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Indian Inspiration

March 17, 2014

Perhaps the thing that excited me most about spending a year at the Institute for Advanced Study was the chance to live in a community of scholars from around the world. I entertained fantasies about hanging out with the other spouses and swapping recipes.

It hasn’t worked out exactly as planned. I did learn all about baba ganoush from our Israeli friends, as well as a proper respect for humus. And now I’m going through more jars of tahini than I had ever dreamed. That’s been fabulous.

Plus, I have signed up for a dosa making class that’s going to be taught by one of the moms from the nursery school later this spring. I love dosas and I’m really curious to see how those are translated to home cooking equipment.

Our downstairs neighbors are also from India, and while I haven’t learned any recipes from them, I’ve gotten something maybe more valuable. Inspiration.

These are the same neighbors who invited us over to their Diwali celebration. That was when I made my first ever Indian dessert, kesar kaju katli. It wasn’t a complete failure. The flavors were great, even if the texture didn’t quite come together. This dessert requires getting a sugar syrup to the right temperature, but all the recipes just described the properties of the sugar at the correct phase without any guidance as to how hot it should be.

It doesn’t really matter anyway, because I left my candy thermometer in Albany.

Actually, my candy thermometer was awful anyway. It’s been hard to justify getting a new one since I almost never fry and hardly ever deal with sugar syrups.

Although it looks like all of that is changing.

Regardless of my success with the recipe, it really made an impression on my neighbors. They don’t make sweets themselves. Much like me, they are generally inclined to buy them from those who are experts at the craft.

Recently they’ve had visitors from India, and those visitors have brought sweet treats from home. Some have made it up the stairs and into my hot little hands. The first delivery were some well made kaju katli so now I have a better sense of the texture that I’m working to achieve. I do really want to make those again. It’s like a cashew fudge.

The second delivery was like nothing I’ve ever tried before.

They were these golden squares with some nuts and seeds pressed into the top. But when you took a bite, it was sweet, and creamy, and crispy all at the same time. It was as if the treat was made of 10,000 layers of sugar and fat. What could these be and by what means could they come into this world?

The next day I was told they were made from chickpea flour and after a few minutes online I realized I had been gifted a few squares of soan papdi. But my hopes were dashed of making this at home after I watching the below video of its traditional preparation.

Well, that explains the layers.

Fortunately, I kept on looking. The internet is a wonderful place, and this fellow has a technique that looks much more friendly to the home cook. And now I really really want to make it.

But before I tackle this, I think it’s probably wise to pick up a candy thermometer. I’m going to learn from my mistakes and not make the same ones twice. Plus this still looks tricky, so I expect to make some other mistake the first time. However, our neighbors are very forgiving. They appreciate the effort over the execution.

And honestly, that’s a great way to get me cooking beyond my comfort zone.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Susan permalink
    March 17, 2014 12:50 pm

    Looks yummy! Love Cardamom

  2. EPT permalink
    March 17, 2014 6:05 pm

    Hope everyone washed their hands well ;-P

  3. March 17, 2014 9:30 pm

    My advice on Candy Thermometer: Look for one with the lowest bulb. Not necessarily the most expensive one – but one where the mercury bulb/base is the lowest to the bottom of the thermometer. I have had some where the bulb is almost an inch higher then the base of the thermometer and it can become nightmarish to get accurate readings because the heat of your syrup can fluctuate from top to bottom of the pot. A few degrees too high and you
    reach hard crack stage, possibly bringing your syrup to a point of no return.

  4. Lorres permalink
    March 19, 2014 10:43 am

    An old friend and I nearly hurt ourselves eating the pieces of broken dosas with our stuffing as we tried, tried and tried again to get them to stay whole. We kept thinking if we tried just one more time we’d get it. When you learn the secret, PLEASE pass it along!!!

  5. EPT permalink
    March 19, 2014 4:05 pm

    What you may want to consider instead of a candy thermometer, is a wire whisk that has a temperature sensor in it. I think it be more useful.

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