Celebrating 4 Years Of Blogging With Some Balushahi/ Badhusha (Sugar Glazed Flaky Pastry Rounds)
Last week, this virtual kitchen completed 4 years. I will not bore you all with the usual stuff I write every blog birthday, beyond saying that I never imagined I would be still be writing here for 4 years or come to enjoy blogging so much. So good or bad, this kitchen, the food in it and I are here to stay as long as it takes.
I must also say a big thanks to all of you who keep me inspired and motivated with your friendships, encouraging e-mails and comments here, even though I don’t always manage to reciprocate by visiting those of you who have blogs. I always answer e-mails though. This post and the Balushahis are dedicated to all of you. I would package and send them to you all if I could but am sharing them with you virtually instead.
Celebrations are always sweet, and though both my virtual and real kitchens are diverse, I thought it would be fitting to go Indian with this blog birthday. India is well known for its cuisine and the variety of mouth-watering sweets that can be found all across the country. I know there are some people who feel they are too sweet (I might occasionally agree) but to quote my husband, “Sweets (and desserts) are meant to be sweet!”
Balushahi (or Badusha/ Padusha as it is referred to in the southern states of India) is a sugar glazed deep-fried flaky North Indian pastry that resembles a doughnut. I know many people call it an Indian doughnut, but that’s doing the Balushai an injustice as it is nothing like a doughnut, except possibly in its appearance. A doughnut is soft and spongy while a Balushahi is flaky.
Balushahi, or Badusha is as well known in South India as it is in the North and some might argue about my saying it is North Indian in origin. In fact, I remember it from my childhood as a sweet which wasn’t made in my home but occasionally came in specially wrapped boxes which were brought by some family or friends when they came visiting us. It would also make a rare and very unusual appearance as “bhakshanam” (sweets made and distributed for special occasions like marriages and other ritualistic ceremonies)
I do not have recorded historical facts to support my conviction but three things about the Balushahi tell me that it must have come into North India, possibly with the Mughal invaders or tradespeople, and then moved down to the South. I understand that the Balushahi is also very well known in Pakistan and Nepal.
The first indication is the name itself. Dishes which have “shahi” which comes from the Persian “Shah” meaning royal, invariably have their origins in Mughlai cuisine which is a style of Indian cooking that came with the Mughal invaders or tradespeople from Persia. The “Shahi” cuisine is also incredibly rich usually, and the Balushahi is nothing if not rish considering the ghee in it! Also, the deep-fried pastry dipped in sugar syrup is reminiscent of sweets from the Middle East.
Second, this is a sweet made with refined flour (maida). Traditionally, most sweets in the South are made with rice or rice flour because wheat is not grown in the South but in the North.
And third, is that Balushahi is usually garnished with pistachios and/ or almonds. Now, both these nuts used to be rarely found in the South where cashewnuts and groundnuts (peanuts) are more common. In fact, the version of the sweet which we call Badusha in the South is usually not garnished with nuts at all but covered in a thick white dry sugar glaze, whereas the Northern version is glazed with a shiny transparent sugar glaze.
I always thought making Balushahi at home would be time and effort consuming. Actually it is far from that, as I discovered. There are a couple of important things to remember, that is all. Do NOT to overwork the dough or you will not get the characteristic flaky texture of this sweet. The other thing is to keep the temperature of the oil on the lower side, while frying the pastry discs, so as to ensure they’re well-cooked inside without becoming too dark on the outside.
The choice of fat in this recipe is ghee. I understand some people make it successfully with unsalted butter too but butter would never give the Balushahi the nutty taste and fragrance that ghee does. Ghee is nothing but clarified butter and can be made at home (the best option) or bought from the store.
For the pastry dough:
For the syrup/ glaze:
- Place the flour, baking powder, baking soda, powdered cardamom and salt in a big bowl. Whisk them together to mix. Add the ghee to this and rub it in until the mixture resembles bread crumbs.
- Add the whisked yogurt and using a fork, lightly mix everything together until it clumps together. Using your fingers, bring the mixture together and lightly knead it into a dough. The dough should be on the stiffer side, but moist enough to be rolled into a ball. The dough will also not be smooth (like pastry dough) which is fine. Do not overwork the dough , as this will develop the gluten and you will not get the flaky texture in the finished Balushahi.
Now take the dough and divide it into 12 equal pieces, each about the size of a lime. Lightly roll each piece into a ball (remember not to overwork the dough), flatten slightly and using your thumb, make a depression in the centre. Do not push through and make a hole like a doughnut, but make a deep enough depression. This will fill out somewhat when they’re being deep-fried. The edges of the dough/ pastry discs will look uneven/ cracked which is how it should be, as this ensures they cook well during frying.
Heat the oil in a wok so that it is just hot but not smoking. (There should be enough oil in your wok to completely submerge the dough discs.) The pastry discs have to be fried at a low heat for about 15 minutes so they’re cooked through without burning on the outside. You can test if the oil is hot enough by dropping a very small bit of dough into it. If it stays at the bottom and bubbles start rising up from it without the dough bit browning, then the oil is hot enough.
Once the oil is the right temperature, turn down the heat and carefully slide in the flattened dough discs into the oil, 4 or 6 at a time, depending on the size of your wok. They will stay at the bottom and once they’re somewhat cooked will rise up a bit in the oil. Now turn each one over to cook on the other side. Cook them until they’re done (will take about 15 to 20 minutes or so) and uniformly deep golden brown all over. Remove them from the oil and allow to drain on paper towels for a few minutes. Do break one after frying to check the inside is cooked and not raw. Repeat with the remaining dough discs.
Dip the fried dough discs in the hot syrup or about 30 minutes, making sure they’re well coated. If the syrup has cooled and thickened, just warm it up a bit. An easier way of ensuring the fried dough discs are coated well in sugar syrup is to place them in a tray and pour the syrup over them.
After about 30 minutes, take them out of the syrup and place them on a rack to drain the excess syrup. Then sprinkle the chopped nuts on top and let the sugar glaze dry out and set completely. Serve at room temperature.
This sugar syrup forms a thick shiny glaze, but Balushahis are also made with if you would prefer a sugar glaze like the crusty kind doughnuts are dipped in, then leave out the lime juice when making the sugar syrup in the first place.
Then cook the sugar syrup remaining after dipping the Balushahi till it is a little thicker (soft ball stage). Dip the already coated (and dried) Balushahis in this hot syrup till well-coated and let them dry out on a rack. Once they have cooled the sugar coating will dry to a white colour.
The finished Balushahis should have a sugar coated crisp outer layer and be flaky and soft on the inside. This recipe makes 12 Balushahis/ Badushas.