Although chikki can be made with refined white sugar, it is more commonly made with that flavorful brown sugar that Indians know as jaggery or gud or gool. Jyotsna's essay All About Gur Things is a beautiful look at the art of making jaggery- my favorite sugar in the whole wide world. In his book On Food And Cooking, Harold McGee explains that brown sugars are sucrose crystals that are coated with a layer of dark syrup from one of the stages of sugar refining. It is the syrup that gives brown sugar a more complex taste than the one-dimensional sweetness of sugar. The supermarket variety of brown sugar is simply ordinary refined sugar coated with a thin film of syrup. Once I knew this, I stopped stocking my pantry with brown sugar altogether. Now I simply mix regular sugar with molasses to make up brown sugar whenever it is called for in recipes. Unlike the fake supermarket brown sugar, jaggery is described by McGee as a whole sugar, crystalline sugar still enveloped in the cooked cane syrup that it emerged from.
Many of us from Western India probably associate chikki with a popular vacation destination called Lonavla. This hill-station is a cool refuge from the blistering heat of the plains and I remember taking many trips there with my family. I think it is almost illegal to visit Lonavla without trying one of the dozens of different kinds of chikki sold there; and if you want to maintain your social life, it is necessary to buy several little string-wrapped boxes for friends and neighbors and co-workers as well. Abodh's essay on Chikki at Lonavla tells you "everything you wanted to know about the Lonavala chikki and didn't know whom to ask"! (This blog has some great little essays and pictures about life in Bombay, like this one about Bhaji Galli or vegetable lane, plus Abodh rescues stray dogs from the streets of Bombay. What a great cause).
Looking through various recipes, I could see that chikki is a pretty minimalist food that calls for, basically, sugar and peanuts. The sugar can be white sugar or jaggery or a combination of the two. I chose all-jaggery. The peanuts can be roasted or not. They can be crushed or not. I chose to roast and skin the peanuts, and chopped half of them and left the others whole (or in halves, actually). Some recipes add some ghee, others don't. I did add some. Some recipes add cardamom and some don't. Again, I chose to add a little bit. The final variable is the ratio of peanuts to jaggery. For the first pass, I decided to go with a 1:1 ratio. The ratio would really depend on individual preference. For breaking up large lumps/slabs/mounds/dheps of jaggery, Anupama's tip is an excellent one. The recipe describes how I made chikki this time, followed by notes on what I would change the next time I make it.
1. Roast 1.5 C peanuts in either a skillet or microwave. Skin the peanuts and coarsely chop half of them. Set the peanuts aside.
2. Lightly grease a baking sheet (or some other flat surface) and keep it ready.
3. In a medium-sized heavy saucepan, add 1.5 C chopped jaggery and 1 T ghee. Heat on medium-low heat until the jaggery starts to melt.
4. When the jaggery melts and the syrup starts to form threads that snap when cooled, take it off the heat. My idea was to heat the jaggery syrup to 300F (hard crack stage that is best for brittle). But around 250-260F, the syrup was getting too dark, clearly forming threads and had to be taken off the heat before it scorched. This is most likely due to the fact that jaggery has different caramelization properties as compared to pure sugar. I think.
5. Off the heat, add peanuts, a pinch of cardamom, mix well and pour onto the greased surface. Spread into a sheet using a spatula.
6. Break into pieces once it is cooled. Store in an air-tight container.
1. I will coarsely chop all of the peanuts to meld the taste of nut and jaggery in every bite.
2. I will use more jaggery than peanut- about 2 C jaggery for every 1.5 C peanuts.
3. I have to standardize the temperature at which jaggery forms a brittle.
Perfect or not, this chikki was crunchy and thoroughly enjoyable!
Love your chikki? Adore that brittle? Here's more:
Peanut Chikki from Chachi's Kitchen
Peanut Chikki from Vindu
Coconut Chikki from A Whirl of Aromas
Dry-fruits Sesame Chikki from Cooking Pleasures
Til Wadi from A Cook @ Heart
Video: Peanut Brittle from Mark Bittman
Cashew Brittle from The Wednesday Chef
Popcorn Brittle from Culinary in the Country
I'm going to make another dessert tonight, and if it works out, I'll post about it. The two main ingredients are lemon juice and condensed milk. Care to guess what it is?