My first encounter with kulkuls happened over a decade ago, when a colleague brought some kuswar to the office. Kuswar is the set of Christmas goodies, prepared mainly by Goan and Mangalorean Catholics, that is offered to guests, friends and neighbours as part of the festive celebrations. It includes some incredibly delicious – and mostly sweet – preparations, such as marzipan, dodol, baath, milk cream and perad. Based on my admittedly limited sampling, I’d say that kulkuls are the least sweet of them all; they’re quite like shakkarpara or shankarpali in that they’re made of dough that is shaped in very specific ways and is then deep-fried and glazed or dusted with sugar. I’m particularly fond of kulkuls because they’re crunchy on the outside, while being spongy on the inside, unlike shakkarpara, which are pretty much all crunch. And they’re just sweet enough that you can scarf down a handful quite absentmindedly while watching or reading something. This, depending on your views on diet, is either a good thing or a bad thing. Personally, I’m all for snacking on kulkuls, whenever I can, and I usually find that I make far too few.
While this is not a difficult recipe by any measure, it is a little time-consuming. It can also be tedious to sit and shape all the kulkuls individually, so take help if you can. I did. And I also did most of the shaping while watching something; once you’ve got the hang of the rolling and the shaping, it’s quite easy.
Usually, kulkul recipes include eggs, but I really dislike working with eggs, so I’ve omitted them. Eggs are the reason that kulkuls are light and airy on the inside, but I’ve found that a little baking soda also works just fine.
Maida – 2 cups
Semolina – ½ cup
Powdered sugar – ½ cup, plus some extra for dusting
White butter or ghee (semi-solid) – ⅓ cup
Coconut milk – ½ cup
Baking soda – a pinch
Salt – a pinch
Oil for frying
*Mix all the dry ingredients with the white butter or ghee to it, and knead lightly to make a crumbly mixture.
*Pour the coconut milk, a little at a time, to make a pliable but firm dough. Don’t add too much, or you’ll make it sticky. You can also use a little water, if you don’t want to use only coconut milk.
*Cover the dough with wet cloth and let it rest for half an hour.
*Pinch off and roll the dough into pea-sized balls.
*Kulkuls are traditionally shaped using a wooden tool with ridges in it. However, it’s easy enough to do this using a greased fork. Place each ball on the back of a fork as shown in photo 1.
*Then, press the ball flat, so that it presses into the tines, but without breaking, like in photo 2.
*Now this is where you have to be careful, when you try this for the first time. Gently curl the dough off the tines, like in photo 3, and lightly pinch together and seal the edges of the kulkul without flattening the ridges.
*Once all the kulkuls are done, heat up the oil.
*Fry the kulkuls on medium heat, so that they cook on the inside while getting nice and golden on the outside.
*Dust the hot kulkuls with powdered sugar.
*Once cool, you can store them in an airtight container.
You can add a drop of vanilla essense or a little powdered cardamom to the dough, if you want some extra flavour.
Instead of dusting the kulkuls with powdered sugar, you can glaze them with sugar syrup.
[The Back Burner is a weekly blog that will talk about all things food (with recipes, of course)]
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