The floor of the house I grew up in was all marble. Not an Italian Marble with grey veins, but the kind that had little specks that shine if you look close enough. The floors we swept twice a day, and the doors to the living room were kept shut in the event that guests turned up unannounced. My little Hot Wheels cars were never allowed to skid across the squeaky clean phenyl-scented floors, but the seemingly menial jobs like making sandwiches or rolling tikkis before a party — that was okay. Nankhatai dough, glistening with fat was apportioned into little dough balls on these floors every festive season. Steel plates full of the cookie dough were then sent back into the oven to bake, where they would rise a bit and their tops would crack.
A nankhatai is a cardamom-scented cookie made with ghee that is supposed to melt in your mouth when you bite into one. This texture comes from a good amount of creaming by hand before the dry ingredients are added in. The addition of rava or sooji adds texture to a nankhatai, so there’s some amount of crunch to balance out the very rich taste. While I absolutely adore traditional nankhatai, this version with ajwain is very fun to eat. Ajwain or carom seeds lends a heady, strong thyme-like taste to the generally sweet cookie. A little goes a long way with ajwain, and much like cardamom, you don’t want to overpower your dough.
Yield 18-24 cookies
These carom seed cookies are soft, crumbly and melt in your mouth. Very similar to a shortbread, these are made with ghee and semolina is added for texture. Delicious with piping hot tea during the Indian monsoons.
All-purpose flour or Maida 150g
Caster sugar 85g
Fine Sooji/Rawa/Semolina 60g
Ajwain 1 1/2 tsp or more
Salt a pinch
Baking powder 1/4 tsp
Baking soda 1/2 tsp
Begin by creaming the ghee and the sugar. Take a wide plate with some surface area and long sides. Shaping your hand like a claw, and mix the ghee and sugar along the surface of the plate. Do this for a good ten minutes at least as this will determine the final texture of your cookie. The mixture should feel lighter than what you had started with.
Run a whisk through the semolina, flour, salt, baking powder and add it to the creamed ghee and sugar. Sprinkle over the ajwain roughly crushing it with your fingers as you go to activate it. Using the same claw motion, bring all the wet and dry ingredients together till it cleans the sides of the plates and comes together as a ball. Keep this aside for 1/2 an hour to rest.
Now preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.
To form the cookie dough balls, pinch about a tablespoonful of dough and form it into a ball using your palms and keep on a well greased plate. Continue to do this for the rest of the dough. When finished, using the blunt end or back of a small knife, make cross incisions on the surface of each dough ball (these are about 1/3 deep).
Transfer the dough balls to cookie sheets and bake for 5-8 minutes before turning the cookie sheet around and baking for an additional 5 minutes for even browning. Your next batch will bake quicker so be sure to watch it. The nankhatais must have a slight bit of colour on top, but not be too brown.
Take a batch out of the oven but let them cool on the cookie sheet where the bases will crisp up as they cool. They are ready to be eaten when you can lift a cookie from the tray with minimal to no resistance. You could also run a metal spatula under the bases of the nankhatai to pry them free.