There’s a photo of me that sometimes pops up on the Internet where I’m sitting on a kitchen floor, with my hands in a large kadhai (wok), grinning like crazy. It was taken a few years ago at Diwali time, at a friend’s house in Madhya Pradesh while we were making laddoos and I was deliriously happy to be helping out. Whenever that picture appears, it makes me smile, transporting me back to a room heady with sugar, ghee, spices and toasted chickpea flour. On that afternoon, all the women of the family and neighbourhood had been enlisted to make festive sweets—as well as several types of laddoo, chirote and anarse. When we’d finished, the sweets were carefully packed away into tins, some for the household and others for neighbours and kitchen staff to take home and share with their families.
I happened to see that picture this morning and I suddenly longed for a laddoo, to taste that faint hint of cardamom as it crumbles on my tongue. As we’re in the run-up to Christmas and we also make sweets and biscuits to give to friends and family, I wondered if I could somehow incorporate the essence of laddoo in my baking. One of the things that stuck with me about that lovely Diwali sweet-making session, was that although most of the sweets contained no more than two or three main ingredients, there were very precise methods involved in making them. The key to great nutty flavour of besan ke laddoo, I discovered, is the long, slow roasting of the chickpea flour.
In Scotland, shortbread is often made and given as a Christmas and New Year gift. Like the laddoo, it has few ingredients but they have to be treated properly to produce the perfect combination of delicate buttery flavour and soft, sugary crunch. A good plain shortbread is a beautiful thing but it is also a good basis for experimentation. I’ve substituted some of the traditional plain flour for chickpea flour that I gently roasted in the oven until the kitchen smelled like an Indian sweet shop.
The result? A perfect blend of laddoo and shortbread that would make a great Christmas gift, especially for anyone homesick for laddoos.
Makes 18 pieces
80g besan (chickpea flour)
120g soft butter
60g caster sugar—if you have some jaggery, use that
100g plain flour (maida)
1 tsp ground cardamom
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Line a large baking sheet with greaseproof paper. Spread the chickpea flour on to another baking tin and put it in the oven for about 15 minutes, until it’s a pale honey colour and the kitchen smells delicious. Mix the flour around every 5 minutes to ensure it toasts evenly. Let the roasted chickpea flour cool before using. Reduce the oven temperature to 160 degrees Celsius.
Meanwhile, beat together the soft butter and sugar either with a handheld mixer or a wooden spoon until soft and fluffy. When the chickpea flour has cooled, add it to the butter/sugar mixture along with the plain flour and cardamom. Mix again until a ball of dough is formed, finishing with your hands if the mixture doesn’t come together with the mixer.
Put a large piece of greaseproof paper on the work surface. Put the ball of dough on top of the paper, then gently roll it out to a thickness of about 2-3mm. Cut it into your preferred shape, then place the biscuits, about 1cm apart, on the baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper. Bake for 20-30 minutes—turn the tray around halfway through to ensure an even bake. The biscuits should only be a couple of shades darker than the uncooked dough.
Take the tray out of the oven and leave the biscuits to cool on the tray for about 5 minutes before lifting them gently on to a rack to cool completely.
The Way We Eat Now is a fortnightly column on new ways of cooking seasonal fruits, vegetables and grains. Pamela Timms tweets at @eatanddust and posts on Instagram as Eatanddust.