25 December, 2014
Nankhatai: Eggless Indian Biscuits
The Cherub faced baby with a wreath around his head looked down on me. Holding hands with the baby standing next to him they formed a circle, in the painting on the sky blue coloured biscuit tin. The lid of the tin had a knob in the centre for better grip. The tin was purposely kept on the top rack in our kitchen cupboard, behind the pickle jars, above the spice rack, well beyond our reach. “Ebar Paetey baytha hawbe, dekho”, You’ll have a tummy ache, mind you! Ma’s repeated warnings didn’t have much effect on us. C, our youngest sister, was given the duty to keep an eye on Ma’s movements. Assigned with such a responsible job at the tender age of six, she kept running back and forth from the kitchen to the verandah with a silly grin on her face, almost foiling our attempt. We had studied Ma’s schedule very carefully, the times that she was away from the kitchen and how long for. What was the safest bet in terms of the time needed for us to make the heist. The biscuit heist. We agreed the time after lunch would be ideal.
It was a perfect winter afternoon. Ma and her friends busy with their knitting projects on the wrap around verandah past the living room. Sitting with their backs to the sun, drying their long hairs draped over their sarees. Exchanging new patterns for cardigans, mittens or discussing remedies for the aphids in the rose bush they would make the best use of the short winter sun. The kitchen with two big windows was on the far end of the house separated by the dining room and the living room with long flowing Chartreuse green curtains in between. Bhugli, our household help, would be dusting the bedroom meticulously at that time. The bedroom forked out from the dining room past a narrow corridor with the laundry racks, making it parallel to the living room. With Baba at work the timing couldn’t have been better.
I stood on my toes, precariously balancing my body on a wobbly stool. B, my eight year old sister, hung on to the stool with all her might to avoid any fall. Only two years younger than me, she was my loyal partner in crime. Her curly black hair formed a halo around her head which was tilted back causing her mouth to open. Two pairs of eyes were fixed on the biscuit tin. We knew the inside of the tin as good as the back of our hands. A cream coloured corrugated paper lined the inside. Layers of assorted biscuits, not cookies, lay separated with wax paper. Some were rectangular with curly edges and sugar dusted tops. Others were round one on top of another with a hole in the middle showing the red jam inside. Then there were sandwich biscuits with sweet orange flavoured cream in between. Unaware of their fancy names like Linzer or Thumbprint cookies, they were all ‘Cream Bishcoot’ to us.
Outside the east facing window in the kitchen was the Guava tree. Its branches spreading all around like an open umbrella, almost brushing against this window. The green parrots with their sharp red beaks often frequented these branches. They came in flocks, ate some guavas, scattered a few around. They were not bashful at all with their habits, could be heard from a distance. Not sure what happened first. There appeared a spider from nowhere in the cupboard, or was it the parrot with its high pitched chirp, as if warning Ma about our plan. I lost my balance, hit my sister on her head breaking her front tooth with blood oozing from her mouth, her painful cry brought Ma running to the kitchen. Whatever the sequence, it all happened very fast and brought our carefully detailed plan down just like a house of cards.
Although there were no Nankhatais in the tin I would like to warn you these melt – in – the – mouth cookies would make you feel like going for more!
Sending very warm holiday wishes to all of you from the cold Prairies.
Adapted from Nishamadhulika.com with slight changes. Made 16 pieces.
All purpose flour Half cup
Chickpea flour ( Besan ) Half cup
Ghee Half cup
Powdered sugar Half cup
Baking powder One quarter tsp
Cardamom powder One quarter tsp
Pistachio pieces About one Tbsp to garnish
In a bowl take ghee and sugar and mix thoroughly until smooth and creamy. Keep aside.
In another bowl sieve the all purpose flour, Besan, baking powder and cardamom powder. Mix this to the sugar mixture, slowly and form into a dough. If needed add little bit of milk to bind. If a bit sticky dust a bit of flour. Let this sit for 15 to 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 390 degrees F. .
Form small balls from the rested dough, about a Tbsp measure each and slightly flatten them with the palm of your hands. Gently press a few pieces of Pistachios on top. You can also do without the nuts.
Bake at 330 degrees F for 15 to 18 minutes. Take them out of the oven and cool them on a wire rack.
Traditionally Nankhatais come plain. Garnishing with nuts is optional.
Baba is the Bengali word for Dad, Ma for Mum.