Soan Papdi [Cardamom Pulled Sugar Bars]
These are a challenge to make, folks. It took me three tries to get the sugar right; so it's not for the faint of heart! If you've never had this delight, it is a sweet treat in most Hindu cultures around the world during the festival of Diwali. The first time I had them, I was in Nepal and a friend and I went to a little bakery near where we were staying. They are slightly dense and flaky, but start to get chewy when you bite in, releasing all the chickpea flour nuttiness and cardamom spice goodness.
[Cardamom Pulled Sugar Bars]
[makes 16 bars]
8 tbs. ghee or butter
1 c. gram flour/besan (chickpea flour)
1 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. salt
1 c. white sugar
1/4 c. water
Pinch citric acid
1 tbs. chopped pistachios and almonds
Candy thermometer super helpful, but not required
*Before starting this recipe, I would encourage you to watch a couple of videos to know what you're getting into. Here is a great video of a sugar pulling process similar to what you'll be doing here, but with a slightly tougher sugar (start video at 7:45). Here is a video of what the soan papdi method does differently, by adding the flours halfway through the stretching and pulling process (start at 4:35-7:55).
Melt ghee or butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add flour, chickpea flour, cardamom, and salt and stir to combine. Stir every 30 seconds for 5 minutes, cooking over medium flame. The mixture will be like a thick, chunky rue or cookie dough texture. Spread out onto a sheet pan and set aside.
Prepare a container for the sugar to cool in (I used a round plastic takeout container), and brush with cooking oil.
In a saucepan over medium heat, stir the sugar, water and citric acid until the sugar has completely dissolved. Stop stirring, and do not stir again. Turn the heat down to medium low, so that the mixture moderately boils. You don't want it going crazy, but you also don't want it to look like nothing is happening.
Using a pastry or paint brush, dip the brush lightly in water and brush around the sides of the saucepan just above any crystallized sugar that may have formed. This should melt the sugar down into the boiling sugar mixture.
Hang a candy thermometer on the side of the pan if you have one, and wait for the mixture to reach 250°-255°. This took about 10-15 minutes for me. Whatever you do- do not leave your sugar unattended. (Next step is for those without a candy thermometer, skip to #7 if you are using one).
**If you don't have a candy thermometer, you have to keep checking the sugar to see if it is at the right stage. Take a small bowl of cool water and set it aside. After the sugar has been boiling for about 5 minutes, dip a spoon carefully into the sugar and drop a bit into the cool water. With your fingers, scoop up the bit of sugar. If the sugar easily forms a ball that is stretchy, it is ready. Most likely it will take 10+ minutes to get to this stage, so at 5 minutes your sugar will probably be stretchy, is sticky and comes apart easily. You know the sugar is ready when it has turned a light tan color and when you drop a bit into the cool water it easily forms a ball between your fingers that does not stick or stretch, but becomes malleable like putty.
When your sugar has reached temperature, quickly pour it into the greased container for cooling. Check your sugar every 10 minutes to see if it has cooled to a temperature you can handle. You don't want the sugar to be hot, but it should still be warm when you start to work with it. It took me about 25 minutes to cool my sugar to a temperature that was comfortable to my hands, but it really depends on the size of your cooling container. The sugar should feel stretchy and warm when it's ready to pull.
Sugar pulling: If you haven't already watched the videos mentioned above (below the ingredients) and you've never pulled sugar before- watch them first! I am by no means and expert, so please watch some other folks before trying this. Step 1: Working over the sheet pan with the flour mixture, stretch and fold sugar on top of itself 20 times, pulling sugar about 1-2 feet, and then folding and pressing together on itself. You will start to notice that the sugar gets lighter and lighter in color as you do so. Step 2: Stretch the sugar out about 1-2" and create a fairly even circle of sugar, pressing the two ends together, about 1' in diameter. Step 3: Squeeze and shape the circle, while gradually stretching. As the circle stretches out and gets thinner, use your hands to pick up some of the flour mixture and loop the circle on itself (like a figure 8). At this point, you will be adding more flour, stretching and shaping the circle of sugar, and looping it around on itself repeatedly. It's pretty messy, but you should start to see that there are many threads of sugar starting to form (every time you loop it on itself) and the flours help the threads separate. Step 4: Keep going! There really is no end to how many times you can loop the sugar, and the threads just get finer and the texture more delicate. See photo #1 below for when I stopped.
When you have pulled the sugar, start to "fluff" or pull apart each thread. You'll find that each thread actually contains multitudes! See photo #2 below for fluff. Next, take a piece of parchment paper and scatter the chopped nuts evenly in an area about 5" square (photo #3). Take the candy floss you just created (you made homemade cotton candy basically!), and pile it on top of the nuts. Press the floss down, forming a 4"x4" square. Use the back of a knife or a bench scraper to even out the sides of the square, making sure the top is fairly flat. The square should be about 1" high. Flip over to so that the nuts are on top (photo #5).
Wrap the soan papdi loosely in the parchment, and let at least 2 hours until completely cool. Slice into 1" squares.
rāmrarī khānuholā = Nepali for "have a nice meal"
*Speedy video of me pulling and looping sugar, and then incorporating flours.