Nankhatai is a shortbread cookie from India. It is very close to ‘Pecan Sandies’ in United States. It is made from flour, sugar, clarified butter and nuts.
There is interesting history behind origin of Nankhatai. Nankhatai originated in Surat, a large port city in Gujarat.
Near the end of 16th century, Dutch explorers Van Houtman and Van Neck started to make trading posts in India for trade in spices. Surat was one of the occupied port city. Dutch set up a bakery in Surat to produce bread for their on consumption. When the Dutch left India, they handed over the bakery to one of the their trusted employees named Dotivala. He was to continue baking bread for the Dutch being left behind. The bakery became ‘Dotivala Bakery’. The demand for bread kept declining as more and more Dutch left India.
Sura (sap from the Palm tree, or toddy) was used as yeast to ferment the dough. Hindus would not eat this bread because of Sura. The left over bread would become dry and crispy and sold to poor at discounted prices. Local masses liked the taste of this inexpensive dried out crispy bread, and ate it by dunking in Chai (Hot tea). Enterprising Dotivala changed the shape of the bread, and dried the slices in the oven. This oven dried bread is called ‘Irani Biscuit’.
Popularity of Mughalai Cuisine led Dotivala to wrap his products in a false cloak of Persian Cuisine by giving them Persian names. ‘Irani Biscuit’ is obvious example. In Persian, Nankhatai means ‘bread of Cathay’ or Chinese bread.
There is a very large Gujarati population in Bombay. The Nankhatai were transported to markets in Bombay where it became popular teatime item. It was eaten by dunking in the sweet hot tea latte (Garam Masala Chai).
Finally, Dotivala had created a business with a line of biscuits that suited the Indian taste. Dotivala did not have to rely on Dutch for its economic success.
Nankhatai had six ingredients: Flour, Ghee, Sugar, Palm toddy, Eggs, and Almonds. Some historians assert that the name Nankhatai reflects the recipe where Nan stands for bread, and Khat meaning six refers to the six ingredients.
Hindu population did not care for either the eggs or the palm toddy. The North Indians started to produce their own version of Nankhatai without any leavening at all. Without any leavening, the recipe started to resemble the European shortbread cookie. During Raj, the cookies were popular among the English, it reminded them of shortbread cookies. The British also imported their own shortbread cookies from England.
Add the sieved ingredients to the sugar-ghee mixture. The dough should be kneaded well for at least 7-8 mts. If the dough is not stiff enough to roll out into balls, add a few tbsps of cold milk and chill for a few minutes.
Pinch dough and shape into small balls and slightly flatten. Garnish with almonds or pista.
Place on a greased tray.
Pre heat oven for 15 mts, bake at 180 C for about 20-22 mts. Once baked, the cookie will feel soft on touch. Remove from oven and cool and the cookies will harden.