Today, I share my recipe for Thengai Burfi or Coconut Fudge. This sweet in not really fudge as it is known in the western world. Yet, that’s the closest I can come with an English word to describe the Indian Burfi. This burfi needs just three ingredients – fresh coconut, sugar and water. Cardamom and a touch of ghee, though not used traditionally, make it a little more special. Thengai Burfi or Coconut Fudge is one more sweet which is typical of Palakkad Iyer cuisine.
My home state of Kerala is really a land of coconut trees, not just ayurveda, Kathakali and backwaters. There still is some disagreement as to the origin of the name, but Kerala is thought to come from the words “Keram” and “Alam”. Keram, in vernacular means coconuts and Alam means land or territory. Even if this wasn’t true, the sheer abundance of coconut trees throughout the state supports the belief.
Not surprisingly, the coconut is important in Kerala cuisine irrespective of community or religion. The coconut and the tree features in most aspects of our lives, then and now. Coconut shells are fashioned into bowls, ladles and other items of utility or decoration. The husk is an excellent potting medium and used to make coir for ropes, baskets and mats.
Coconut flowers/ inflorescence are considered auspicious and used to decorate venues at traditional ceremonies including weddings. The buds yield a sweet liquid which is fermented to make toddy/ arrack (local alcoholic drink) and coconut vinegar.
Coconut leaves are woven into thatch roofs, mats, hand-held fans, fruit baskets, traditional umbrellas, brooms, etc. The wood of the coconut tree is very hardy and durable. It makes excellent furniture and is used as construction material.
Tender coconut water and the soft creamy flesh are particular favourites in our hot and humid summers. The coconut and coconut milk are used in traditional cooking. Coconut oil is the traditional cooking fat in Kerala cuisine. It is also an excellent hair and skin conditioner. Every Keralite knows and swears by the medicinal properties of virgin coconut oil. Ayurvedic practitioners have long used coconut oil extensively in Ayurveda for its medicinal and rejuvenating qualities.
A burfi is a squarish or diamond shaped bite sized Indian confection. There are hundreds of varieties of burfi made across India. Burfis are generally festive or celebratory fare and comes in a mind boggling variety of flavours and colours depending on which part of India one is in. Most of them feature making a thick sugar syrup which binds and sets the ingredients to a fudge like consistency.
Typically, this Burfi should be quite well set but not hard. The fresh coconut makes it quite juicy when eaten. You could try making it with dry unsweetened coconut, but I can’t guarantee good results. There is no substitute for fresh coconut in this recipe. Thengai Burfi or Coconut Fudge is traditionally made only with coconut, sugar and water. More modern recipes include, non-traditional flavours, colour, nuts, etc.
This post has been updated with text and photography since it was first published in September, 2009.