That I have a sweet tooth is no secret around here. Neither is the fact that I love baking, which allows me to be both creative (results of said creativity do vary) and to eat the results. Which, as much as I love writing, is a small failing of that particular creative endeavour. No one wants to chew on a paperback.
Because most of the food chatter around here is limited to baked goods, however, you might be forgiven for thinking that’s the only sort of eating I enjoy. Not so. I love food. And what I tend to really love is trying different cuisines. Turkish and Lebanese are current favourites, as for a veggie they’re packed with flavour and variety and lots of goodness, although I will also always love Mexican. And Thai. And … well, pretty much anything meat-free and tasty.
One of the joys of travel, for me, is trying different foods. Mint tea and stuffed flatbreads in Moroccan street stalls. Drinking coconuts and eating market food with unfamiliar names in Singapore, straight off the plane and completely jetlagged. Little Turkish restaurants tucked away from the main thoroughfares and peopled by sleeping cats. Or just a really good market anywhere, with food trucks of all sorts of specialities. It’s fun, and it’s interesting, and sometimes you discover new favourites.
And what’s also interesting, is what a melting pot our way of eating has become. Since the days of explorers coming home with mysterious spices and unfamiliar fruits to today, when watching Bake Off sends us in search of rosewater and cactus stems (okay, the cactus may not have been on Bake Off. I’m still looking for them, though). We borrow and steal from a hundred different cultures when it comes to cooking, and combine and cross-breed them to make something new. My mum loved Chinese food, and was very good at cooking it, so we ate a lot of it when I was growing up. One of my aunts is Fijian-Indian, and her dahl is my ultimate comfort food, tasting as much of love as it does of spice. As an adult, I rarely cook anything I’d class as traditional New Zealand dishes. I steal from everywhere when it comes to cooking.
And I think it’s wonderful. Food and cooking, I firmly believe (and have said before), have a way of crossing boundaries. They’re a shared language, one we can all understand and believe in. Sharing food can speak for us when we can’t, heal rifts and build bridges and offer friendship. It can say sorry, or thank you, or even just I see you.
It can mean an awful lot more than dinner.
All of which is a really long way off my point, which is this: although I love lots of savoury dishes from many different cuisines, I’m weirdly unadventurous when it comes to dessert. I like cake and cookies, and mostly English or American style ones. I’ve never really tried much else, and I have no idea why. I can see this will have to be remedied (oh, the hardship!).
And for Game of Scones, book 4 in the Beaufort Scales cozy mystery series (which is out on the first of November, and up for pre-order now!), I needed a Priya-specific cookie. Because although she lives in the most English of Yorkshire villages, she still carries the tradition of her own cooking with her, as we all do. Research was required, and I settled on nankhatai as being a popular and well-known biscuit from Northern India. There were an awful lot of variations to it, and after some muddling and tweaking to make sure it was going to be something most of us wouldn’t have to buy special ingredients for, I settled on a version I liked the sound of (if you’re interested in a proper version, and would like to know more about nankhatai you should definitely take a look online – I started here and here).
Never having tried it before, and being a bit wary about the amount of cardamom in it (because that stuff is glorious, but it’s also very strong), I made the terrible mistake of making only half a batch. I don’t recommend that. These are delectable. Delicately spiced, with a soft crumb and gentle crunch, I will never be making English shortbread again.
And I shall most definitely be exploring more interesting baked goods. Because research.
Now tell me, lovely people – what’s the best dessert you’ve had from a different cuisine to your own? Let me know below!
- 120g icing sugar
- 280g butter/ghee (the SO said to clarify the butter, but that seemed like hard work)
- 320g flour
- 1/8 tsp baking powder
- 1/8 tsp baking soda
- 100g semolina
- 1 tsp cardamom
- 4 tbsp ground almonds (or a mix of ground almonds and ground pistachios)
- Almonds or pistachios to garnish
Pre-heat oven to 180C, and line two baking sheets.
Beat butter/ghee and icing sugar until light and fluffy, about 10 minutes – a standing mixer is your friend, as if you’re anything like me using a handheld one results in the kitchen looking like it’s been snowing lightly.
Combine all dry ingredients and add to creamed butter and sugar. Mix very gently, just until combined and the dough is starting to stick together.
Scoop roughly a heaped tablespoon of dough and roll gently into a ball – you’ll get around 30. Place on baking sheets and flatten slightly. They won’t spread much, so you can fit quite a few on a tray. You can put a pattern on the top with a fork or by cutting a criss-cross pattern in them, and top with extra almonds or pistachios (if the dough feels really soft, or it’s particularly hot where you are, you might want to pop them in the fridge for half an hour to firm up before baking).
Bake for about 10 minutes, or until golden and softly browned on the bases.
I didn’t even bother waiting for them to cool before starting in …