Sweet Shakarpara or Shankarpali — the timeless Indian festival snack

Sweet Shakarpara or Shankarpali — the timeless Indian festival snack

I have very fond childhood memories of Shakarpara. Ma’s kitchen would suddenly become this mill, producing big batches of fresh, hot, fried Shakarparas in no time before Holi, Deepawali, Vijaydashami or the holidays. She got this recipe from one of her south Indian friends in the neighborhood. Ma said it was the easiest recipe that would make Shakarparas in a breeze. She would then save them in her large Cello® food storage containers securely placed on the top most shelves on the highest whitewashed walls in her kitchen…so that her two little devils won’t get to them and feast, before those too-many guests could make it home!

My little brother and I, being the devils we were, would line up chairs, help each other and climb on high seats. As if we playing princess and dragons, and were on that great rescue mission to the tallest tower, in the largest castle, on the highest mountain. Stealing Shakarparas was so precious after all! They were the crispy, mild sweet, and addictive fun snack. And stealing from Ma and the guests, made them aah-so-much tastier! We LOVED to munch on them…

There’s this family-lore that Ma-Baba have told and retold us a millionth time…

Once upon a time, many many years ago, Ma had made some Shakarparas to serve all who came visiting us to wish Holi. She made them alongside other delectable snacks, she’d usually make for Holi – gujiyas, thekuas, and some namkeen nimki. She had made the shakarparas after several months that year. And though gujiyas were typically only made once annually in our house, Bhai and I craved for Shakarparas more.

Sweet Shakarpara or Shankarpali -- the timeless Indian festival snack That day, as usual, Ma carefully fished out the fried shakarparas using her slotted spoon and placed them on a newspaper lined stainless steel plate. As she did the cooking ritual, Bhai and I (and occasionally Baba too) would take turns to run into the kitchen to pick up as many our little hands could hold. We’d run out quick, before Ma realized of her stolen goodies (at least, that’s what we thought!). Then we’d juggle the still-very-hot-shakarparas, till they were bite-ready. We ate, and then went into the kitchen again for another loot.

This relay continued for a few times, before Ma made us line up for a strict ultimatum. “No more shakarparas you both”, she said. “You’ve had enough of the fried sweet snack today. Tomorrow is Holi and let’s save the rest for all the guests that will see us. I am too tired of all the work tonight to re-do them again.”  And though we somewhat nodded, our minds and hearts weren’t yet convinced.

Then we all sat for dinner and we were to get to bed right after, since the next day would start quite early for us. Ma Baba usually went out for a small walk after dinner, and that evening was no exception. I guess, it was their tiny blessed time away from their boisterous kids. And though we were generally asked to be good during this time, for Bhai and me, it was our much-awaited parent-free, no-strings-attached stint. So, it was a win-win little break for all of us at home! That night, we were instructed to go straight to bed, before Ma-Baba left for their walk.

We lived in a residential colony that was part of the larger Industrial estate Baba worked in. With round the clock security and beautiful trees all over, the area had very secure, safe and lovely lanes for family walks. The side roads would go around a block and connect with others. So essentially, if someone was to take a walk and follow the same side road, he’d come back to where he started in about a few minutes.

That night, as Ma-Baba walked and the side road turned round, they could hear loud fits of laughter a block away from ours. Very concerned, and eager to check upon us, they paced quickly towards our front yard gate and quietly positioned themselves next to our front door. It was a beautiful pleasant day, and so the wooden main door was kept open. Our front door opened directly to our dining area and one could also catch a front view of our kitchen. Ma-Baba carefully peeped through the mesh door…

Sweet Shakarpara or Shankarpali -- the timeless Indian festival snack Yeah right…so Bhai and I hadn’t gone to bed. And we were doing exactly the opposite of whatever we were asked to do. And we were having a blast doing all that! Most of our neighborhood ‘heard’ our happiness that night!

There was this high seat positioned against the tallest wall in our kitchen…the big container full of shakarparas was staring open on the kitchen counter…a few of the snacks has fallen on the floor giving away evidence of a vicious ransacking. The siblings were found laughing their hearts out near the refrigerator. Two 2-litre soft drink bottles were chilling out in our refrigerator that night. Baba had got them for the guests next day. Bhai and I were expectedly on a couple days of soda-free time. “Soda isn’t good for you kids. From health perspective, you both must be off these drinks as much.”, Baba had lectured us the previous evening. But were we complying?

One of the bottles was a Fanta®, my favorite…the other was 7-Up® that Bhai dotted on. And we had opened them both and drank as much we could! The usually rival siblings were partners in crime, and how? They were having the times of their lives!!

Ma was almost fuming and couldn’t hold the horses. She really wanted to jump right in and shake us up! Baba grinned. He asked Ma to be patient. “Let them do it to their heart’s content. It’s amusing to watch them secretly from here!”, he had said.

A little bit later, Bhai and I cleaned up and did best to cover our tracks. Everything went back to where it came from, and we went to bed. That night, Ma-Baba saw it all quietly and smiled. Used soft drink bottles were replenished with new ones from the local store (before it closed!). Ma decided that she still had enough snacks for everyone who’d visit us the next morning…

Next day, we siblings pretended we did nothing. Ma-Baba pretended they saw nothing. They said nothing for a very long time! It was when we grew up that we listened to these stories…albeit sometimes embarrassingly amidst a roomful of relatives and friends!

Sweet Shakarpara or Shankarpali -- the timeless Indian festival snack Sweet Shakarpara or Shankarpali -- the timeless Indian festival snack Sweet Shakarpara or Shankarpali -- the timeless Indian festival snack Sweet Shakarpara or Shankarpali -- the timeless Indian festival snack Sweet Shakarpara or Shankarpali -- the timeless Indian festival snack Sweet Shakarpara or Shankarpali -- the timeless Indian festival snack Sweet Shakarpara or Shankarpali -- the timeless Indian festival snack Sweet Shakarpara or Shankarpali -- the timeless Indian festival snack I made some Shakarparas today. I’ve made them the nth time. Ma’s Shakarpara recipe is the easiest I’ve known. I make them in less than 30 minutes, and they come out perfect each time. Each bite of this snack fills me with more than the deliciousness it’s crumb holds…they stir in a beautiful nostalgia. And how I wish these precious treasured memories are passed down…may be when my little girls grow up and make them or feed it to their children and think of me?

Ma uses a very simple foolproof ratio-formula for Shakarparas…she does a 1, ⅓, ¼, ¼.

1 part flour to 1/3rd part sugar, 1/4th part ghee or oil and 1/4th part cold milk…then mix, knead, roll, cut and fry…that’s it! These tastes great and have a long shelf life. For some occasional flavors, I sometimes add ground fennel (saunf) or ground cardamom (elaichi) to my mixture. However, most often, I prefer them as is!

With this, I hope you all would love this classic timeless snack as much and hope it sweetens all festive happy days…

INGREDIENTS

Makes 1 serving

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (maida) or wheat flour (ata) I generally use maida
  • 1/3rd cup fine granulated sugar (if you have sugar grains, dry grind them before use) 
  • 1/4th cup clarified butter (ghee) or light olive oil — I use olive oil more often, though ghee tastes best
  • 1/4th cup cold milk
  • Sufficient oil or clarified butter (ghee) for deep frying

METHOD

  1. In a mixing bowl, add the flour, sugar, oil and cold milk. Use level cup measures for the ingredients. (Do not use heaped cup of flour and sugars.) 
  2. Mix and knead to a smooth dough. The dough may appear slightly sticky in the beginning. Knead for another minute or less and you’ll see that the dough comes together clean.  
  3. Divide the dough into two equal sized balls.
  4. On a clean surface, and using a rolling pin, roll out one portion of the dough into a roughly 7 inch round.
  5. Run a clean knife through the dough circle, cutting squares or diamond or rectangles. (I love square shakarparas!) Repeat steps 4 and 5 for the second dough ball too.
  6. Heat oil in a deep frying pan over medium heat, and carefully drop a few of the slices cut out. The dough slices should form a single layer in the oil for uniform frying.
  7. Flip the slices once the side down is uniformly browned. Using a slotted spoon, fish them out once they’re done and place them on a kitchen towel to absorb excess oil.
  8. Deep fry all the dough slices in small batches and over medium heat.  
  9. Once the fried shakarparas have cooled, store them in an air tight container in room temperature and consume over a month.

Tips/Notes:

  • Do not use warm/hot milk in this recipe — they melt the sugar and loosen the dough.
  • Use exact measurements. Use leveled cups of flour and sugar. For best results, run a perpendicularly held knife over the measuring cup to push out extra flour or sugar.
  • For extra flavors, you may use 1/2 tbsp of ground fennel (saunf powder) or ground cardamom (elaichi powder)
  • If you find the dough too sticky, add a little more flour to bind them together.
  • If the dough is too tight and dry, add a few drops of cold milk to soften the dough.
  • While adding the dough slices into oil, drop a few in oil and fry in small batches for uniform browning. Overlapping slices stick to each other and don’t get fried evenly.
  • Fry the shakarparas on medium heat. Do not heat them on high heat — it would result in quick browning and under frying of shakarparas. (High heat frying results in half fried, over browned shakarparas.)
  • If you’d like to scale up the size of batch, follow the same ingredients ratio (1, ⅓, ¼, ¼ …1 part flour to 1/3rd part sugar, 1/4th part ghee or oil and 1/4th part cold milk) and multiply as desired.
  • This recipe yield shakarparas with just the right sweetness we need, without being too sweet. However, if you’d still like yours to cut down more on sugar and have a very slight hint of sweet, use 1/4th cup sugar in place of the recommended amount. 
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