The wheat halwa is my most favoured sweet. As I mentioned once earlier, I learnt this from my grandmother, my dad's mother. She was very good at making mouth-watering sweets. Her mysurpak, halwa and polis used to be delicious. My mother's mom used to make different sweets mostly jaggery based or something like chirotti, manoharam and such. So whenever amma made sweets for occasions, we had many varieties to enjoy.
The halwa making used to be an elaborate affair with hand grinding soaked wheat and extracting the milk thrice, allowing it to stand a few hours and then getting to cook it. Amma would want patti to be around to supervise and patti always wanted someone to assist to constantly stir the halwa while cooking. That is when I would enlist my services!
Every bhogi festival was with halwa as it was my choice sweet. I enjoyed doing it and in the process, have gained a photo memory to making halwa. I have done it many times over the years. It has become my daughter's favourite sweet too. This year around deepavali I had requested the grocer to bring whole wheat for making Halwa. As with delays in shipment and Customs, the man could procure it a bit later only. Nonetheless, I went ahead and stocked my pantry, hoping to make it for Niki when she comes home in December.
When EC of Simple Indian Food announced this month's WYF Speciality Food, this is all I thought of first. Then I recalled my first oppurtunity to taste the famous Iruttukadai halwa years ago. Later, two years ago, I went to Tirunelveli and walked all the way to the shop as the road was one-way to motorised traffic to buy 1/2 kilogram of this. Again last December, we took Niki to enjoy the architectural beauty of the temple standing tall on 14 acres of land and ended up buying more halwa making a huge tick mark against the to-dos.
I googled in to find this blogpost about Tirunelveli and the famous Iruttukkadai. The blogpost says it all!! This post has been put up from the rediff travel post.@ http://www.rediff.com/travel/1998/oct/24tirun.htm
I am not able to credit the original author as the rediff post does not mention one; hence I have mentioned both of where you might get a good read!
You may also please visit Sowmya's post @ Creative saga, step by step presentation of her grandmother's cooking the halwa. Our recipes vary in the sugar quantity only. So go ahead and try which ever suits your tastes!
With the Iruttukkadai recipe on hand along with my very own grandma's, Mallika Badrinath's and my S.Meenakshi ammal book I set out to make halwa!
This recipe is mostly my grandma's which almost matched iruttukadai's in ingredients. But tips on the cooking part were from all of the above four sources. I have managed to click pictures of most of the cooking stages, some with my left hand while the right was vigorously working otherwise :)
I shall give the measurements as per iruttukadai in metric and against that my cups' measurement equivalent to the weights.
I have made with 100 grams of whole wheat. The yield was an astounding 1 kilogram and 150 grams. I can very well relate to the volume of turnover mentioned in the travel post!
100 grams whole wheat (one level measure of 150 ml cup)
450 grams sugar (three heaped measures cup of the above)
225 grams ghee ( a cup and a quarter of the above cup) (I needed few spoonsful more ghee than this quantity)
The following are as desired: ( I always use all of these)
broken cashews roasted in ghee
saffron strands immersed in milk
Soak the whole wheat after washing thoroughly overnight. By morning it will look very clumsy with some elastic thread like formation over the wheat.
Grind adding water in a blender. Strain the milk. Return the husk to the blender and grind again with water. Strain and repeat the process.
Having done thrice the husk will be dry and lost all the glutonous feel. Discard that and immediately wash off the strainer and soak the blades and jar of your blender in order to ease the cleaning process. The wheat particles would dry forming a hard crust making it hard to clean later.
Let this milk-like liquid stand for few hours. A thick precipitate will deposit on the lower part and the scum will float over the excess water that was added to aid grinding.
After about five hours, carefully scoop the scum out, filter the excess water and retain the thick milk alone.
To the thick milk add three cups of water and mix. This will be clean and white as milk, but thicker in consistency.
Keep the nuts, cardamom and saffron ready and handy.
Place sugar with some water in a heavy bottomed pan on fire. Boil this down to a thick syrup that forms a very strong thread while pressed and pulled apart between the thumb and forefinger.
Add the blanched almonds and the wheat milk. Stir constantly. The wheat will cook to a very transparent mass, blending with the sugar.
When the mass is thick and you feel pressure while stirring add the saffron, cardamom powder and cashews. Add the ghee in small quantities. The ghee will initially float and then mix well with the cooking mass.
All of these will get thicker and the stirring will get harder. The mass will resemble a sheet of glass falling in a neat ribbon if dropped from a small height. The gloss will be distinct. Add the rest of the ghee and give one last, firm and thorough mixing. Switch the fire off. Leave the utensil on the stove for sometime. The heat of the stove and the thickness of the utensil aid further thickening of the halwa.
Transfer to a bowl when cool and enjoy.
Contrary to popular notion that the Tirunelveli halwa is a thick wheat cake, the iruttukadai halwa is of scoop and eat texture only. While cold it is thick but not cake like. You may re-heat in microwave and have it warm.
The halwa has to be well cooked. The spoon you use will only be coated of ghee and not slightest film of halwa. If it does so, it is underdone and will stick to your palette too. The halwa has to slide down which is why notoriously in Tamil we refer to some act of cheating as 'giving halwa' to someone.My sister partly does on stove top and transfers to the microwave rice cooker and completes the whole process without much strain to her arms and shoulders. I will check with her the recipe and update at some later date.
The cooking might take around an hour to an hour and a quarter while the preparation of milk is another long drawn process. I use my Indian Philips brand mixer to grind. However, you may grind in the grinder which is used for grinding idli/dosa batter.
There are specially made strainers available in Indian markets. I have used a big size fruit juice strainer.
In general the ratio of the wheat: sugar : ghee can be measured in any cup as 1(level):3 (heaped): 1& 1/4 and cooked to get halwa.
My dedication is to Niki, my daughter who loves this and to Raja, my husband who is the one eating all the health food as well as the junk food I cook and blog:)