I am an eternal optimist, a person who would look for silver linings in every problem at hand. I stick to this philosophy for most events in my life, however I must admit, there are some events which I rue as a lost opportunity. I regret to have missed the gastronomic experience of trying out the Nawabi (royalty) recipe of Shahi Tukda during my trip to Lucknow last year. This feeling is more so justified when you know that the recipe originated from that city.
When a recipe traverses the boundary of cultures, regions, states and countries, it is bound to lose its soul. Every region or culture may modify it to suit the local taste and preferences. These modifications can be subtle sometimes or at times harsh so much so that the soul of recipe gets lost completely. How else would you explain, for example, Sambhar in South India that is such a beautiful medley of vegetables and lentils, tastes spicy, tangy with a nice aroma emanating out of it that enthralls your senses and on other hand sambhar in places like Pune or Mumbai are downright outrageous, watery and sometimes too sweet and smell receptors would hardly be put to work though the dish would be right in front of your nose(before anyone draw their daggers at me, let me clarify, I am not putting all restaurants in Pune-Mumbai in the same bracket).
Essentially the central point here is, if you want to get the real taste of the dish then you must travel to its roots, the region of its origin which in my case was Lucknow. I have visited this city couple of times and each time it mesmerizes me. I feel overwhelmed by its rich cultural legacy, the architectural extravaganza and its mannerism that is very beautifully defined by a term “Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb” which emphasizes the cultural beauty of central plains of northern India. This term also very subtly underlines the fusion of cultures of Hindu and Muslim elements. The food of Lucknow, which was formerly also known as Awadh, is replete with nazakat (delicate) and nafasat (sophistication). Lucknow had witnessed rule of Nawabs for almost 150 years. Nawabs were connoisseur of food and had battery of khansamas who were given free hand by their patrons. Innovation and experimentations were encouraged. In fact Nawabs would often like to throw surprises at their guests. They would ask their royal cooks to beautifully disguise their dishes that would leave the guests guessing whether they are having eggs or potatoes. I think the English word delicacy does real justice to Awadhi cuisine which is just that (delicate+acy). The rule of Nawabs got over almost 150 years ago when the princely state of Awadh was mercilessly annexed by British and Wajid Ali Shah the last Nawab was exiled to Kolkata where he stayed for rest of his life. However, the nazakat of Nawabi (royalty) culture still flows through the veins of the city.
If Benares (Varanasi) is said to be the city where people live by naashta (breakfast), then Lucknow definitely deserves to be known for its kebabs, biryanis and its desserts. One such dessert is Shahi Tukda which literally translates to royal morsel. There are different stories about this recipe that can be heard in bylanes of Lucknow. As per the article Bawarchi Tola written by Ahmad Irfan, this dish used to be originally prepared with Sheermal and over the years sheermal got replaced with bread. Then there is another interesting article Sweet Dreams written by Pushpesh Pant a noted food historian and a writer, where he talks about Shahi tukda was originally “balai ka tukra – a half-inch thick roundel created by delicately layering one layer of clotted cream over another and deep frying it to the color of burnished gold, while ensuring that the inside remains soft”
I am compelled to believe that the version as claimed by Pushpesh Pant must be true as the royal cooks of Nawabs were known to weave such magical recipes with much finesse. One cursory glance through the descriptions of the recipe, and it becomes evident that cooking was indeed a revered art and like any other art form, it flourished under able patronage.
The Shahi Tukda must have got its present form sometime after 1930 as the slice bread was invented in 1928. The modern form of recipe demands the bread slices be deep (or shallow) fried until it turns golden brown in color, then dipped into sugar syrup to coat it nicely and finally topped with thick rabdi that spreads over the surface of bread. The first bite into this royal recipe and you sink into the richness of rabdi with mild sweetness and rich aroma of saffron, and then gradually the sweetness intensifies with sugar syrup flavored by cardamom powder and aromatized with rose water and finally ends into crisp fried bread slice. If you are feeling really royal and would not mind taking a leaf out of royal cookbook, then you can garnish the dish with silver warq (leaf).
Find interesting Dessert recipes here
Make this royal recipe this Dussehra and share your feedback in the comment section below.
- 7 bread slices that are cut into rounds using cookie cutter or a glass rim
- Clarified butter (ghee) to fry bread slices
- 1 liter full cream milk
- 40 grams granulated sugar
- 30 grams milk powder
- Few saffron strands
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ¼th cup water
- ½ tsp cardamom powder
- 1 tsp rose water
- A slice of lime to remove scum from sugar syrup
- Few almonds and pistachios soaked in warm water for an hour,peeled off and sliced into lengths
- Add 3 tbsp lukewarm milk to the milk powder and mix it well to avoid any lumps.
- Heat 1 liter milk in a thick bottom pan.Important: We are going to cook on low flame and We will boil the milk till it reduces to ⅓rd or ¼th of its original quantity.
- As milk begins to boil, lower the flame.During the process of reducing the milk keep stirring it intermittently.
- Tip: If you are not going to be around, keep a ladle immersed in the milk to avoid the spillover.
- Do not stir milk too frequently as it would result into rabdi being too thin.
- After 25 mins, we will add milk powder liquid.Stir it well and let it boil while it reduces further.
- After 45 mins, milk gets reduced to its half. Now add saffron strands and mix well.
- After 1 hour and 15 mins milk gets reduced to ⅓rd.Now add sugar and stir it well.
- Tip: While making kheer or rabdi, add sugar at the very end
- Scrape out the dried cream sticking to the sides of the pan into the milk.
- After 1 hour 25 mins milk gets reduced to rabdi consistency.
- Turn off the flame. Allow the rabdi to cool down at room temperature. Transfer it to a bowl and refrigerate for 2 hours.
- While rabdi gets chilled, we will shallow fry bread slices.
- Heat 2-3 tbsp clarified butter in a pan.Bread slices must be dried in open before frying.The fresh and soft bread on frying absorbs lot of ghee and becomes soggy.Bread slices can be dried in oven.
- Shallow fry bread slices till they become golden brown from both sides.
- When one side turns golden brown in color flip over to other side.
- Bread slices are ready.Lets make sugar syrup
- In a large pan, add sugar and water. Allow sugar to get dissolved.
- When sugar gets dissolved, add a slice of lime. Addition of lime helps in getting rid of scum.
- Remove the scum accumulated at the sides and top of syrup.
- Turn off the flame.Add cardamom powder and rose water.Stir them well.
- In 7-8 mins one thread consistency of sugar syrup is ready.
- Allow it to cool down slightly. We will coat slices with syrup when it is lukewarm.
- When the syrup is lukewarm, add bread slice and coat it from both sides.
- Dip all the slices in syrup and coat them well.
- Line up bread slices dipped in sugar syrup in a plate.
- Spread Rabdi on these slices.
- Garnish with sliced almonds and pistachios.
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