the butter, the thing that gives that melt-in-the-mouth feeling is chickpea flour, so it's an essential ingredient. The original recipe calls for ghee (clarified butter) and dalda (a form of shortening). I'm not interested in hydrogenated oils no matter how delicious, so I use high quality normal salted butter, which is important. I grind my cardamom weekly in a coffee grinder (or sometimes in a mortar and pestle) and store in small air-tight glass jar. It's very fresh, therefore I need to use very little of it. Also, I chose to measure the ingredients by weight because it is the most accurate way, especially since butter is the only liquid binder in this recipe and needs to be exact. So use a weighing scale if you can.

One bite and you'll see.

Makes 10

70g / 5 1/2 tbs  salted butter
100g / 3/4 cup  all purpose flour
20g / 2 1/2 tbs  chickpea flour*
50g / 1/4 cup  powdered/confectioners sugar
1/8 tsp (scant)  cardamom, ground

1. In a heavy bottom saucepan, gently melt the butter on low heat. The butter will bubble a little and when emits a toasty fragrance, turn off the heat and allow to cool.

2. Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Measure and sift the flour and chickpea flour.

3. In a mixing bowl, add the sugar, cardamom and cooled butter. Blend well with a spatula to tame the sugar lumps and air out the batter. Takes about a minute.

4. Add the flour and chickpea flour. Gently mix with the spatula until all is incorporated. (It won't form into a ball and will be fairly crumbly.)

5. Roll about a tablespoon and a half's worth of dough in your palm into a smooth round and then slightly flatten. (They will flatten further in the oven.) Arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

6. Bake for 8 - 10 minutes. The cookies should be golden on the bottom but still slightly pale on top. Cool on the cookie sheet and store in an air-tight container.

* Chickpea flour or "besan" can easily be found in an Indian grocery or the specialty section of your supermarket.

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