It’s Diwali, everyone, and hope yours is warm and fuzzy with family and friends, and filled with all the joy in the world.
Diwali is the time of year when most of us transplanted Indians, so far from the motherland, long to be back at least for a day. Or two or three or five, because that’s how long Diwali lasts. It’s the time India lights up with little earthen lamps, brilliant paper lanterns, and the assertive flare of firecrackers. It’s the time children strut around in shiny new clothes, men play cards for good luck in the new year, and women paint intricate patterns on the ground with colored sand to welcome the gods. In the country of a million colors there is no time more colorful than this.
Diwali is also the time for some delicious treats and each year I try to share one or two with you. This year I have for you what is arguably India’s favorite storebought sweet: Kaju Katli.
As easy as it is to make Kaju Katli in modern kitchens, most Indians back in the day I lived in India would buy it from halwais who sold them in glass-fronted shops. The ivory-white Kaju Katli may have looked like the plain cousin amidst tiers of jewel-colored sweets, but in fact it was the belle of the ball. The one everyone wanted to take home and devour.
It is hard to mess up Kaju Katli but there is one part where you do need to exercise some technique: the making of the sugar syrup. Make it too thin and it will keep your katli from solidifying. Make it too thick and the burfi will harden up on you instead of staying soft and mellifluous, the way it should.
Here’s the recipe. A glorious Diwali to all readers of Holy Cow! May your new year be sweet and filled with all of your favorite things.
- 1 cup cashew nuts, powdered in a clean coffee grinder or blender with 1 tsp of cornstarch. You want a fine powder with no pieces of cashew in there.
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ cup water
- ½ tsp powdered cardamom (green)
- A pinch of saffron threads
- ½ tsp walnut oil
- Place the sugar and water in a saucepan and let it come to a boil. Lower the heat to simmer, add the cardamom and saffron, and let the syrup cook about five minutes. Check it regularly to see if it has achieved a one-thread consistency. What this means is that when you place a drop of the hot sugar syrup on the tip of your thumb (don’t burn yourself) and touch the tip pf your forefinger to it, the syrup should pull up in a short thread as you separate the thumb and forefinger. If that is too complicated just get yourself a candy thermometer and take the syrup off the heat when the temperature reaches 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Easy.
- Heat a nonstick saucepan over low heat. Add the cashew powder and cook, stirring, about two minutes or until it is warmed through. Then add the sugar syrup to it. Turn off the heat and mix well. The mixture will start pulling away from the sides of the pan.
- At this point empty the cashew paste on a clean surface, rub some walnut oil on your palms and fingers, and knead the paste a few times until it looks really smooth.
- Pat the cashew paste into a greased plate or tray and spread it evenly. The layer should be about a quarter of an inch thick.
- Set the plate aside to cool completely, then cut into diamond shapes, the way Kaju Katli is always cut.