There would always be food in the houses that we visited, lots and lots of food. There was also lots of biscuits. Some were traditional, some weren't. It was customary to leave an assortment of cookies on the coffee table for visiting guests to help themselves. We would also give some cookies to some of our neighbours to share the good spirit of the occasion.
One cookie that I always loved is called Sugee Cookies. 'Sugee' (or 'sugi') is used to refer to semolina in North India. In South India, this is more commonly referred to as 'rava' or 'rawa'. Semolina is used in some recipes for this type of cookie but I opted for a recipe that uses only wheat flour. Sugee cookies are balls of buttery goodness that crumble and melt in your mouth. Some people make it too crispy, which results in an almost non-existent 'melty' mouthfeel. That just spoils the beauty of these cookies. They are meant to be like a pale, crumbly shortbread. They have characteristic cracks on the tops, which are caused by the addition of baking soda in the dough.
I have missed Deepavali in Singapore for 2 years. Naturally, I missed Sugee Cookies. I tried looking for the essential ingredient here in The Netherlands last year but had no success. Through the year, I found several shops selling this ingredient so I told myself I would bake these cookies these year. And I did. EVERY SINGLE PERSON who has tried these cookies that I baked has been wowed.
Anyway, what's this essential ingredient? Ghee, also known as clarified butter. This is sold in metal tins from Asian or Indian grocery stores. It is used widely in the preparation of a dizzying number of Indian dishes ranging from curries to desserts. Ghee does not smell very appealing in the tin, but releases a wonderful aroma and flavour when heated. It might look weird to you, but the flavour of it is very rich even in tiny amounts. The fact that I am saying this is not to be taken lightly because I am a person who uses as little fat as I can get away with when I'm cooking. It also has a higher smoking point than butter so it can be used at higher heat ranges.
So, if you want to make these cookies you will have to hunt for Ghee. Without ghee, you might as well just bake a plain 'ol English shortbread cookie. This is an easy recipe with only a few ingredients so it's hard to go wrong. The golden rule of Sugee Cookies is that they have to be pale-coloured, not browned. If they are browned, they become crispy instead of crumbly. I have provided a scaled-down recipe here. However since there are no eggs used, it is easy to double, triple, or quadruple the recipe!
makes approximately 50
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
250g plain flour (all purpose)
1 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
85g powdered sugar (icing sugar)
1/3 tsp fine salt
food colouring (optional)
1. Scoop the ghee into a bowl
2. Melt the ghee on your stovetop or microwave. If using a microwave, check the ghee every 30 seconds to prevent splattering.
3. Leave the ghee to cool for a while then add the vanilla essence to the ghee.
4. Sift the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt into a bowl.
5. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture, then pour the ghee in.
*You can use the remaining melted ghee in the bowl to grease your baking tray
6. Mix and knead to form a soft dough. The dough will be slightly crumbly.
7. Split the dough between two bowls so that you can work with a small amount of dough each time.
8. Place the bowls in the fridge to chill the dough for 20 to 30 minutes. This will make it easier to shape the balls of cookies.
9. Preheat your oven to 170°C. Line and lightly grease a baking sheet.
10. Now take one bowl of dough out of the fridge and shape into small balls. Each ball should be no bigger than 2cm in diameter. Use the other bowl of dough when you have finished working with the first bowl.
*I have found that the best way to shape the balls is to pinch a small portion off the crumbly dough, place the portion on the palm of my left hand, then use my right hand to pinch the dough into one piece, and lastly, roll it between both palms to make a ball. Sounds tedious but it really isn't!
11. You can use the back of a toothpick to put little dots of food colouring on the middle of each cookie. Just dip the end of the toothpick in the food colouring and gently dot the colour onto the cookie. This is purely aesthetic, so it is completely optional.
12. Place the little balls, spaced apart, on your baking sheet. Bake for approximately 15 to 20 minutes. This depends on your oven. But the cookies are meant to look milky and pale, not brown.
13. Remove from the oven, leave to cool then store in airtight containers for up to 3 weeks.
Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy! Now enjoy your addictive, melt-in-mouth cookies!