Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sajjappa - a traditional dessert from my home town to celebrate the festival of lights

Happy Deepavali to all my readers who are celebrating the festival of lights. If you are not into celebrations, you can still enjoy this traditional sweet from Karnataka. This is very popular in Mysore/Bengaluru region and I haven't seen or heard about it from other regions in India.

How do I begin to explain Sajjappa to someone if you haven't heard/seen/tasted this deliriously delicious sweet :-). If you are familiar with Obbattu/holige made with coconut filling, I could compare sajjappa to that in terms of ingredients. If you knew what a kachori is, I would say Sajjappa is a kachori with sweet filling (close enough but lot of differences). If you had tasted kobbari mithai, I could say sajjappa tastes like a distant cousin of it with added crunch. But if you were not familiar with any of these typical Indian dishes, I would simply say, "this is a sweet to fight for, a sweet to be enjoyed in leisure, a sweet that fills your cravings for all sweets and leaves no gaps :-)." Sounds convincing? You should try these atleast once.
When Nammamma made these as part of festivals or celebration menu, I have literally fought with my little brother for my fair share and secured it. This is one sweet from childhood that I continue to relish even after all these years. Sadly it is slowly fading away from most homes and a couple of times I tried the store bought ones on my India trip, they came no where close to the satisfaction bar. I had given up on these until I decided to try at home a couple of years back. After a couple of failures, disasters, heart breaks, phone calls etc and an unshakable perseverance, I have finally gained the skill level to make these without as much as batting an eyelid :-)

There are a lot of notes/tips in this post, guess how/why I am so knowledgeable? Been there, done that and salvaged more than once. So read through the entire post and once you are armed with the wisdom, go ahead and try out this slowly fading away dessert that deserves to be handed down generations to come. Since my generation seems to be philosophically bought in to the idea of 'less oil', I went ahead and tried baking sajjappas. 400F, lay the sajjappa on a parchment paper in a cookie sheet, bake 8 minutes on one side, turn and bake for another 4 minutes. Delicious, crispy outer cover yet moist filling, these were in no way inferior to the deep fried ones. In the spirit of Deepavali, I deep fried most while baked a couple of batches but next time onwards, I might just stick to the baked version.
Some potential mishaps and how to recover from them: 
  • Keep that smile intact on your face and march towards the final goal no matter how bad the situation seems to be :-), this applies while making sajjappa or any other time in life too. I am in a free advice giving mood & mode today. Rest of the points below are totally practical and meant to help you get out of sticky situations, so go ahead and read them. 
  • If you used more water while making the filling, just keep it on medium heat until it evaporates and becomes a soft mass. When you take a spoon of the hurana and give it a shape, it should hold and not collapse. There is no syrup consistency for this dessert.
  • On the other hand, if the filling becomes too hard after it cools down, take it in a wide plate or on your counter top, add few drops of water and start kneading to make it soft. Hard consistency of the filling will make it poke out of the cover while pressing it and causes sajjappa to burst open in the oil, not a pretty sight :-)
  • Trick to a great sajjappa is in the right balance of the filling and cover, the cover should be thick but not too thick so it remains crispy. Very thin covering will expose the filling while frying them. 
  • If you removed the filling a tad early and it is still very sticky, get it back in the pan and continue heating for a few more minutes and test if the ball sits holding its shape and when you touch it with water smeared fingers, it doesn't stick to your fingers. 
  • I really loved everything about the baked sajjappa, the fact that it is so much lower in calories compared to the other version is a HUGE BONUS. Give it a try. 

What do you need to make Sajjappa? 
Below quantities make about 25-30 sajjappas depending on the size
Hoorana or filling:
2.5 cups coconut
2 cups grated jaggery
1/2 cup chiroti rava/sooji (finer than upma rava)
4 green cardamom
2 cloves
1 Tsp gasagase/poppy seeds
2 Tbsp water
Optional:
ghee roasted raisins and cashews - chopped into tiny pieces
Kanaka or outer covering:
1.5 cups chiroti rava/sooji
3/4 cup AP flour (maida)
1/8 Tsp salt
1 Tbsp oil
3/4 cup water
Others:
Oil to deep fry
How do you make Sajjappa? 
Making Hoorana or Filling: 
  • Grate or powder jaggery. 
  • Bring coconut to room temperature if using frozen. 
  • Powder cardamom & cloves. 
  • Heat a thick bottom pan on medium heat. 
  • Add 2 Tbsp water and powdered jaggery. 
  • Mix until jaggery dissolves completely. 
  • Add all the rest of the ingredients listed under 'hoorana' and give a good mix. 
  • Let it cook for a few minutes until water evaporates and you see a soft mass in the pan. 
  • Wet your palms, take a spoonful of the filling, roll it between palms and drop it into a plate. The ball should hold its shape though squishy and will not stick to the wet hands. 
  • At this stage, switch off and let cool. 
  • You can use it to make sajjappa once cool or refrigerate it for later use. 
Making outer cover: 
  • Take all ingredients listed except for water & oil in a bowl and mix them well. 
  • Add water slowly and bring everything together. 
  • Depending on the quality of flours, you may need a little less or more quantity of water. The dough needs to be soft. 

  • Once the dough comes together, knead it for atleast 10 minutes. 
  • You will feel the coarse texture of rava turning smooth and soft as you need and the dough reaches an elastic consistency. 
  • Pour 1 Tbsp oil on top of the dough, gently pat it into the dough, cover and let it rest atleast 2-3 hours or overnight. 
Making sajjappas:
  • Heat oil for deep fry in a deep and wide pan.
  • Knead the dough once more and divide into 25 equal portions. 
  • Bring the filling to room temperature if refrigerated and divide into 25 equal portions. 
  • Put a drop of oil on your palm, place the dough and press it to make a flat disk. 
  • Put the filling portion in the center of the disk and pull all the edges gently to cover the filling. 
  • Put the seam side down on a lightly oiled aluminium foil/banana leaf/plastic sheet and press gently into a circle of about 1mm thickness. 
  • Ease this gently into the hot oil, flip a couple of times to get it golden brown in color all around. 
  • Take it out onto a paper towel lined plate and let cool a little before digging in. 
  • Baked version: Preheat oven to 400F, spread a parchment paper in a cookie sheet, arrange the flattened sajjappas leaving a little space between each other. Bake for 8 mins on one side, flip and bake for 4 mins on the other side. The baking times may need to be watched and adjusted based on your oven.
Notes:
  • Nammamma makes it with only coconut & jaggery, since all she has to do is break as many coconuts as needed and grate them:-). I use store bought frozen coconut and was on my last packet so followed what my friend's amma used to do and added rava to make up for the deficiency of coconut.
  • I was 1/2 cup short of jaggery and instead of making a trip to the store, used Turbinado sugar I had in the pantry, didn't make any difference in color, texture or sweetness. 
  • Proportion of chiroti Rava to maida is 1:1/2, this yields a crispy outer covering.
  • While deep frying, keep the heat on medium and fry until both sides turn light golden brown. 
  • Adjust quantity of jaggery based on your sweet preference and also the quality of the variety you use. 
  • Let the dough soak for atleast 2 hours, kneading it is important. Rough texture of rava turns smooth and soft as you add water and knead. 
  • Overnight resting is great too if you want to make ahead, keep it outside on the countertop where it is cool.
  • You can refrigerate the hoorana if you make it ahead but bring it to room temperature before making sajjappas.