Many Indians get nostalgic at the thought of Gajar ka Halwa I suppose. It is a common dessert made at home and served at restaurants. I am not sure if the same goes for ‘nankhatai’ though – a kind of crumbly, melt in your mouth eggless cookie aromatic with ghee and cardamom.
I am Trick or Treating right now and trying to write about Diwali. This is bizarre, I can’t wrap my brain around it. The two worlds are so far from each other. To me, this seems unusually quiet for a celebration that involves morbid costumes, dark house decoration and sugar highs – and it is busy on our street – I have handed out candies to atleast 100 kids and expecting a hundred more.
Back in India, wherever you are in the city, you can hear fireworks going off. The sound of celebration in the air. Homes are decorated with strings of light, colourful lanterns and diyas. Those who celebrate Diwali, are dressed up in silks and chiffons, sequins and gold embroideries, the beautiful saris, vibrant lehengas and elegant kurtas. Of course, there is the sugar rush and food coma, mainly due to several fried foods, ghee laden desserts and the sheer variety and quantity of Diwali gifts from friends, family and workplaces in the form of sweets and nuts.
I must confess, I have never been a big fan of Indian desserts, save a couple that have a soft spot but only when made in a certain manner by certain people. Mainly because, I love chocolate and the absence of chocolate on the traditional Indian dessert menu is glaring! However, there is nostalgia related to these things and that makes them endearing. Being in a foreign place, where they are not in-your-face available all the time, makes them more special I suppose.
Yet when I think of making them myself, I can’t be happy with simply following the age-old recipe and recreating what I have eaten a hundred times as a child. I must create something new. I must reduce the sugar. Change up the spices. Present in a different fashion. Play with complementing flavors. The purists will not be happy. Well, I don’t claim that this is better. My argument is that, the sanctity of the traditional can be preserved even in a modern setting. So, it may not be better but it is certainly not bad and may even be intriguing. This was the goal when I was contemplating making Indian desserts for Diwali. Something with a small twist yet not diluting the authentic taste or the stories they may evoke. After all it is born out of nostalgia.
I wanted to serve the Gajar Halwa in a bite sized cookie cup format. But it couldn’t be a chocolate chip cookie. It had to be something that would blend and complement with the Halwa flavors. Making Nankhati was a matter of trial and error. I made a couple of different recipes and finally landed on this one that perfectly suited my needs. The result was a very pretty dessert and a delicious one too. There is the carrot-ginger duo, soft and rich, complemented by the crumbly cardamom flavored cookie. And it is bite sized so leaves plenty of room for those fried foods, nuts and other desserts I was talking about.
Gajar Halwa Cookie Cups
A portion of this Gajar Halwa
For the Cookie Cups
¾ cup All Purpose Flour – sifted
¼ tsp cardamom
¼ cup fine granulated sugar
¼ cup ghee
¼ tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 320F.
Sift the flour and cardamom together and set aside.
Cream the ghee and sugar together till pale in colour. Add the vanilla and whisk. Add the flour mixture and bring all the ingredients together into a dough. Do not overmix.
Form balls of the dough (about 3tbsp) and place in a regular sized muffin tray. Flatten each ball into the muffin cup and up the sides till it is halfway up the sides and forms a cup shape.
Bake for around 12 minutes. Remove from oven. The centre may have risen slightly. Immediately press the centre down with a small shot glass or container. Let cool completely before gently lifting out of the muffin tray.
Once both the Gajar Halwa and Cookie cups are completely cool. Place a big mound of Halwa in each cup. Garnish with fried ginger and chopped pistachios ( I highly recommend the fried ginger, although I didn’t have the time to get it on my cookie cups and then regretted it!)