Jaggery for Joy

The things you discover when you reorganise you pantry; in my case, Jaggery. Big, huge, nuggets of dark brown, unrefined, cane sugar. I don’t recall when I bought it or what I intended to use it for, but with a looming expiry date, it had to be put to good use soon.

Jaggery is the sugar for traditional Indian sweets. The flavour ranges from fruity to caramel or treacly depending on the depth of colour. It is addictive stuff. If you are a fan of molasses/black treacle or muscovado sugar, then jaggery will only bring you joy. Indeed I think my hedonistic appreciation for earthy coloured sugars stems from my love of jaggery.

My Odlay Mai (maternal grandmother) made steamed aris, a thick rice based batter, flattened on a banana leaf, filled with freshly grated coconut (sometimes flavoured with cardamom), sweetened with jaggery, wrapped in the leaf and steamed. Utter bliss! I also would visit a Brahmin friend’s house, specifically to have a couple of their Belum (jaggery in malayalam) Kapi (coffee). Her mother was very aware of the fact, but far too flattered to tell me off! Incidentally, brahmin food, which is completely vegetarian, is one of the best I have ever experienced. To date. End of.

Let me add too, that jaggery is known for it’s good iron, magnesium and potassium content, and combined with sesame seeds in this recipe, it’s a powerhouse for your red blood cells. At least, that’s the story I am sticking with.  It’s is also a mainstay, a cheap source of nutrition for the very poor.  The use of jaggery, from what I read, is declining, due to the increase in ‘Western’ style, white sugar, based baking. It’s a pity, but that’s the way the wheel turns.

Here, I give you a bog standard recipe for Indian sweetie, Chikki, so widely available that no one really makes it anymore. More’s the pity, it’s so easy. If you can’t get a hold of jaggery, then use any dark sugar you like. Indeed, white sugar works here too but you will miss the complexity and depth of flavour that can only come from an unrefined sugar source. I believe the Greeks have a version of this with honey and peanuts, the arabs do too with cardamom and sesame seeds, and in the West, it’s called brittle. I have seen black sesame seeds used the same way on Chinese/Malay cuisine. As common as it is, it’s that unifying quality I love about food. At least in that one regard, none can deny that we are all pretty much the same. Just maybe a different kinda nut!

Here I used regular white sesame seeds and another batch with black sesame seeds. All you do, is melt a bit of butter, bung in your chopped up jaggery into a pan and let it caramelise, reaching the hard crack stage at 160deg C. Do this on a low-medium heat, since there is no added water to temper the speed at which the sugar caramelises. You do not want this to start to smoke. It’s not a disaster, but that smoky note pervades the finished article and it is not desirable in this case. Can you tell that I am speaking from experience?

When it hits the mark, pour in your toasted seed/nut of choice and mix as quickly as you can, pouring it into a greased pan. It will start hardening immediately. You might not be able to coat every single seed but surely there are more important things to worry about. Flatten it out (I used a greased offset flat spatula) as best you can and leave to cool completely. Then you can either cut into thin, long slices, as I have eaten it, or crack it and have magnificent, copper coloured, transparent shards of caramelly nut. The chikki is brittle, with a good crack, isn’t hard on the teeth and soooo dang good to eat! Another option; if you don’t want it so brittle and would prefer it a bit softer and chewier, then take the caramel only to 120 deg C. Peanuts work very well in either case too.  You could vary the ratio of nut to jaggery should you want it more sweet or more nutty. It’s that flexible. Your choice. I don’t mind. Really.

What surprised me the most was the difference in flavour of the seeds. The black ones were the same taste note as the white, but much earthier, stronger and the look of the shiny, smooth topped, translucent black colour of the sweetie had a dangerous attractiveness to it. I cannot say which one I preferred most. It yo-yoed between which one I was chomping on at the time.

So take this and make it your own. It will catch your eye in a glass jar in the corner of the counter and offer a perk when the day gets a bit rough. Or make to share with friends or to bring a smile to a hostess’s lips. You’ll be guaranteed a return invite!

Sesame Seed Brittle

100gm of Jaggery (or brown sugar of yourchoice), chopped into smaller pieces
150-200gm of sesame seed or peanut
1 tablespoon of ghee or butter

Toast the seeds on a medium heat,in an oiless frying pan. Once slightly golden, remove from heat and leave to cool on a plate. In a smaller pan, melt the butter and jaggery on a low-medium heat. Once it starts bubbling, don’t stir it, swirl the pan to ensure even cooking. Insert your thermometer at this point and cook until it reads 160 degC, or the hard crack stage.

Quickly mix in your toasted nuts to coat thoroughly, and decant to an oiled shallow tray or marble slab. You can flatten it with an oiled offset spatula or roll over it with an oiled rolling pin to your desired thickness.

I tend to cut before it’s completely cold, but you could also just break it apart to form different shapes.

Store in an airtight container for a few days.

Note: You can use less nuts if you want this to be particularly sweet and crackly. In which case use equal amount of nuts and sugar/jaggery


37 thoughts on “Jaggery for Joy

  1. At Anna's Kitchen Table

    Gosh, Carrie, that looks unbelievably good! We call it ‘Pastelli’ and you’re right it’s usually made with peanuts or sesame seeds.
    Good stuff! Though I’m not sure my dentist would agree :))

    1. thePatternedPlate

      Dang you’re quick Anna! I knew there would be a variation with you πŸ™‚ And yes, it’s not something I’d make often, for the sake of keeping the money in my purse and out of my dentist’s but still, I’ll indulge in nostalgia every now and then!

  2. jobakes

    Well this dentist says she’s very excited at the looks of chikki and would happily give herself a filling for a batch made with jaggery and peanuts!

  3. heavycake

    I love this! Another recipe for the ”
    must-try” file. Your pictures have been particularly stunning lately, I love the play of dark and light.

  4. Rushi

    Your post brought back so many memories. I love jaggery and consider it one of my store cupboard essentials. I’ve had this back home and it’s usually with peanuts and when they do use sesame seeds it’s rolled into tiny balls. All I know is they are absolutey hard to resist and you have to do your level best to stop wolfing down the entire batch.

    1. thePatternedPlate

      Awwww didya miss me, petal?? πŸ˜› Have been busier than a monk making wine! It’s all calmed down now and can finally get back into routine for myself and the kids!

      Now come on Heather, this is something YOU could knock out nae bother! Tis good for you too, haha!

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  6. Rushi

    Mmmmm ladoos, who wouldn’t love ’em and now I’m craving for a few. Looking forward to your take on ’em. Anyway I made these moriesh treats, broke them into rough shards instead of cutting into even pieces. You just can’t seem to stop at one. πŸ˜‰

  7. Hillary Pelavin-Bednark

    Okay ,Don’t laugh but what is Jaggery ? I have had this sweet before,a friend from India gave me some and It reminded me of the candy I ate when I was a little girl and just loved ,loved ,loved so much ! It brings back memories and I would really like to make it .
    Thank you so much for the recipie πŸ™‚

    1. thePatternedPlate

      Hillary, am sorry for the late reply…things had gotten a bit hectic round here!

      Jaggery is unrefined cane sugar made from raw pressed, sugarcane juice, thats been boiled down, reduced and dried so as to harden. Where manufacturing of ‘table’ sugar would involve separating the molasses and sugar crystals itself, in jaggery that does not happen. So in effect you get, in essence, a sugar that has that black treacle/molasses/dark muscovado sugar taste to it. Generally the darker it is, the more complex the taste.

      I would urge you to seek it out, if you live in an area that has a high South East Asian population. Failing that, dark brown sugar would be a good substitute, but not *quite* the same. You can make it with normal white sugar as well, but you will miss the layers of taste and flavour.

      Hope this helps πŸ™‚

    1. The Patterned Plate

      Hi Doris and ooh good question!! I got it right with the white sesame seed one, but didn’t succeed as well with the black seeds. I think it has to do with the thickness of it (the white spread out thinner), as well as the temperature it reaches (the white hit the correct hard crack temperature, but I got a bit lazy on the black one and it was softer). Plus, in the white seeds, there was a higher ratio of seed to jaggery, which made it easier to cut, since if its more sugar, it will tend to crack into shards. I don’t mind that look either! It has a rustic beauty to it πŸ™‚

    1. The Patterned Plate

      Oh those are amazing too, in a different way. I, umm, used to have a sesame tikki in one hand and a peanut in the other! I just had to try to decide which one I liked best, you see. Totally natural behaviour!

  8. MLaura

    Love this candy!…My Mom made these when I was a little girl but she put pumpkin seeds along with toasted sesame seeds and used piloncillo (hard cone shaped brown sugar) to make them πŸ™‚

    1. The Patterned Plate

      It’s amazing how this kind of candy has travelled all over the world! Haven’t come across pumpkin seed ones though I can imagine that it would be good. Glad it makes you think of your mum πŸ™‚

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