One way of finding out if your favorite foods are worth their calories is to make the dish at home – an eye opener in realizing how much oil, sugar, or salt goes into dishes that you crave. For Valentine’s Day, I planned on treating myself to a dessert that I had only ever bought. Similar to a churro or beignet (in that the fried dough is coated with sugar), a jalebi is a spiral-shaped sunset-colored Indian dessert that features a crispy outer shell harboring a juicy syrup within. The orange or yellow glow comes from the sugar syrup that is tinted and perfumed by aromatic saffron (or less expensive turmeric and sprinkles of cardamom powder).
There are two parts to making jalebi – the batter and syrup. The batter can be hurried along by adding yeast or baking soda, but just using yogurt will also give jalebi the desired tangy flavor. As expected, without a leavening agent and the cool temperature, my dough took two days to rise. But it was the sugar syrup that had me baffled. Simple syrup, ubiquitous in sweet lemonade and cocktails, is dissolved sugar and water that is heated for about 4-5 minutes. As the sugar solution starts to thicken into viscous syrup, it develops a glossy sheen before taking on a thread-like consistency. For jalebi, the syrup should have a half-thread consistency. Without a candy thermometer, this stage can be assessed by feel: Rub a little of the hot sugar solution between the thumb and forefinger, and then carefully lift the thumb away from the forefinger to see if a thin, transparent string forms. When this sugar thread is ¼-inch high, the syrup is ready. If the syrup is too thick, the fried dough will not absorb the syrup but instead be coated with sugar crystals.
Tips To Prevent Crystallization:
Use a clean pan. Any particles in the pan will allow sugar to crystallize on to it.
Don’t agitate the sugar solution. Let the sugar dissolve with minimal stirring.
Keep the heat on medium, and let the sugar come to a boil slowly.
While checking for the thread formation, remove the pot away from the flame so that the mixture doesn’t continue to cook.
Flour – 1 cup, sieved
Yogurt – ½ cup
Sugar – 2 cups
Saffron strands – 4-5 (or 1/8th spoon turmeric for color)
Lime – 1, juice
Vegetable Oil – enough for 2-inch layer for frying
In a glass bowl, mix the yogurt and flour.
Add a little water to the flour and yogurt and mix. Remove all lumps for a smooth batter, by adding water in small increments.
Cover and keep aside for 1-2 days, depending on outside temperature.
The batter will not rise as one with a leavening agent, but will develop a shiny surface. You can add ½ tsp yeast for the batter to rise quicker.
When the batter is ready, spend 5-8 minutes working with the batter, Knead, gather, and stretch the batter, until the batter feels soft and silky. Add as little water as possible, just enough to get the batter to a thick, pouring consistency.
Spoon mixture into a piping bag. I often just cut a hole in a Ziploc bag or pour the batter into a mustard or ketchup container squeezing out the batter through the small hole in the cap.
Meanwhile, add the sugar and water to a very clean pan. Mix until the sugar is dissolved.
Heat the mixture, and once it has a shiny glossy appearance, add the limejuice. This helps gather the frothy scum, which can be discarded.
Add the saffron threads to the heated solution to give the sugar the characteristic orange tint.
Keep the sugar solution at medium heat and allow it to thicken to a half-thread consistency (makes a small thread between the forefinger and thumb as you slowly lift the sugar solution between the fingers). Keep at this temperature.
Heat the oil.
Pipe in the dough directly into the hot oil.
When the bubbles of hot oil around the dough become less agitated, turn the dough over. Let it lightly brown and then remove immediately. With one smooth motion, while tapping away the oil, dunk the fried dough immediately into the sugar solution. Let it soak for a minute before removing and plating it. Eat immediately for best flavor.
The batter used to make Injera relies on fermentation to rise. My carefully-planned Ethiopian dinner was to be a surprise for N, but when the batter didn’t rise even after 24 hours, I panicked. Trying to eke out warmth from this late spring weather into the batter was futile – the optimum temperature for fermentation is between 75-80°F.
I ended up using the “oven” method to coax both batters (one batch made with dry active yeast and another with air-borne wild yeast) to rise. This endeavor reminded me of some tips to help with fermentation of a batter made with flour, yeast, and salt:
Use a wide stainless steel pan to increase the surface area exposed to air; this helps more of the batter to be exposed to capture both wild yeast from the air and heat to start the fermentation process.
Use non-chlorinated water (chlorine inhibits yeast from fermenting).
Use kosher salt, as iodized salt slows down fermentation.
If the air is not warm enough, heat the oven to 200°F. Once the temperature is reached, turn off the oven. Put the batter in to the warm oven for an hour. This warms the yeast and starts up the fermentation process. Remove the batter from the oven and let the process continue naturally outside. Another method using the oven is to turn the oven light on, and leave the batter in the oven overnight. Remove the batter from the oven and let the process continue on outside.
In cool weather, plan for the meal two days ahead! The ideal temperature for dry yeast is 75°F and for naturally-occurring wild yeast found in the atmosphere is 80-90°F.
Teff flour – 1 cup
Water – 1 cup + 1 tbsp
Kosher salt – ½ tsp
Yeast (instant active dry) – ¾ tsp
Sift the flour
Warm 1 tbsp. of water. Add the yeast to the water. Mix until yeast granules are dissolved.
Add the water and salt to the yeast solution.
Add the liquids to the flour. Mix well.
Keep aside in a warm place, for 24-48 hours. Bubbles on the surface of the batter or cracks that appear on the puffed up surface indicate that the batter is ready.
When ready to cook, add a little water to get the batter to a pouring consistency.
Heat a non-stick skillet.
Using a ladle, drop in 2 tbsp of batter into the middle of the pan or skillet. Using the back of the ladle spread the batter in one continuous motion, working from the center in concentric circles toward the edge of the skillet. When little bubbles appear on the surface of the batter, the injera bread is ready. There is no need to flip the injera over, as the steam causes it to cook through.
Keep the bread stacked. Makes about 6 pancakes.
The batter can also be made without yeast.
N., who is a Nutella fiend, came home for the weekend, and I used the remaining gluten-free teff flour to make Nutella-based cookies. The texture of the cookies is more like bran muffin, which also balanced out the sweetness of Nutella.
Teff Flour and Nutella Cookies
Teff flour –1½ cup
Agave nectar – ½ cup
Nutella – ½ cup
Oil – ½ cup
Cinnamon (or your preference) extract – 1tsp
Preheat the oven to 350F
In a food processor, mix the agave nectar, Nutella, oil and cinnamon extract.
Add the teff flour and combine well.
On a greased cooking sheet (stains the cookie pan), add a tablespoon of the cookie batter. Flatten the batter with the spoon.
Bake for 10-12 minutes. Makes about 10-12 cookies.
Appam is a fermented rice pancake, and like bread made from simple, whole ingredients – flour, water, salt, and yeast. Its spongy texture is similar to injera and it is just as effective in mopping up stews.
Whether the bread or pancake is made from wheat, rice, or teff flour, it is that combination that starts the natural chemical process of fermentation. The gas bubbles that come to the surface are responsible for the sour smelling batter. Chemistry aside, the resulting bread or pancake has a light and airy texture. The unhurried (10-12 hours) fermented batter gives the bread its delicate flavor. While rice and teff flour (used ininjera) are naturally gluten-free, slow fermentation breaks down the gluten proteins more effectively even with wheat and rye flour. This makes the bread easier to digest.
Appam (Rice Pancake)
Rice Flour – 1 cup
Yeast – ¼ tsp
Sugar – 4 tsp
Coconut Milk – 1 cup
Salt – 1 tsp
In a large bowl, mix the yeast with 1 tbsp of water until it dissolves.
Add the sugar, salt, and coconut milk and stir until well mixed.
Add the rice flour and ¼ cup of water to make a batter.
Keep the batter aside in a warm place, about 12-14 hours or overnight.
Just before cooking, add water to the batter as needed, for a pouring consistency.
Heat a small non-stick wok.
Drop 2 tbsp of batter into the center of the wok.
Pick the wok up (with oven gloves) and swirl it gently, letting the batter come up the sides.
Cover with a lid and place it back on the heat. Cook for 4 minutes.
Remove the lid. The pancake should have a crispy brown lacy edge and a spongy center. Repeat for 8-10 pancakes.
Pancakes can also be made on a griddle or the batter can be steamed to a bread-like thickness.