Monday, June 13, 2011

Baking basics: Jeera Biscuit

I spend a lot of luggage-space bringing back food from India, both when we travel (which isn't often enough) and when I get my MIL to visit us. This past month, while A was busy finalizing his mom's travel plans, I was scribbling down hundreds of "most wanted" items. Then everything went haywire when he told me the new Airlines baggage policy, and asked me to pare down my list....to almost nothing! The first things that got thrown off the list were my Jeera Biscuits, ostensibly because these are available in Indian stores in US. A refuses to believe that somehow the ones from back home are just different. Not to mention that they evoke special memories for me..........

I must have been all of 6 or 7yrs old when my mom's biological parents, my real naana- naani, abandoned their wanderings and finally came to settle in a city called Bhatinda, in Punjab. For years after that, our summer vacations were split into 2; we spent the first week or so in Bhatinda, and then continued our journey to my mom's foster parents in Rajasthan for the remainder. As soon as we landed at naani's, she'd corner my mom and they'd huddle together and weigh "Char pao atta, ek pao ghee, do pao cheeni" for every batch of cookies made by the local baker. The first morning of our stay in Punjab, my naani would pack off my then-teenaged uncle with me in tow, loaded with a bags-ful of flour and sugar, and lots of home-made ghee, to be delivered at the baker's. The baker was actually a full-time Gwala minding a big herd of cows, while his wife did the cooking and baking to supplement their income. The catch to their arrangement being that you had to buy the milk needed in your recipe from them, plus pay them money for time.  While my uncle played cricket with the baker's boys, I'd sit and watch his wife mix flour, fire up her oven and bake our cookies- jeera biscuit, ajwain biscuit and marori. More often than not, she'd hand me a few hot-from the oven- first batch ....and those cookies were so good. I ate them for breakfast, lunch and dinner; plus we came back to Delhi with a huge supply as well!. 

So when A scrapped down my Jeera Biscuits from the "most-wanted' list, these measurements somehow resurfaced in my head, in my naani's voice. And I decided try to recreate some of that taste by myself. 'If it doesn't work, I'll still get my supply from India- Airline policy or not'. This is the reason behind trying my hand at baking cookies.

Jeera Biscuits
(Cumin topped butter cookies)


Whole wheat flour (atta) 1 cup
Butter (salted) 4 Tbsp (1/4cup)
Brown sugar 1/2 cup
Baking powder 1/3 tsp
Milk 2-4Tbsp

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in the microwave (took about 45 seconds for me).
  2. Sift the flour and baking powder. Add the sugar and mix with your fingers.
  3. Start adding the melted butter slowly, till it is all used up. At this point, my flour resembled very wet sand, but did not hold together.
  4. Add the milk now- 1Tbsp at a time, and try to get the dough to stick together. Do not over work it. (It took a little more than 3 Tbsp milk for my dough to come together).
  5. Let rest for 10 min. Then break off little balls of dough (about the size you use for making rotis), flatten them between your palms lightly and press them in some cumin seeds (jeera). Place all your cookies on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  6. Brush cookies with some butter, and bake for 12-15 minutes. They will be very soft, and harden up as they cool.
My 2 cents: After I wrote up this post with the word 'biscuits' in there a hundred times, I realized that in US, people would probably call them cookies - for they are kind of sweet and salty. But in India, 'biscuits' are any kind of shortbread, normally dunked in tea and indulged in during tea time!

These cookies/ biscuits were such a roaring success, I couldn't believe it myself. They were a tad too sweet for me- I don't know if using brown sugar is the reason behind this. But A did not care. He ate most of these cookies the first day. I got about 12 cookies with these ingredients. According to my naani's measurements (that I seem to remember); flour: butter: sugar ratio is 4:1:2. I used salted butter, so if you're using unsalted, you might have to add some salt as well. 

And finally, a little good-to-know trick I stumbled upon while making these cookies. My brown sugar was totally hydrated, rock solid. So, I put it in the oven, while it was preheating, for about 2 min. And it was back to its soft powdery form again!!

So....I guess this means that Jeera Biscuits won't be coming in my MIL's baggage anymore! 
Hearth and Soul Hop at Sunshine and SmileSending this to Hearth & Soul Blog Hop.