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Handesh – Bangladeshi rice flour and date molasses cakes

Handesh
  • Cake
  • medium
  • Makes24
  • 45 minutes, plus 2 hours to rest the batter

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Handesh are delicious fried rice flour cakes, also known as teler pitha. They’re a real celebration of rice and morcha gur – the exquisite date molasses made in Bangladesh during the late autumn and winter months. These cakes belong to the tradition of rice-based sweets and savouries called pitha, which are key to Bangladeshi food culture.

Weightier than a doughnut, handesh are slightly dense and crispy around the edges. The secret is in the preparation and to me there’s magic in the making. I still feel excited when I watch a pour of batter disappear into the hot oil, dark against the traditional cast-iron pan. The batter rises and puffs up and a tiny frilly edge appears (synonymous with good handesh), and finally takes on a deep copper hue.

I grew up eating these during the Muslim festival of Eid and special occasions such as naming ceremonies and wedding festivities. During Ramadan you’ll find handesh being fried on the roadside in giant pans, wrapped up in newspaper to take away for the breaking of fast. This recipe is inspired by my mother, who is renowned for her traditional pitha recipes. Serve hot with a cup of spiced tea, for a traditional Bangladeshi treat.

Date molasses is available in Bangladeshi grocery stores, but if you can’t find any you can substitute it with jaggery, readily available from Asian grocery stores and large supermarkets. Just chop into small pieces and gently bring to a low simmer until the jaggery is melted and cool to room temperature before adding the flours. You may also need to add about 3–4 tbsp extra water to the batter as jaggery is very dry.

Ingredients

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  • 250g of date molasses
  • 400ml of water, lukewarm
  • 250g of rice flour
  • 150g of plain flour
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon, (optional)
  • 1/8 tsp ground cardamom, (optional)
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Method

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1
Add the molasses to a large mixing bowl and begin by pouring 300ml of water to start with and whisk together. The texture of Bangladeshi molasses varies from a thick syrup to slightly set. I use brands such as Zilani or Akza. If the set is very syrupy (like golden syrup) you will only require 300–325ml of water
2
Pour in the flours and spices (if using) and whisk for 3–5 minutes, until you have a smooth batter. You need to check carefully for lumps, as they prevent the handesh from rising and will cause them to split. Cover the batter and rest for 2 hours
3
After 2 hours, thoroughly whisk the batter until smooth, as the rice flour will have settled at the bottom of the bowl. The batter should have a fairly thick consistency, yet remain loose enough to pour – similar to thick pancake or waffle batter. It should form ribbons as you drag the whisk though it
4
Take a cast-iron korai or wok and add enough oil to half-fill the pan, or enough to deep-fry and turn the heat to high. Once the oil is hot reduce the heat to low–medium. Drop in a teaspoon of batter to test the oil – if it rises slowly to the surface the oil is ready
5
Pour batter in a quick steady stream into the centre of the pan, preferably using a pyrex jug with a pouring spout (About 45ml of batter for each cake). It should rise to the surface in about 15–20 seconds and slowly puff up. If it rises too quickly, just turn the heat down slightly. Cook for 45 seconds, or until the underside is golden. Carefully turn over and cook for a further 30–45 seconds, until golden. Make sure to not let excess batter drip into the pan as this may prevent the cakes from rising and always fry one at a time
6
If the batter splits while frying, whisk in 2 tablespoons of flour to the mixture and try again. You should be creating handesh which are about the size of a digestive biscuit
7
Use a slotted spoon to remove the handesh and place on kitchen towel with frilled edge facing down while you continue frying the reaming batter. This helps retain the shape of the cakes
8
Enjoy hot, fresh out of the pan. Once cool, place in an airtight container overnight and in the fridge for up to a week. Reheat in a warm oven for a few minutes to refresh or on a tawa or frying pan over a very low heat, turning a few times
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Handesh – Bangladeshi rice flour and date molasses cakes

 
 

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