Papa worked for the government so we lived in a small government quarter as kids. It had one bedroom. Well, two, but one of them was Papa’s office and it was filled with files and more files. We were never allowed to enter his office and back then we never understood why. But now that I have a curious little butterfly of my own who has the ability of turning the whole house upside down in seconds, I know exactly why he did that.
Next to his office was a veranda which was our dining cum entertainment room and attached to that was mummy’s tiny kitchen. The size of that room was exactly what the word tiny means! It was just about enough to accommodate almost one and a half person in it. Mummy did most of her prep work sitting on the doorstep of that kitchen. She would sit rolling mathri (Indian crackers) and filling samosas right there on the doorstep of that kitchen. That was the tiniest kitchen I have ever stepped into but the fondest food memories of my life came out of that kitchen.
She had this funny looking tabletop oven which I guess she owned even before we were born. It would be neatly packed and tucked in to the top shelf of her kitchen. She would pull it out only when it was our birthday. That’s when she would make fruit cakes for the party. Strawberry icing for my birthday and chocolate for my brother’s or when she would make khasta biscuit, sweet and savory shortbread cookies with some whole spices. The ghee in them would make them crumble if held too hard and they would melt in the mouth in seconds.
The ones with cumin and black pepper were her favorite and also my dadi’s (grandma). So when we visited dadi, the oven would come out and mummy would make those cookies. The tiny oven would take not more than a dozen at a time so the process of making 50 of those would take the whole day. I have eaten those shortbread cookies a million times in my life but every time they taste exactly the same, lightly sweetened, just a tad bit of salt and cumin just enough to command its presence.
I tried to do something similar recently. Well, not recently but a few weeks back before this thing called “writer’s block” hit me and I started running away from anything that involved typing words on a blank screen of my computer! But now that I forced myself out of that condition, I thought it would be right to share with you the recipe for these orange flavored khasta biscuits which I tried to make, inspired by the recipe of my mother. So here’s the recipe for Sweet and Savory Orange Cumin Shortbread Cookies.
Ingredients: Makes 3 dozen
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup ghee (clarified butter) *Can substitute it with softened butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar (loosely packed)
1 teaspoon salt
Zest of two large oranges- almost 2 1/2 tablespoon
1 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2-3 tablespoon orange juice ** Can substitute with milk.
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F.
In a large bowl, sift together salt, all-purpose flour and baking powder. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together sugar and ghee (or butter if using that) until they are just combined. Add orange zest and cumin seeds. Slowly add the flour and mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Add orange juice to make the dough smooth.
Take the combined dough out of the mixer and knead with your hands over a clean counter top lightly dusted with flour. Divide the dough into two equal parts and roll them into logs. Cover with a plastic wrap. At this stage I just smoothed out the longer sides of the log giving it a square shape. Put it in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes to firm.
Pull the dough out and cut into squares about 1/4″- 1/2″ thick. Place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, an inch apart from each other.
Bake them for 10-12 minutes or until the bottom is golden brown in color. Take it out of the oven and cool on a cooling rack before serving with hot milk, coffee or chai.