Demystifing Indian Desserts and Sweets
When it comes to Indian Cuisine and food one thing cannot be overlooked…Our love for Sweets! Most Indians have a sweet tooth or a mouthful of them to say the least.
It’s not uncommon to see huge crowds at Sweet stores across the Country. And with the variety and sheer number of sweets available it’s no wonder that it’s such an important part of an Indian’s lives.
Sweets are part of any Indian celebration or festivity of any kind. They are prepared in Indian households not only for special feasts and occasions, but also for simple celebrations like birthdays, anniversaries, graduations or even any other concocted reason. Every event big or small, calls for the sharing sweets with the whole neighborhood even simply because he/she is the proud owner of a new car!
In most countries sweets are the last course of a meal. In India though they are served with the rest of the meal and in some traditions especially during celebrations, people start eating a meal only after having had a bite of the sweet on the plate, to signify the celebration.
Indian sweets are known as ‘Mithai’. They rely heavily on sugar, milk and condensed milk and frying, however the bases of the sweets vary by region. They more intense and sweeter than western sweets and desserts and quite a bit heavier since they’re made mainly in Ghee which is clarified butter.
Though there are hundreds of Indian sweets they can broadly be divided into seven categories:
Kheers and Payasams
Kheers are like Puddings. It’s rice pudding typically made by boiling rice with milk and sugar. It is often flavored with cardamoms, saffron, pistachios or almonds. While the dish is traditionally made with rice, it can also be made with other ingredients such as vermicelli (sayviah) which is a thin noodle. Kheer is known as Payasam in the South of India. They tend to use coconut milk instead or regular milk.There are many versions of this dessert dish in both the south as well as North of India.
It’s an essential dish in many Hindu and Muslim feasts and celebrations. Payasams are served as an offering to the gods in South Indian Hindu temples during rituals and ceremonies. The Southern Indian state of Kerala, people have a particular affinity towards this dish.
In fact, the recipe for the popular English rice pudding was originally derived from kheer when Britain had occupied India.
Laddoos are like crumbly textured candy balls. They are usually made of flour and other ingredients formed into balls and sometimes dipped in sugar syrup. Like most other Indian sweets there are hundreds of variants of this ball of sweet goodness.
Laddoos are very popular in India, and are an irreplaceable part of religious ceremonies. They are offered at temples for religious ceremonies, and later served as prasad (blessing from god) to people.
The Motichoor Laddu or Boondi laddu is a popular type of laddoo found in India made from grilled gram flour flakes which are sweetened, mixed with almonds, pressed into balls and fried in ghee. The Besan (ground gram) ladoo is common in India. It is made from besan mixed with pieces of sugar.
These laddoos are often finished by rolling them in nuts or dessicated coconut or syrup. Sometimes just a single nut or raisin is pressed into them.
Halva also spelled Halwa is a sort of cross between a pudding and candy. They are thick puddings made out of finely grated vegetables, milk, sugar and flavored with cardamom. They can also be grain based and made out of semolina or pulses like the mung bean.
The semolina halwa known as Suji Halwa is common and popular in India. It is made with wheat semolina, sugar or honey, and butter or Ghee and topped with nuts and raisins. The halwa is very sweet with a gelatinous texture similar to polenta with the added butter giving it a rich mouthfeel.
Gajar halwa or a halva made of carrots is also widely popular in India. It is prepared with condensed milk and ghee, without semolina to bind it together. The result has a moist yet flaky texture when freshly prepared.
Some halvas are put in molds to give them a shape and neatly cut and garnished with a nut, raisin or beaten silver foil.
Barfi or Burfi is a sweet quite similar to a fudge. Plain barfi is made from condensed milk, cooked with sugar until it solidifies. Plain barfi is made from condensed milk, cooked with sugar until it solidifies. Other varieties include besan barfi , made with besan (gram flour) and pista barfi , which is a milk barfi containing ground pistachio nuts. The name is derived from the Persian word ‘barf’ which means ice since burfi is similar to ice in appearance.
The bite sized Barfi is often flavoured with cashew, mango, pistachio and spices and garnished with a thin layer of edible silver leaf. There are hundreds of varieties of Burfi and can be shaped in a number of ways and cab be quite colorful. Some burfi is cut in to diamond shapes like the Kaju Katri (Cashew nut Burfi) while some are multi colored and rolled in to a sushi rice ball shape.
A colorful box of burfi is a great gift to take along while visiting a friends house
While Ice cream is the probably the World’s most popular dessert, India it’s own frozen dessert called Kulfi.
Kulfi is prepared from evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and heavy cream along with sugar. The mixture is boiled and thickened before it is cooled, put in molds and frozen. Unlike the Western ice creams, which are whipped and filled with air, kulfi is not whipped, which results in a solid and dense frozen dessert. Traditionally, kulfi is set in cone shape molds but can be frozen in any shaped molds or even ice trays.
Sugar Syrup Based Sweets
Like the western doughnut which is dipped in a sugar syrup..many Indian sweets are deep fried and soaked in a syrup as well. The syrup these sweets are often dipped into in India is usually aromatic and flavoured with saffron, rose water and cardamom.
One of the most popular syrup based dessert is the Gulab Jamun. They are deep fried balls made of a special dough and soaked in the aromatic sugar syrup.
Another deep fried sugary delight is the Jelebi/Jalebi. The batter for Jalebis is piped directly in hot oil or ghee in circular shapes…a bit like a pretzel, then soaked in syrup. They’re bright orange or yellow in colour and are very common around India and available at almost any sweet shop. It can be served warm or cold and has a somewhat chewy texture with a crystallized sugary exterior coating.