Christmas is without doubt the most magical of all times. For me, it is a time of introspection as well. Coming on the heels of Thanksgiving, the timing cannot be perfect. A holiday to show gratitude and another that promises us God’s infinite grace. It’s all a little too much for mere mortals to absorb!
The Christmases of my childhood and that of my son are definitely different. I used to look forward to my annual Christmas dress most of all. Birthdays and Christmases were usually when kids got special outfits. There were no weekly sales and Black Friday deals to tempt our mothers. Growing up in India, Santa was more of a jolly character who led the carol rounds rather than the bringer of toys as my son knows him.
But here too, the air is thick with anticipation, just how I remember it from my childhood. My son looks forward to winter break with the same zeal that I once showed. He helps me count down the days beginning from Advent and loves the sparkly Christmas decorations around the house. Everybody I know is talking about Christmas. It truly is magical, no?
Living in this foreign land, I can but try to make our own family traditions. Baking Christmas cookies is one. All these different types of Christmas cookies were not known to me as a child. Indian homes rarely had ovens. My mother had a small Japanese tabletop model that looked more like a UFO than an oven! She religiously made simple cakes probably once every month, and that’s about how much it got used till the convection oven came along.
For Christmas, the goodies were mostly Indian. There were the famous ladoos, jalebis and burfis, of course. Then there were the more traditional regional favorites, all mostly fried goodies – adhirasams, munthiri kothu, achu murukku and other murukkus. We definitely did Christmas the Indian way. And no, sadly, I haven’t yet perfected any of those said recipes. Maybe one day…
But times have changed and we have embraced baking and baked goods with as much love as everything else. While I was contemplating all these, I felt it was only apt that I begin this season’s baking with one very Indian recipe.
Nankhatais are Indian bakery style biscuits (that’s cookies for those in the US) similar to a Scottish shortbread cookie. All it requires are flour, fat and sugar. As with any Indian recipe, there are umpteen variations to the recipe. Mostly, clarified butter (ghee) is the preferred fat. But in a pinch, you can use softened butter as well. As for the flours, sometimes all-purpose flour alone is used, but in many places chickpeas flour (besan) and semolina (sooji) too are added. From what I could understand, the semolina makes the cookies crisp and the besan sort of adds a nutty mellowness to every bite. I have tried said flours in different proportions as well, so as long as you maintain the basic flour to fat to sugar ratio, the cookies will turn out fine. And then, there are the flavorings. This one has hints of rose and cardamom. Truly exotic! Santa would love that, won’t he? I am positive he will polish off this platter in no time, these cookies are so good!
There are just a couple of things you need to be careful about here. Firstly, the ghee or butter must be just softened but still thick, and should never be melted or completely runny. I like to add just a bit of leavening, but some traditional recipes skip it. These cookies are definitely always eggless and can be lactose-free as well if you use good-quality ghee. I also add a touch of salt, because nankhatais always have a slight salty undertone. The best cookies always do, in my opinion.
The dough will be very soft as well. You can treat it like any cookie dough and chill it to make it easier to handle. I like to chill my formed cookies as well before baking. That extra step truly is the difference between perfect cookies and just “okay” ones. Trust me.
- All-purpose flour (maida) - 1 cup
- Chickpea flour (besan) - ½ cup, the fine variety
- Semolina (sooji) - ½ cup, the fine variety
- Salt - ¼ tsp
- Baking soda - scant ½ tsp
- Cardamom powder - ¼ tsp
- Ghee or butter - ¾ cup, softened at room temperature, but not melted
- Powdered sugar - 1 cup
- Rose water - ½ tsp
- Dried rose petals - 1 tbsp, chopped
- Almond flakes - 2 tbsp, chopped
- Sift the dry ingredients together and set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, beat the ghee/butter for a minute till smooth. Add sugar and beat on medium speed to combine. Increase the speed and beat for 2-3 minutes till the mixture is pale and fluffy. Add rose water and mix to combine.
- Add the sifted dry ingredients and combine to form a smooth dough. The dough will be very soft and a bit sticky. Gather to make a ball, cover with cling wrap and chill for 20-30 minutes.
- Meanwhile pre-heat the oven to 350 deg.F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Remove dough from the refrigerator and gently smooth the dough ball with your hands. Using a tablespoon measure or a small cookie scoop, take small portions of dough and smooth into a slightly flat disc. Press a few rose petals and almond pieces on the top of each cookie. Space cookies apart on the baking sheet as they will expand while baking. Chill the formed cookies for 10 minutes if possible.
- Place the baking sheet in the oven, reduce oven temperature to 325 deg.F and bake for 20-25 minutes. Cookies should not be browned on top, only their bottoms will be lightly golden. Cookies will be soft to the touch out of the oven, but will turn crisp as they cool.
- Using a flat spatula, remove cookies gently onto a wire rack. Cool completely before storing in an airtight container. Cookies will keep well for at least a week. Enjoy with milk for the little ones or a cup of hot chai for you!
2. Make sure the ghee or butter you use is just softened and at room temperature. It should not be melted all the way and completely runny. This will affect the texture of the cookies.
3. Try different flavor pairings. Use vanilla essence and chocolate chips or rose and pistachios.
4. Technically, you can bake these cookies right away, but it just makes it easier once it is chilled for just a short time.
5. You can shape the cookie dough into a log and freeze to make slice and bake cookies too.
Notice that I pre-heated the oven to the traditional 350 deg.F mark and then baked the cookies at a reduced temperature of 325 deg.F. This helps the cookies cook properly while still retaining their pale color.
I hope you will try these cookies soon. Set some of these beauties out for Santa this year. I am sure, he’d appreciate it! Or better yet, don’t wait for a reason to bake these beauties. These are simple everyday cookies, easy to make and simply melt-in-your-mouth delicious!!
Need more cookie inspiration? Go here and see all my cookie recipes at once.
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