Nankhatai (Indian Shortbread)

Duration: 45 mins

Serves: 15

“Most of our childhood is stored not in photos, but in certain biscuits, lights of day, smells, textures of carpet.” – Alain de Botton

That is so true, isn’t it? Sometimes you come across a familiar scent that instantly reminds you of the lingering smells of childhood and brings to life a forgotten memory. Such is my connection with the smells of freshly baked ‘Nankhatai’ wafting through the air. It takes me back to my childhood days and the sweet smells of nostalgia – of my visits to the small bakery with my grandfather on cold winter mornings when he would indulge me with patties, ‘jeera’ biscuits, pastries and of course the quintessential Indian shortbread – Nankhatai.

These buttery, perfectly crumbly, melt-in-the-mouth treats really capture the essence of tea-time in Indian homes and go back to the 16th century. It is derived from the Persian word ‘Naan’ – a type of flatbread and ‘Khatai’ – an Afghan word for biscuit and popularly known as ‘Kulcha-e-Khataye’ in Afghanistan and Iran.

When the Dutch were leaving India, the owners of a bakery in Surat (Gujarat) handed it over to an enterprising Parsi employee, called Faramji Pestonji Dotivala. However he soon realised that the bakery, which initially catered to the Dutch populace in Surat, didn’t really suit the local’s taste. In order to save his bakery, Dotivala started selling dried Dutch bread (made with palm toddy for fermentation) at cheap prices. The distinct flavour of the bread combined with a local sweet called ‘Dal’, became very popular and later was known as the ‘Irani Biscuit’. He then went on to create numerous types of biscuits – the butter biscuits and ‘Nankhatai’ being the most popular ones.

There are few variations to the century-old recipe which has survived the test of time, so feel free to top it with cardamom, pistachio, jam or cherries – whatever catches your fancy!

     Ingredients

  • 1 cup solid ghee (clarified butter)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup besan (chickpea flour)
  • 1/2 cup semolina
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp cardamom powder
  • 1/4 cup pistachios (roughly chopped)
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence (optional)
  • A pinch of salt

Method

  • Line a baking tray with baking paper. 
  • Preheat oven to 180ºC.
  • Whisk the ghee and sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy.
  • In a separate bowl, mix together the rest of the ingredients (except the pistachios).
  • Combine it gently to the ghee and sugar mixture.
  • Roll them into small, slightly flattened balls and line them on the baking tray. 
  • Make a light impression with your thumb or knuckle on the top of each ball and place few chopped pistachios. 
  • Let them chill in the freezer for 10 mins.
  • Bake in the oven for 15-16 mins.
  • Let it cool for couple of hours.
  • Enjoy the melt-in-the-mouth delight.