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.
Thengai Burfi or Coconut Fudge
- 3 cups fresh grated coconut
- 2 cups sugar
- 3/4 cup water
- 5 or 6 pods cardamom powdered
- 2 tbsps ghee
- When scraping/ grating the coconut, make sure the brown part does not scraped/ grated as well. This will produce brown flecks in the Coconut Burfi which should be white.
- You may also run the grated coconut a couple of times in your mixer/ blender or food processor to make it finer. Do not over process as it will release oil and become a paste. The finer coconut will produce a smoother Burfi.
- Place the sugar and water in a thick walled/ heavy bottom pan. Over medium heat, stir till the sugar dissolves completely and starts boiling. Keep stirring frequently and let the sugar syrup cook and thicken till it reaches 2-string consistency.
- Since most kitchens in India (even now) do not use candy thermometers, we tend to use the cold water candy test method. And "string/ thread" consistencies are the first stages of sugar syrup.
- To check for 2-string consistency, put a couple of drops of the sugar syrup on your index finger (make sure it has cooled slightly, but still warm, or you will burn your finger). Bring your thumb down to lightly touch the sugar syrup. Lift your thumb away from your finger and the syrup will form threads. If 2 or 3 threads (one thick thread is not enough) form and break, the syrup is at the right consistency.
- If this consistency isn't reached, your burfi can end up becoming soft and fudgy. If your syrup passes this stage, the burfi will be dry and not quite hold together. At the correct consistency, the burfi would hold its shape well while being a bit soft and juicy when bitten into.
- When the sugar syrup has reached the desired consistency, add the grated coconut and stir well. The mixture will take on a slightly wet look from the milk in the coconut. Continue cooking the mixture stirring constantly, till it thickens quite a bit and the edges start looking white and take on a frothy appearance. At this point the mixture will be thick and somewhat dry looking. Don't worry, it will stay together.
- Add the ghee and cardamom powder and stir well. Take the pan off the heat and pour the mixture into a 7" x 11" pan/ cake tin which has been greased well with ghee. Press down (not very hard but enough to pack the mixture into the tin) and level the mixture with a greased flat spatula or the back of a spoon or even the underside of a greased flat bowl.
- Allow to cool and harden a bit. Mark into 24 small squares. Once it has cooled down completely cut and transfer to an airtight container.
- If you plan to keep this beyond 3 or 4 days, then please refrigerate the burfi, in an airtight container, after it has cooled.