Note: This post was drafted in January just after Sankranti. I never got around posting it. I am doing it now because it is a precious recipe with wonderful results.
"What are you making?", asked my 7 year old. It was cold outside and hinted of snow. She was housebound and hovered around the kitchen.
"Pithey", I said, not wanting to go into details at that moment. Pithey was not my strong point and I needed all the concentration I could muster.
"Whaat, a back, how can you make a back ?", she was bewildered.
She was familiar with the only meaning of pithe in the bengali language, which meant the back of the human body. She had no clue about the sweeter meaning of the word, a dessert that is strongly associated with the harvest festival and made on Sankranti or Poush parbon.
My fault totally. I rarely ever made pithe. And then again you did not make a pithe at any random time of the year. It had to be in mid-January on and around the day of Sankranti, when rural Bengal celebrates Poush Parbon, the harvesting festival.
My thama, my Dad's mother was not a very enthusiastic cook and did not encourage devoting time on making or eating pithe on Poush Parbon. She made a great Paayesh and notun gur er paayesh was the only sweet that got cooked on Sankranti.
I was never too fond of pithe or paayesh and remember sankranti as days of excruciating cold in the plains where winter was usually mild. The cold winds from the north would rustle through the glossy leaves of the jackfruit tree in the garden and in absence of central heating, the only warmth would come from the mid-day sun. To soak up its warmth we would sit on the terrace, our freshly washed hair strewn across our back, the golden sun streaming down on us.
The few winters that we spent at my Dida's home in Kolkata, Poush Sankranti shone with its fervor. My Dida, a petite frame, with silver hair and betel-juice stained mouth was a cook who loved her job. She celebrated with food every small and big festival listed in the bengali almanac. Poush Sankranti in her home was a 3 day affair with sweet and savory pithes of all kind imaginable. The first batch of ashkey pithey she would store in an earthenware container as an symbolic offering to gods and later immerse it in the river. Then there would be puli pithe, gokul pithe, ranga alu'r pithe, nonta pithe and pati sapta. My grandfather would beckon to all and sundry to come and take a taste of the wonderful sweets and my poor, harried grandma would rush about grating, grinding, stuffing and frying. And that is how I like to remember her, busy around the kitchen, folding betel leaves to make a paan in between her umpteen chores and always ready with a story for us.
Once on my own, I had enough excuses to not mark Sankranti on my calendar with a red dot. After the eating orgy all through December, I had no wish to grate, grind, stuff and fry in January. This was going to be a month of sparse salads with low fat olive oil dressings.
But this Sankranti, it was different. We were going to have a different sort of party this year, a pithe party. Yes, I have an enthusiastic bunch of friends.
Goaded by all the peer pressure I gave in and started calling across oceans to get the perfect Gokul Pithe. My Ma-in-law makes the best gokul pithe to date and she was the one I needed. She gave me detailed instructions over the phone, sans any measurement of course.This time though I needed measures and did not want to risk an entire batch of pithe so I sought help over the internet and got some support here.
The gokul pithe turned out to be absolutely delicious. D had his own wise opinions and even dared to say that his Mom's were better. But really do we even believe him ? Anything with a khoya + coconut stuffing, deep fried and then soaked in sugary syrup has "delish" wriiten in its genes, irrespective of whose Mother or Mother's neighbor made it.
They were also easy to make even in large number. Even though Sankranti is 11 months away, this can be served as a delicious dessert for any occasion, so roll up your sleeves and try some. Believe me these are sinfully easy.
Make the Stuffing
Grated Coconut(I used frozen pack) ~ 2 cups
Khoya ~ 12oz almost 2 cups. Note: Ideally home made khoya/kheer is best but store bought khoya works fine.
Sugar ~ 1 cup
Heat a Kadhai.
Add coconut and sugar and lower the heat.
Mix the grated coconut with the sugar slightly pressing with your fingers till sugar melts and mixes with the coconut. Note: You can add add some cardamom powder. I didn't.
Now add the Khoya. Keep stirring till mixture becomes light brown and sticky. It should easily come off from the sides by now. At this point take a little of the mix and see if you can fashion a flat disc out of it. If it is too sticky you may have to cook a bit more, else you are good.
Take a little of the mix, roll a small ball between your palms and then flatten between your palms to make a disc about 1" in diameter and thickness of a 1 Rupee coin. Make equal sized discs. I made about 30.
Make the Batter
In a wide mouthed bowl add
2 Cups of AP Flour
1 tsp of Ghee
1/4 tsp of Baking Soda
Now add 1 cup of Whole Milk + 1 Cup of water. Mix scraping the sides to form a batter. You will need about 1 more cup of water but add this gradually till you get a batter thick enough like a pakodi batter.
To the batter I added a generous pinch of saffron
Make the Syrup
3 cups of water
4&1/2 cups of sugar
to boil till you get a syrup of one string consistency
Add a few drops of Kewra or Rose water to the syrup to get a sweet smell
Heat enough oil for deep frying in a skillet.
Dip the discs in the batter so that they are well coated. Now fry them in the hot oil like a fritter. Remove with a slotted spoon when both sides are golden brown. Dunk in the syrup and remove when they become little soft.
In one version of Gokul Pithe you can make the sugar syrup thicker and then coat the fried pithe with the syrup instead of soaking them in it.