There is the French bakery, and then there is the French boulangerie with reflections of the Tour Eiffel in the display cases. There are tapas, and then there are tapas amidst a mob of fútbol fans. There are empanadas, and then there are empanadas made by the madres who fought for their sons’ freedom from government corruption. There are cachacas, and then there are sweet, refreshing cachaças after taking in the views of sugar loaves and an omipotent redeemer.
There are chai lattes, and then there are chais from earnest workers in slums, where school girls gather to practice their English and request their photos. The blurred lines of the globe fill us with glimpses and tastes, teasing and toying with the wanderlust stirring inside those of us who feel its tug. These foods and their customs, the way they lead us to expand ourselves and later revel in nostalgia, these are the connections I explore through mixing bowls, whisks and spices.
Spices…the colors, the textures, the scents…transport us, to places we have been and to places we have only imagined. The sealed, glass jar of turmeric at the grocery store pales in comparison to the freshly ground, bright sunflower gold of the turmeric of the market stall. The way the spices blend and transform onions, garlic, ginger and greens becomes a vehicle, and we go on a sensory journey. Proper spices are a powerful tool.
No matter how organized a trip may be, a traveler must always leave room for the unexpected, the serendipitous discoveries- the hole-in-the-wall restaurant, the unlisted gallery, the street performer who strums better than the famed. RawSpiceBar channels surprises, journeys and flavors in one great idea: a monthly spice subscription consisting of three, global, authentic, freshly ground spice mixtures, from top chefs, along with recipes for their use.
It’s an idea I wish I had conceived myself. The monthly spice package unwraps like a friend returning from a trip abroad, regaling you with souvenirs and stories, complete with a layer of patterned paper representative of that region. My first spice package revealed glimpses of Punjabi India.
As I learned, traveling to India is a foodie’s contradiction- the most authentic recipes, and pungent plates await at the street level, but avoiding Delhi Belly requires keeping a safe distance. Most of my food associations entail an extreme consciousness of what I ate and drank, but despite the precautions, there were still plenty of immersive moments like sipping authentic chai tea and riding a beautifully adorned Indian elephant.
As a baker, I was drawn to the Chai & Rose Nankhatai Cookie recipe. I used the cookies as a way to revisit my trip to India, through intense spices and elephant shapes. India is a trip I have yet to fully process in my head or organize photographically. There are still folders and folders of images waiting to be sorted and experiences to be recalled. In more ways than one, the spice package sent me wandering.
These cookies became an afternoon shared with friends, exploring the exotic that exists close to home and finding inspiration in the distant. More on that to come!
Whole Grain Chai & Rose Nankhatai Cookies featuring RawSpiceBar
About This Recipe: RawSpiceBar updated this centuries-old Indian shortbreads cookies recipe by adding freshly ground rose buds & chai spices, yielding a peppery, sweet cookie that pairs perfectly with milky tea or coffee. Nankhatai comes from the Persian word “nan” (meaning bread) and the Afghan word “khatai” (meaning biscuit). These little shortbread cookies are said to have originated in Surat in the 16th century, when the Dutch were prominent spice trading partners with the Indians. An Iranian man ran a European style bakery here but, once the Dutch explorers left, had to adapt to low-cost sweet treats for locals. Traditional North Indian Nankhatai do not use any leavening agents but these days a small amount of baking powder and salt is added to give these cookies a lighter feel.
p.s: I received product from RawSpiceBar, but all opinions are my own!
Whole Grain Chai & Rose Nankhatai Cookies
adapted from RawSpiceBar
yield: abut 32 small cookies
RawSpiceBar’s Rose & Chai Spices (or substitue the content of 2-3 chai teabags)
6 Tablespoons organic whole milk (or any type of milk with some fat), plus more for dough
1 teaspoon local honey
1/2 cup organic, unsalted butter
3/4 cup organic powdered sugar
Place milk and honey in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, reduce heat and add RawSpiceBar’s Chai & Rose Spices. Simmer on very low heat for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and let cool. The mixture will be very thick, like a paste.
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Sift together flours, baking powder and salt in a small bowl.
Rub together butter and flour mixture, until resembling small breadcrumbs.
Add sugar and combine ingredients.
Create a well in dough and add milk & spices from saucepan. Combine all ingredients and roll dough into a ball. Add additional milk if dough is too dry. Chill dough in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes, until dough is cold and firm.
Flour a clean surface and roll out the pastry until about 1/2 cm thick. Cut into shapes of choice- either with a cookie cutter or, if you don’t have one, a circular glass rim.
Line a baking tray with parchment paper and place the cut cookies about 1/2 inch apart.
Bake the cookies for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven.
Serve warm and, if preferred, dunk in a cup of your favorite hot milky tea.