Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Cardamom Chocolate Shortbread (Nan Khatai)

Growing up, nan khatai were one of my favorite treats. I couldn’t resist their rich, buttery sweetness, especially hot from the oven. I remember sneaking tastes of dough from the bowl behind my mother’s back (in the days before I was concerned about raw eggs and salmonella). My mom mostly made plain nan khatai, decorating each with a fingerprint of green food coloring. An aunt later introduced us to the chocolate swirl nan khatais which are a delicious alternative.

Given the similarity to European shortbread, I decided to do some web research which revealed that since the 17th century shortbread-like cookies were made in Western India and were popular among European sailors. Later cookies were also imported from England. However, during the swadeshi movement for Indian self-reliance, such cookies were produced locally in tandoor ovens. Nan khatais are believed to have originated in Surat, a large port city and district in Gujarat. These confections are particularly popular in Bombay, which has a large Gujarati population. They are also common in Pakistan.

Online I found a reference to nuncatie, a variation of nan khatai, which was given two possible etymologies: from a Persian word meaning the “bread of Cathay or China” or from the Persian words nan (meaning bread) and khat (meaning six, referring to the six component ingredients – flour, eggs, sugar, ghee (butter), leavening and almonds).

This version of the peripatetic nan khatai comes to you from Chicago by way of Canada and Kenya.

Makes 48 cookies

2 cups unsalted butter (4 sticks), at room temperature
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 egg (optional, see note below)
5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup semolina
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cardamom
2 tablespoons cocoa (optional)
whole almonds (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 300 F. Grease or line baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a medium-sized bowl, mix flour, semolina, baking powder and cardamom. Set aside.
3. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar until fluffy, approximately 3 minutes. Add egg and mix well. You can omit the egg or replace it with 2-4 tablespoons of whole milk. If you do, the baked cookies will have a crackled (instead of smooth) surface.
4. Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. It may take a few minutes to incorporate all the flour. Don't feel obligated to use all the flour if your dough is becoming dry. Add milk to soften the dough again.
5. To form cookies, roll 2 tablespoons of dough between the palms of your hands to form a circular disk (thicker in the middle than at the edges). Place on a baking sheet and flatten slightly.
6. To decorate, gently press an almond into the center of each cookie.
7. If you would rather make chocolate nan khatais, place 1/4 of the dough in a small bowl and add cocoa. Incorporate cocoa by kneading. Take dough in the proportion of 1:3 (chocolate to unflavored) and roll both pieces into tubes of the same length (the chocolate tube will be much thinner). Roughly braid the tubes and roll the nan khatai in your hands until the doughs swirl. Place on baking sheet and flatten slightly.
8. Bake for 20-22 minutes at 300 F, until you see a hint of color. Do not bake until golden brown. Remove immediately to a wire rack to prevent further baking. Once cool, cookies should break easily but not be crumbly. If the cookies are crisp, then they were over-baked.


Nandita said...

this truly looks like a work of art! the most beautiful nankhatais i've seen

Manisha said...

These are gorgeous! I love the ones with the swirl!

I am intrigued by the connection to Kenya as we lived there for a while, too!

Patricia said...

Cookies are fabulous but my swirls don't come out as pretty as yours. Can you give me some more detailed inx an/or pics of how you braid the two colored doughs together ( 1/3 proportions) to make this pattern? many thanks

Ruchi said...

I am so glad I found your blog... this is just what I was looking for my son's lunch box!

I am going to try it out soon.


Anonymous said...

can u show how u braid two colour doughs together tks

Anonymous said...

I'm the owner of this blog. I made this recipe again tonight and I think the flour should be reduced to 4.5 cups (instead of 5 cups).

Happy baking,

Anonymous said...

I'm the owner of this blog. I made this recipe again and I used two eggs instead of one to give the cookie a smoother surface texture.