WordPress tells me that it is my 100th post. I never thought I’d get here when I started writing on a cold winter’s night in December 2011. I also wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the constant support and encouragement of my partner (now husband). To all others who have been with me from the time miceinmybelly started, I am eternally grateful. You keep my spirits up, encourage me and make me want to share my kitchen experiments with you. I hope you continue to do so and that I don’t disappoint you.
As this is a landmark post, I’d like to dedicate this post to my paternal grandma, Madras ajji who passed away a year ago. “Ajji” is the Kannada word for grandma and Madras, or Chennai as it is known as today, was where she lived most of her life. Despite being a diabetic for as long as I can remember, she still had a super-soft spot for sweets/pudding. The picture of her smiling in front of a large chocolate cake, on her 80th birthday, is one I will always have in my head when I think of her. While Mysore pak may not have been her favourite dessert, it definitely ranked highly on her list and hence, the dedication.
What is Mysore pak ? Well it is essentially Indian fudge made with just 3 ingredients – chickpea flour (or besan), sugar (white, refined, caster sugar) and ghee (clarified butter). As you can see, none of these ingredients are meant to be healthy. The word “paka” pronounced as you would “parka” means a sticky syrup usually made from sugar or jaggery/palm sugar. Mysore was the capital of Karnataka for nearly six centuries until the end of the British rule in 1947. Legend has it that Mysore pak was invented in the royal kitchens of the Mysore palace and the royalty enjoyed it so much that they got the cook to set up a stall outside the palace so it could be shared with the common people. Today, it is one of the most popular desserts in the state and features on many a wedding, birthday, and anniversary feast.
Note: Don’t be fooled by the simple ingredients – Mysore pak is one of the hardest desserts to get right and timing is everything. I hope to demonstrate it to you with my good and not-so-good versions.
Ingredients (makes 25 pieces):
1 cup of chickpea or besan flour, twice sifted
1.5 cups of sugar (or 2 if you are sticking to the recipe)
2 cups of melted butter or ghee
0. The ratio of ingredients traditionally is 1:2:2 for flour:sugar:ghee. I personally find that too sweet so I dropped the sugar by half a cup. This of course has implications on making the syrup and getting the right consistency but you can make it work.
1. Place some non-stick baking paper in a shallow dish and grease it with a little bit of melted butter. Alternatively, you can leave the baking paper out and grease the dish directly.
2. The first step is to place the sugar in a large pot or a wide and deep frying pan. My grandma used to make it in a wok like thing called “kadai” so if you have one of those, go ahead and use it. Add half a cup of water to the sugar or just enough to cover the surface of it. Any more water and you will have to wait a while to achieve the right syrup consistency.
3. Turn your stove, gas or electric to a very low heat and stir the sugar and water mixture until the sugar melts. Given you’ve only added enough water to cover the sugar, there is a good chance that the water will be saturated with sugar and will not completely dissolve. In this case, add a little more water so that the syrup goes transparent. (Note: In my pictures below, the syrup doesn’t go clear – perhaps this is why my second attempt at Mysore pak wasn’t as good as my first one above.)
4. Once the sugar has dissolved, the next step is to patiently stir the solution until a more viscous (thick) syrup is formed. The right consistency is achieved when you do the following. It is referred to as a “single paka” or single string consistency.
- Dip your stirring spoon in the solution for a second and lift it out.
- Allow it to cool for 4-5 seconds and then get a bit of the syrup on your index finger (Picture 3)
- Press your index finger down to meet your thumb (Picture 4). Rub them around so that both thumb and index finger have a decent coating of sugar syrup.
- Now slowly but surely, bring your thumb and index finger apart (Picture 5).
- If the syrup is right, then, you will see a single string of syrup form between them and when the syrup is right, this string will stay strong (Picture 6).
- If the string is too soft and doesn’t form, keep stirring as you aren’t done yet.
- If the string is not single but multiple, sticky strings, then you’ve gone too far and made candy. So bin it and start again.
5. When you’ve achieved a single string consistency with the sugar syrup, gently add the sifted chickpea flour to the syrup, trying to stir as you add the flour (Picture 7).
6. Once you’ve added all the flour, give the mixture a good stir for a minute so that there are no floury lumps in the syrup. When you first add the flour, it will smell a bit raw and that’s how it is supposed to be. Also, if you draw a line in the middle of the flour and sugar mixture, unlike Moses and the Red Sea, the mixture will fold back on itself very quickly (Picture 9). This is also a good sign and starting point.
7. Stir the flour and sugar mixture constantly so that the bottom of it doesn’t burn. When the raw smell of the flour starts to disappear, pour in the melted butter/ghee (Picture 10). Once again, keep stirring so that the bottom doesn’t burn. You will find that the butter/ghee will settle on top of the flour-sugar mixture first. As you stir the fat will get incorporated into the rest of the mixture.
8. As the Mysore pak cooks, it will go bubbly (Picture 11). The key is that you need to keep stirring. The first signs of it being done are that some of the mixture will deposit itself on the sides of the pot and start to harden and you’ll have to scrape it down.
9. The second sign of it being done is that when you put a blob of it on non-stick baking paper, the blob sets almost immediately – not to a hard rock but to a soft, pliable dough (Picture 12).
10. Finally, when you draw your stirring spoon through the mixture, the whole things sticks together and moves as one, as if it were a fudge glacier. At this point, your Mysore pak is definitely done (Picture 13). (Note: I think I was trying to get some good pictures of the process at this point in the cooking and left the mixture unstirred and on the heat for a minute too long. This meant the end result was too hard so don’t attempt the same! )
11. Pour the mixture into the greased dish and flatten it with the back of the spoon (Picture 14). Don’t touch as it is piping hot.
12. While it is still hot, use a sharp knife and slice the Mysore pak into squares as shown in Picture 15.
13. As I said in Step 10, I left it on the heat for a bit too long and my Mysore pak was rock hard. I was heart broken. However, the first lot I made (main picture) was soft and did melt in the mouth. Moral of the story, avoid being distracted while making Mysore pak as timing is everything.
14. Eat when it has cooled down and you can pick it up with your fingers. I thought of my ajji as I did so as she would have liked it (the soft version).