THE elderly bespectacled vendor with a tin-and-glass box hanging around his neck was a regular on the street I lived as a child. He used to sell biscuits – baked white/brown cookies known as “Hazaribagh-er biscuit (biscuits from Hazaribagh)”. Our erstwhile district headquarter town was located 60 kilometres away from Jhumri Telaiya (now in Koderma district). I never asked anybody why the biscuits were called so, but knew they were manufactured in Hazaribagh, and realised much later that since Jhumri Telaiya did not have any bakery of its own, it was because of its bakeries that the neighbouring town got this patent. I liked the cookies very much, though did not get to eat them too often.
Bakery biscuits are still a favourite with me. And I don’t have to go to Hazaribagh to get them. They are available everywhere now, even in Jhumri Telaiya. Among the cookies the old man sold were nankhatais, the one I liked the most, though I was enlightened about the name much later.
I have tasted several versions of the baked beauty till now – some too hard, some extra sweet, some fluffy, some superbly crispy, some soft and some flavoured. The one I remember distinctly was the homemade lot my mother-in-law had brought when she visited me for the first time after the wedding. Needless to say, I immediately took the recipe from her and decided to try. But my microwave of the basic model failed to deliver.
Two years later, when I bought an OTG, nankhatai was, of course, the first thing I tried out. It turned out edible, but not anywhere near the perfect taste. But I did not give up this time, and after several trials and errors, saw success finally.
The successful attempt encouraged me to bake more stuff. And I fell in love with my small and cheap OTG that has since churned out several masterpieces, making fun of the expensive microwave that sits next to it and occupies more space but is used mostly for heating food. After my old microwave conked off earlier this year, I spent a lot of money on the new one hoping to expand my horizon and bake things I could not in my small OTG. But coming with fixed settings for specific items, I have to stick to the recipes offered by it. Though it gives me a perfect pizza and bakes the near-perfect nankhatais, I still prefer OTG for my shepherd’s pie, apple pie, tarts, quiches and calzones.The microwave has, however, finally convinced me that they too can dish out good cakes. Talking about cakes, I must say have come a long way — from the tawa top burnt-bottoms to oven-baked double-flavoured ones. My next post will be dedicated to cakes. Please stay tuned.
Today’s food for thought: The good old Nankhatai, what else! Try it and let me know.
Maida: 150 g
Rava: 50 g
Powdered sugar: 80 g (negotiable according to taste)
Butter: 100 g
Vanilla/butterscotch essence: 1 tsp (you can use any essence of your choice, or no essence at all)
Baking powder: 1 tsp
Beat the butter and sugar powder until fluffy; add the essence of your choice, maida, rava and baking powder one by one and keep beating (you can add a pinch of salt if using unsalted butter); the dough should be a little grainy but firm enough to take the shape of balls; flatten the balls a little (you can give them the shape of your choice) and put on an oven-proof tray; bake in the preheated oven at 180 degrees Celsius till golden brown.
Last words: Nankhatais taste best if prepared with butter. But I do not use butter all the time, mainly because it’s not very easy to find unsalted butter in local markets. You can replace butter with vanaspati (Dalda/Rath), and just see it’s consumed soon. But then they taste so good that they won’t last long, I can guarantee. Remember to maintain a proper gap between two balls when you place them in the oven. Once raised, they may overlap otherwise.