Today is Diwali, the Indian festival of lights. It's a time when I always miss being back at home in India, where the excitement of Diwali hangs palpably in the air! Firecrackers light up the skies at the crack of dawn and then later on in the evening. The day kicks off to a great start with a South Indian spread for breakfast. The menu may vary but it always includes dosas, delicious rice-and-lentil crepes served with coconut chutney. During the day, we enjoy dressing up in new clothes and visiting the neighbors bearing platters of home-made sweets and savories, and getting more goodies in return! After dark, the city glows with the light of the many rows of lamps that people light outside their homes. It's also the most secular festival in India, when people of all faiths get together to celebrate.
One of the things I crave at this time of year is my mother's signature Diwali sweet, badam puri. This is a delicious confection of her own creation, featuring flaky layers of fried almond pastry soaked in a cardamom-saffron syrup and garnished with vibrant green pistachios. They're definitely a little labor-intensive to make, but my mother, sister and I love to make them as a team, laughing and chattering as we roll, fry, dip and decorate the pastries. Happy Diwali!
Recipe: Amma's Badam Puri (Sugar-dipped Almond Pastry)
1 cup whole almonds, blanched, toasted and ground fine (or use almond flour such as Bob's Red Mill)
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
A generous pinch of salt
3 tbs. cold ghee (clarified butter)
1 tsp. baking powder
Ice cold water to make dough
Oil for deep frying
3 tbs. rice flour (available from most Indian and some Western grocers)
1 tbs. ghee or clarified butter
2 tsp. thick yoghurt or dahi (like Greek yoghurt)
2 1/2 cup sugar
2 cups water
A few saffron strands, soaked in 2 tbs. warm water
3/4 tsp.ground cardamom
2 tbs finely chopped pistachio nuts
For the dough, pulse the flour, baking powder and salt in a food processor a few times. Add the ghee and pulse a few more times to combine. Drizzle in some ice-cold water, a few tablespoons at a time, to make a dough that is neither too soft nor too sticky. Turn it out on to a floured surface and knead briefly. Leave to rest for half an hour.
For the paste, simply combine all the ingredients and whisk till smooth and well blended.
For the syrup, heat the sugar and water in a heavy-bottomed pan. Cook until the syrup reaches one-string consistency (this corresponds to about 215F on a candy thermometer) and then add the flavorings. Keep warm. While the syrup is cooking, heat the oil for frying.
Break of lime-sized balls of the dough and roll them on a lightly floured surface into 4" circles. Place a few dabs of the layering paste and spread it over the circle. Fold the circle into half and then quarters, repeating the process of layering. Roll the dough quarter-circle out into a larger triangle. Prick all over with a fork and then fry in the oil till golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drop into the sugar syrup, turning once to coat. Dry on a wire rack that has been set over a plate. Repeat till the pastry is used up.
Collect all the leftover syrup from the plate and heat it once again till any crystals have dissolved. Working quickly, dip each pastry in the syrup again, and then remove to the wire rack to dry. Decorate with the pistachios and leave to dry. These pastries can be stored in an air tight tin when dry but are best eaten within 3 days of making.