Fresh breads and biscuits in India are widely available everywhere. Bakeries have been around for a good few years in the country where influences stemmed from the British Raj, Portuguese and Iranian immigrants in the 1950’s and 60’s that brought in ideas and recipes starting out small shops that stand till this date. Most bakeries I have visited with my family make all the goodies fresh and are usually sold out by the end of the day. There are a host of biscuits available in these bakeries and some varieties are so popular that in spite of making 200-400 kilograms of them daily; they are sold out by 3pm!
Visiting a busy bakery is as much fun as it is hectic. My mother and I would get there early in the morning so we could get a fresh batch of warm white bread. Though we were always prepared to queue for at least half an hour because it was just so worth it. Freshly baked sour dough, biscuits and even Madeira cake were all made on the day and sold within no time. Coming back home all stocked up on the goods it was time for a cup of tea and warm crusty bread smeared with softened Amul butter – a local Indian butter which has a distinct taste and is a must try for anyone visiting. Even today there is nothing like warm buttered bread and hot cuppa. Or what I enjoy first thing most mornings; dunking freshly baked biscuits in a warm cup of tea.
I have to say my all time favourite biscuits from Indian bakeries have to be the famous ‘Naankhatai’ biscuits. They are moreish, not too sweet and very very comforting any time of the day. One of the reasons these biscuits are quite famous in India is they are eggless and appeals to vegetarians in the country (a large population in India) as a snack option. Also most cities have small bakeries where these are freshly baked but with the dearth of superstores opening naankhatais are also available pre packed and ready to sell with longer shelf life.
There are a few similarities to shortbread biscuits but alas we don’t get naankhatais in England. Like a lot of things that I yearn for from my childhood I think the best way to emulate the experience and the memories is to create them in my own kitchen. These are so easy to bake and I have kept the recipe fairly straight forward with ready to use ingredients. Once done they don’t really last very long in my household!
The recipes in a lot of places vary ever so slightly but the basic ingredients always remain the same. Some bakers do add a small proportion of chickpea flour whilst I know a lot of them who don’t. I have included it as it helps hold the biscuit together and gives a slight heaviness to the biscuit with a pasty texture when you eat which I think is quite addictive.
Preheat the oven to 175c and lightly grease a baking tray. In a bowl sieve plain flour, chick pea flour, semolina, cardamom powder, cinnamon powder and baking powder and set aside. In a separate bowl beat together the butter and sugar until pale yellow and fluffy. Add the flour mix to the sugar & butter and knead to form a smooth dough.
Divide into small portions and flatten in circles pressing down lightly. Place each piece on the baking tray about 2cm apart and bake for 12 minutes until down. Cool on a wire rack and store in a jar for up to two weeks.