Tuesday, October 19, 2010
This is one of my favorite Indian mithais (literally ‘sweets’). It seems to be Gujarati in origin since most of my Indian friends have never heard of it. Like so many mithais, its basic ingredients are a combination of flour, sugar, butter and milk. While often too sweet and rich for the Western palate, mithais are widely enjoyed by South Asians in the homeland and diaspora.
They are traditionally eaten on special occasions, and are not really equivalent to daily desserts which have become a modern custom in North America. Often, families will make platters of various kinds of mithais and send them to neighbors and friends in anticipation of Divali, Eid or other festive occasions.
Growing up in Calgary, we had a family friend who was renowned for her monthar. She would make it in great slabs studded with nuts and saffron threads. While I was away at college and graduate school, this was a favorite treat for me to pick up on my trips home. I’d usually freeze the whole batch, and defrost one square at a time.
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon orange food color powder
1 lb unsalted butter (4 sticks)
1lb gram flour (also called besan or chickpea flour)
1 cup evaporated milk
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon saffron
1/2 cup almonds and pistachios, chopped (optional)
1. Boil sugar, water and food color until 240F on a candy thermometer. It can also be tested by dropping a small amount on a plate. It will form a soft ball when it is at the right temperature.
2. In a large saucepan, heat the butter and using a spoon carefully skim off as much of the foam as possible. Then decant the butter, discarding the milk solids that have settled on the bottom of the pan. Return butter to pan.
3. On medium heat, add flour and sauté until golden brown. This can take 10-20 minutes so be patient.
4. Increase the heat slightly and slowly add evaporated milk, stirring constantly.
5. Add the syrup mixture and remove from heat. Add nutmeg, cardamom and saffron and stir well.
6. Allow the mixture to cool for 5 minutes, and then stir the mixture until it thickens.
7. Spread in a 9 x 9 inch pan and sprinkle with nuts. Using the back of a spoon, pat down gently to ensure the nuts are properly attached.
8. When cool, cut into 1 inch squares.
9. Store in the refrigerator for 3 weeks or the freezer for 3 months.