Sweet and Savory Orange Cumin Shortbread Cookies

Homemade Khasta Cookies

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.

Shortbread cookies with milk

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.

Sweet and Savory Shortbread Cookies

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.

Cookies in a jar.

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.


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  7. This reminds me of my daadi when I was very young! She didn’t make khasta but another whole wheat flour biscuit which I can’t remember the name of 🙁 It had the same melt in the mouth consistency and I haven’t eaten it in million years. I might try this and impress my mom one of these days!

  8. Cookies looks so crisp and crumbly. My mom never baked so I have no baking memories… but my childhood kitchen was also really tiny! That’s where I first made stuffed tomatoes (my first ‘fancy’ cooking)! lol…

  9. so good to see a post here 🙂 it reminds me of my dida’s (grandma’s) kitchen and I would sit outside the door while she wld sit inside the door while she prepped. fondes food memories for me in there too. love the flavor combo Prerna and the so awesome photographs.

  10. No matter what the size, a kitchen with a mom always spells memories!

    I remember having similar cookies with jeera in them.Your touch of adding orange zest,elevates them to a different level! Sounds so warm and fresh!

  11. The kitchen you mentioned reminded me of my Dadu’s home and even though the kitchen was big, my dadi would always sit on the door step and do all the prep work, while we would play in the veranda 🙂 Beautiful memories.
    My mom too has a table top oven and she still uses it .. it’s round and opens on top. Funny looking but she still loves it!
    The cookies look soo fabulous P and I love the rough texture. Since I have a special love for anything citrus-y .. I know I am gonna enjoy these.

  12. Another fabulous one Prerna, I still have to try your nankhatai. Love the flavors in these and I love the description of how they melt in your mouth and the ghee, I am drooling!!

  13. These khasta cookies are one of the very few sweet delights that I liked as a kid. And that’s probably coz it’s not too sweet and has enough salt and cumin to balance the sweetness. I haven’t had these for so long that I can’t remember when I had ’em last! Probably when I was a kid. I admire your photography and styling:)

  14. YUM those look so good! Loved reading your memories of your dad’s office full of files and mom’s electric table top oven. My mom has one like that too! Looks like an over sized microwave 🙂 Tried using it this time when I went home and had a tough time with all those powercuts!
    Thanks again for those tips on props. Oh how I love all of yours!

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