This weekend is marked Makar Sankranti on my calendar. It is the Indian festival of harvest. Wiki-guru informs me a couple other things too…that this time marks the first change post winter solstice in the Sun’s celestial path as it transitions into Aquarius from Capricorn…and that this day also has beautiful regional variations in the way it is celebrated across the Indian subcontinent.
West Bengal is predominantly agrarian, and calls this day Poush Sankranti or Poush Parbon. The festival falls on the last day of “Poush”, the auspicious 9th month in Bengali calendar. Auspicious because it is the harvest season and symbolizes prosperity, abundant food, income and well-being for the farmer community. This day rejoices Bengal’s fresh harvest of chaal (rice), khejur-er gur (date palm jaggery) and narkel (coconut). These three ingredients thus form the heart and soul of all members of a sweet-family called “Pithe”, which defines this day for most Bengalis. Poush Parbon is therefore also known as Pithe Parbon. So if a Bengali was ever to think of making any “Pitheys” in a year, it will most certainly be on this day!
FAQs: Did Ma make me Pitheys on Pithe Parbon when I was little? Well yes, for a good few years in a row. How many times have I celebrated Sankranti in my adult life? Not one time that I remember. And how long have I known these wonder facts about this festival? Been about 2 days now, since that late night call I made and pressed Ma to tell me more why and how! Now why on earth did I not know? That’s because I am a pure-bred 3rd generation “Probashi Baangali”. Probashi is a word that’s used to represent a Baangali who wasn’t born and raised in Poschim Bongo (West Bengal), and therefore does not qualify to claim the title of a “pakka bheto-Baangali”, your rice-love index irrespective.
As a kid (and because I grew up in the Northern plains of India), I found more fun running up to our terrace and flying one kite after the other on the foggy cold afternoon of Makar Sankranti and gobbling down my “Khichadi” for lunch, than to care about the “Pitheys” that Ma may have also made for the occasion. Although Ma and Baba are also Probashi Bengalis, they have had rather fonder “Pithe” memories from their childhood. Both my grandma’s made several types of Pitheys on this day… Choshi Payesh, bhaaja pithe, sheddo pithe with date palm jaggery dip, gokul pithe, pithe puli, doodh puli, Chandra puli and patishapta pithe to name a few. Quite a milky-coconuty-jaggery-sweet-feast it made! Out of all types of pithe that I could list here, patishapta remains the top favorite and is the most glamorous and popular Bengali pithe there is. This dessert is prepared exclusively on Poush Sankranti alongside other pitheys. It is also made on other special days in a Bengali household. Patishapta pithe is different than others in being a thin pancake or crepe filled with a sweet filling of coconut and jaggery. My grandma always said, “I love patishapta. But there are 3 things I wish were different. First, these pitheys have a very good size – it’s quite an amount for a single serving. I wish they came a size smaller, so they could be relished without being overly filling! Second, since addition of rice flour in the mixture yields thicker crepes, not everyone likes to use it in their recipes. But I wish patishaptas were always made with a little of the customary rice flour in it. Pitheys are no pitheys without rice flour in them! Third, shouldn’t it be about that ecstatic khejurer gur? Well of course we don’t always get our hands on a good quality jaggery and end up using sugar instead. But sugar? Use jaggery when possible. Sugarcane jaggary is no substitute to our good old date palm jaggery, but use it if you can’t find anything better. Use it in place of sugar. Sugars can never parallel the dense taste, rich color, and aroma of a jaggery.” I am no one to argue with that. Grandma was such a pithe-pro after all!
But nonetheless, those traditions are eventually getting lost somewhere down the line. My 7 year old probably doesn’t know what “pithe” even means you see. As it gets busier, I can no longer keep counts of all my festivals and haven’t been able to follow each one of them. And yet, I am a firm believer in holding on to our roots. With all the blending of cultures, it’s all ought to be influenced and tad thinned. However, we should still preserve what we can and hand them down to our children, no? Don’t you agree?
With these thoughts in mind, I got down to my business. I made patishaptas for Pithe Parbon. We deserved it this year! Though never on Sankrantis, but I may have made patishapta pitheys 3 or 4 times in the past. And whenever, I did, I made them the regular size…medium-large crepes, ceremoniously stuffed with coconut-jaggery filling and folded neatly. I did it slightly differently this time. I made them snack size and drenched in lots of kheer! O, yes, and they came out perfect…soft, moist, rich, flavorful and dream-like! Traditionally, patishapta pithe is finished 3 ways. The crepes are either eaten away with the sweet filling, or the filled crepes are dipped in sugar syrup before served or some thick sweetened milk is drizzled on them for that X-factor. I chose the last way but doused my patishapta mini’s into the kheer, and in loads of it (scroll down to the last pic on this post to see how I ate them!)
A few tweaks in my regular patishapta recipe to support this innovation (I did get a little ambitious with my patishaptas this time!):
- The filling had to come together well, so they don’t fall out once the pitheys are dunk in the kheer. To give it a traditional touch, I made the filling out of coconut and date palm jaggery, and used a little sooji/rava to hold them together
- The crepes had to be soft and yet not too thin, so they retain the shape and aren’t too mushy in kheer. So I added rice flour (as customary) in my patishapta to provide more body to the crepes.
- I used cloves to “pin” the crepe ends together securely
- The kheer had to be the right consistency…not too thick, not too watery
Making them was easy. A couple spoons of this mixed with a couple spoons of that, then fry, fill, fold and dip. Yes, was that easy! The result was deliciously delicious and very addictive. You really must make it to believe. You’d love them as much as we did! And with this recipe, here’s wishing you all a very prosperous Sankranti and hoping that 2017 treats us all very well!
Makes for 6 to 8 servings
♦ For the filling you will need:
- 2 tbsp coarsely chopped or broken cashew nuts (kaju)
- 1 tbsp golden raisins (kishmish)
- 2 tbsp semolina or sooji
- 1.5 heaped tbsp fine coconut powder or grated dry coconut (narkel guro)
- 2 tbsp powdered Khejur-er gur (Nolen gur or Date palm jaggery) — alternatively use 2 tbsp regular sugarcane jaggery** [Optional]
- 2 tbsp sugar (use more to taste, if you are not using any gur or jaggery)
- 0.5 cup (4 oz or 120 ml) milk
- 0.5 tsp elaichi powder (ground green cardamoms)
- 1 tbsp dried rose petals** [Optional]
- 2 – 3 tsp clarified butter or ghee
Method to make filling:
Heat 1 heaped tsp of ghee in a frying pan over low-medium heat, and lightly fry the broken cashew nuts and raisins till they are slightly reddish-brown or done. Fish out the nuts and raisins in a small bowl. In the same ghee, add sooji, dried coconut powder, sugar, elaichi powder, milk, gur or jaggery and the fried cashews and raisins. Stir well and mix as the filling gets cooked and fried. Keep stove heat at low-medium during this step to avoid burning the filling mixture. You will see that the filling turns gooey and sticky. At this stage, add 1 tsp of ghee and mix. Add the dried rose petals and stir. Now the filling mixture should appear well done and wouldn’t be as sticky. Upon stirring, the mixture should leave the pan and come almost clean on the spatula. (If the mixture is still too sticky, add a little more ghee and stir/mix till done.) Once done, take the pan off stove and set it down to cool. As the filling cools down, it would get firmer and come together easily.
♦ For the Kheer you need:
- 1 can evaporated milk
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 to 2 tbsp powdered Khejur-er gur (Nolen gur or Date palm jaggery) — alternatively use 2 tbsp regular sugarcane jaggery** [Optional]
- 1 to 2 pinches of elaichi powder (ground green cardamoms)** [Optional]
- 2 tbsp Rose water** [Optional]
Place a saucepan with evaporated milk over medium heat and bring it to boil. Take pan off the stove and add all the condensed milk, elaichi powder and gur/jaggery. Place the pan back over medium heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Stir occasionally during this time and scrape off the pan bottom and sides every 1 to 2 minutes. Take the pan off stove and allow it to cool. As it cools, the kheer should thicken considerably. If it doesn’t try heating the kheer for another 3 to 5 minutes. On the contrary, if the kheer becomes too thick, add some cold milk and mix, to thin it down to your desired consistency. Ideally, the kheer’s should be a rich consistency and yet, not too thin or flowy (I love mine with a rich texture, more like heavy whipping cream). Once the kheer has cooled down a bit, add the rose water flavor to it and mix.
♦ For making mini-Patishapta crepes you will need:
- 1 cup (8 oz or 230 gms) all purpose flour or maida
- 2 tbsp rice flour (chaal er guro)
- 2 tbsp semolina or sooji
- 1 to 2 pinches salt
- 2 leveled tbsp sugar
- About 1.5 cups (12 oz or 350 ml) water
- 1 – 2 tsp of melted ghee or clarified butter for greasing — alternatively use light olive oil
- Whole cloves (lavang) — as many as the crepes
- A non-stick mini-pancake or mini-uttapam pan
- The filling mixture
P.S: The proportions and crepe mixture combination in this recipe are customized for making bite-size patishapta pitheys — they aren’t suited to make the larger regular ones. I use a different recipe for regular patishaptas that yields a thinner crepe which I’ll share separately.
Method to make mini Patishapta pithe:
- In a mixing bowl, add maida, rice flour, sooji, salt and sugar. With a dry tablespoon, dry mix the ingredients.
- Add 1 cup (8 oz) of water and mix together to a smooth mixture. There should be no lumps at this stage. Add another 0.5 cup (4 oz) water to thin out the crepe mixture. The consistency should be slightly thinner than the usual pancake batters. (I used 1.5 cups of water in all. However, if you find this mixture not thin enough or if it yields thick crepes, add a little more water to dilute sufficiently or as required.)
- Grease your palms and roll out tiny little 1″inch spindles or cylinders out of the filling mixture. Use all the filing mixture and make as many cylinders and keep ready.
- Heat the mini-pancake/uttapam pan over low-medium heat and brush some melted ghee or light olive oil to grease. (The crepe mixture has sugar. Thus, high heat would make the crepes too sticky to work with.)
- Add about 1 tbsp full of the crepe mixture in each of the circular mould and let it cook. When done, the crepe-tops would have lost their whitish color and turned translucent. These crepes are cooked one side only, so do not flip or turn them.
- Place one filling roll each, at one end of the circular crepes on the pan.
- With help of the turner or a clean metal spoon, start rolling each crepe with the filling inside. Let them sit top down on the pan for a few seconds to cook-seal the wrap ends. [The crepe may seem too soft and delicate at this point. However, as they cool down later, they’ll get better.]
- Turn the patishapta pitheys carefully and push in one clove each to “pin” the ends of each crepe.
- Let the mini patishaptas cool on a lightly greased plate (since the fresh and warm crepes can be bit sticky).
- Repeat the steps till you either run out of the filling or the crepe mixture!
To finish and garnish: In a deep servingware with lid, transfer the kheer. Then carefully and gently douse in the patishapta pithes in it. To garnish, use rose petals or chopped pistachios, or almond slivers or saffron streaks (kesar) or a pinch of ground cardamom or a few drops of rose essence. Serve warm or chilled, it’s absolutely scrumptious anyways!!