Think Pune. Monsoon. By 3:30 pm on any given afternoon, the line has already formed outside the old building in Cantonment, along East Camp Street. The Rickshaw-wallas, the well-dressed ladies in their saris and glittering gold bangles, a few men in suits sneaking out of office for an afternoon treat, and the college students longing for a few biscuits as they prep for their exams. While the outside is ever changing, what rests inside looks just about the same as it did back when the Parsi cafe was opened in 1955 by Hormuz and Khodayar Irani. There are no comparable tastes or smells to those of the old Irani Parsi cafe’s in Mumbai and Pune (and the rich historic traditions they bring with them). Kyani’s in Pune is best known for it’s Shrewsberry biscuit, though they offer a wide variety of Parsi desserts, biscuits and treats. Everyday the line forms in the morning and again in the afternoon with the same buzz when Kyani’s re-opens, fresh biscuits compiled neatly along the old wooden counter.
If I had to think of just one food to sum up the Indian palette–with all of the varieties of tastes, spices, and smells from the most Northern point of India down to southern most tip–it might not be Indian at all, but rather Zorastrian. It would likely be Jeera shortbread. The succulent buttery taste of shortbread combined with the bite of jeera (cumin), a spice used widely throughout the country (though the starting point of any tadka in North India). The Parsi’s migrated throughout India, notably in the 18th and 19th century, carrying along a cuisine that has been adopted and adapted into almost every regional cuisine in the country. These delectable biscuits are one such example.
Jeera Shortbread Recipe
1 Cup (250 g) Butter
1/2 Cup (150 g) Sugar
1 1/2 Cups (300 g) White Flour, maida
1/2 Cup (110 g) Corn flour
2 tsp cumin seeds (roasted)
1/4 Cup (50g) Almonds, finely ground
1 egg white
Jaggery or light brown sugar as needed
1. Cream butter and sugar together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, corn flour, and almonds until well-blended. Fold 1/2 of the flour mixture into the butter-sugar mixture and mix. Then fold in the second half. Be sure not to overwork the mixture or it will fall apart on you.
2. Form the mixture into round sausages (about 2 inches wide in diameter). Brush the sausage shapes with egg white and roll them in jaggery until uniformly coated (this step kind of reminds me of rolling sushi). The next step is to cool these in the dough in the freezer or refrigerator for at least an hour. I roll the sausage shapes up in plastic wrap. You can also freeze and store them at this point (unthawing and cutting out the pieces you want whenever you feel like some shortbread)!
3. Finally, Preheat the oven to 350 Degrees F. Take out the shortbread and slide apart cookies using a very sharp nice. I suggest cutting each cookie so that it’s app 1/4 inch thick. Otherwise, they can become very flaking. Place them on a buttered/nonstick pan and bake for 12-20 minutes depending on the oven. You’ll know they’re down when the jaggery has spread out around the outside. The shortbread itself will stay white. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool for a minute or two.
4. Remove the biscuits. Make some chai and enjoy!