Diwali faral: Shankarpali

The blue glow of the gas flame cast as eerie flickering glow on my kitchen walls. It was a bright, crisp November morning but my kitchen is at the back of my apartment. It has no windows and only enjoys borrowed light from my living room unless I turn on the lamp overhead. There was no need for that to heat a cup of water for tea.

Stirring the chai in my cup. I contemplated what sweet should be made for Diwali, which has approached much too fast this year. (Weren’t we just celebrating Holi?) I had the savoury portion covered with the poha chivda I made earlier this week. I just needed on sweet thing to complete the picture. I didn’t really want to step out to the shops today. Looking around, I saw my AP flour jar and immediately knew it was going to be shankarpali. It takes some doing but the ingredient list is three things: flour, sugar and ghee.
As I stood there in the kitchen, wondering how I could mess with mom’s base recipe to make it my own, I could hear her voice in the kitchen of my childhood. As these sounds come to you unbidden, so do the visions. Just like that, I was back in my teens, being rounded up by my mom to help with the annual batch of Diwali snacks.

Come on, kid. Put down that book and come help me in the kitchen. No, don’t even think of whining about it. Come the first day of Diwali, you’ll be first in line to eat everything.

I collect the ingredients on the counter and can hear her calling out to me and my sister as we push each other around in the kitchen.

Stop fidgeting. I’m going to make the dough. Sharmila, get the syrup going. Priya, you’re going to cut them this year. Stop, no arguing. You’re older, your sister is not going near the fire.

I measure out the ingredients for the syrup and get it going. I see the pot from another time bubbling in front of me and hear her again.

Mom: Is the mohan ready?

Us: Is what ready?

Mom: Mohan. That thing you’ve been stirring for the last twenty minutes.

Us: *giggle* Is that what it’s called in Marathi? But that’s your cousin’s name! He’s named after syrup?!? *uncontrollable giggling from both me and Priya*

Mom: Seriously you girls. You know the same word can refer to different things. No, he is not named after syrup.

I pour the syrup into my KitchenAid, silently thankful that I don’t have to mess around with warm syrup the way my mother used to. I decide almond flour will be my special touch. I love the nuttiness it imparts to everything it is in. I add a mixture of that and AP flour to the cooling syrup. I watch the dough hook knead the dough and can hear her tell me about how it needs to be spongy but not sticky. I take it out of the bowl, divide it into six large parts and start rolling. The dough yields easily to the rolling pin and within seconds I’m staring at a large white disc in front of me.

Priya, now just cut as straight as you can. The wheel will do all the work. Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect. Wait, that doesn’t mean you can try to cut circles. Or squares. A square is not a diamond. Now come on, on a diagonal like I showed you.

I dive into my cabinets to locate my spoon with the crimped cutting wheel, the one I had bought on my last trip to India with the express idea of using them for shankarpali. I wish my sister was here with me, but she’s fast asleep on the other side of the world. So I do the best I can in the cutting department, put a mixture of ghee and oil in a deep pot and start the frying.

Watch the frying pieces. No, you cannot walk away to take that phone call. You have to watch this or it will burn.

Sadly, I didn’t learn that lesson quite well. I step away to answer the door and chat with my neighbour until my nose tells me something is wrong. Running back to the kitchen, I see that first batch has gone much darker than I need it to be. Then I hear mom talking about not keeping the flame quite on high, but not quite on low. I adjust the flame and try again. This time I watch it like  hawk. The second batch turns a familiar pink before it gently goes golden brown. I risk third degree burns popping a couple of squares in my mouth. Just like home.

Mom, I make these all by myself now. The edges aren’t too straight and they are square shaped, but I think you’d be proud.

Makes about 2 pounds or so

AP flour – 4 cups
Almond flour/meal – 1 cup
Ghee – 1 cup
Water – 1 cup
Sugar – 1-1/4 cup
Baking powder – a pinch
Salt – a pinch
Ghee/Oil for frying

– In a mixing bowl, sieve the flours, baking powder and salt together.
– In a thick bottom pan, pour the water, sugar and ghee. Stir to dissolve the sugar.
– Heat the syrup (yup, it’s called mohan in Marathi) to a boil. Take it off the fire as soon as it does. Don’t try to taste it. It tastes of nothing. Have faith, it’s all going to work out.
(Here’s the tricky part. You are supposed to let the syrup cool off slightly but not go cold, only cold enough that you can stick your hands in the dough it is helping bind. I sidestep this Russian roulette with burned hands by using my Kitchen Aid.)
– Pour the syrup into the bowl of your choice. If using your Kitchen aid, use the dough hook. Add the flour a cup at a time and let the machine go at its slowest speed. Keep adding the dough cup by cup, waiting till the previous addition is incorporated. After all of the flour has been added, let the machine knead the dough until it comes together in a large ball and is smooth and no longer sticking to the sides of the bowl.
– Divide the dough into six or seven large rounds. Pat one round down on the surface and roll it out flat, about the thickness of a thick naan.
– Cut into the traditional diamond shape (or use a cookie cutter and make what shapes you like.)
– In a dutch oven or similar vessel heat some ghee or neutral high heat oil like grapeseed for deep frying. Fry the shankarpalli in batches. They will start going rosy and then golden. You can’t leave them unattended because they can go black fairly quickly from rosy.
– Place on a kitchen paper lined plate until cool. Store in an airtight bag or bin for upto a month.

Elsewhere on Diwali:

– Need more food ideas? Siri at Cooking with Siri has this fabulous roundup of a hundred ideas for Diwali snacking. Check it out.
I love phuljhadis. The firecrackers in this post is really mking me miss India something fierce.