It’s amazing the way certain foods trigger memories of times gone by, relations lost in the passage of time – the memory brightening your mood faster than a cup of coffee or a quart of ice cream can.
Labanga latika, a Bengali sweet dish, is one such food item for me. I don’t remember a time when I’ve not eaten labanga latika; I remember being fascinated with the way Maa would make these little envelopes of crispiness filled with sweet delights. The pretty manner in which the sugar syrup added a shine and formed those crystals on this parcel, the anticipation of an explosive taste of a whole spice… all of it has been a venerable experience.
The labanga latika was a favourite of a cousin sister of mine who lived with us for several years. And it was a favourite of mine too. So whenever Maa made them, she was around to make sure both of us got an extra piece. It was love, yes, but I think she was keen on stopping a wrestling match before it started!
Over the years as we moved on in life – to study, get married or for work – Maa stopped making the labanga latika. Too much work for just two people, she would say, only making the mishti (‘sweet’ in the Bengali language) when we came visiting.
But now that I’m home and learning to cook, Maa has found back her lost interest in cooking.
So after I sweat it out in the kitchen last week over the Azeri-inspire Rose & Cardamom Halva (click for recipe), Maa insisted that we make a Bengali sweet too for Diwali.
No two guesses about what the chosen dish is!
The labanga latika are small dough parcels filled with a mixture of khoya enriched with coconut, semolina and (or) dried fruits. As is the case with most Indian food, the filling can be customised to taste. This sweet gets its name from the clove used to seal the pocket. Clove is called ‘labanga’ in the Bengali language.
I opted to make a filling rich in khoya with only a dash of desiccated coconut. Since I’m not a fan of dried fruits – I tend to pass them to the person sitting closest to me – we skipped that.
The tricky bit about this sweet is making sure that the parcels are not overfilled and they are sealed well to avoid bursting or spillage during frying. The deep frying, meanwhile, has to be done on low heat so that the dough inside the folds cooks well and the outer cover is brown and crisp. The fried labanga latika have to be dunked in thick sugar syrup for a few seconds and then allowed to cool down completely before they can be devoured.
There are several variations to the way the labanga latika is served. Some prefer syrupy labanga latika for which you need to make double the amount of syrup mentioned in the recipe and let the labanga latika soak in the liquid. Another option is serving the labanga latika with rabri.
We prefer the version that I’m sharing because it’s easier to handle and can be popped into the mouth as you walk from one room to the other. And no, my house is not the size of a cricket ground. That’s just a flimsy excuse to gorge!
Here’s the recipe for the labanga latika that you must make this Diwali to add a different touch to your mithai selection. Do tag me on Facebook (click here) or Instagram (click here) if you upload the photo.
- 100 grams Mawa | Khoya
- 1 tablespoon Desiccated coconut
- ½ tablespoon Sugar
- ½ teaspoon Cardamom powder
- ½ tablespoon Ghee
- 12 Whole cloves
- 1 cup Refined flour
- 1½ tablespoon Ghee
- Pinch of cooking soda (optional)
- ½ cup Water
- Oil | Ghee (to deep fry)
- 1/3 cup Sugar
- ¼ cup Water
Place a thick-bottom pan on low flame and add the ghee. Let it melt.
Crumble the khoya into the ghee. Mix well, stirring constantly.
Once the khoya has a fudge-like consistency, add the desiccated coconut. Mix well and cook till the mixture is a bit crumbly.
Pour in the sugar and cook till it dissolves, stirring constantly to avoid the mixture from getting burnt.
Add the cardamom powder. Mix well. Remove and set aside to cool.
Sieve the flour and cooking soda. Add ghee to the flour and mix till you get a crumbly texture. You should be able to form lumps with the dry mix.
Add water by the tablespoon and knead for tough dough. Cover with cloth and rest for 10 minutes. Divide the dough equally into 12 balls.
Mix the water and sugar in a small pan and bring to a boil.
Simmer until the sugar dissolves completely and forms a sticky syrup.
Make this syrup while you are frying the pastry (or after) to prevent it from solidifying.
Roll a ball into a small chapati.
Place a teaspoon of the filling in the centre of this disk.
Fold two opposite sides to overlap, making an open ended cylinder.
Flip this parcel. Now bring the two ends to overlap. You can use water/ghee/oil to seal the ends if needed.
Push a clove into the centre of the parcel as seen in the picture. Repeat for remaining dough balls.
Heat enough oil in a deep frying pan. Once the oil starts to smoke, bring the flame to low.
Deep fry the parcels in this oil till they are crisp and golden brown.
Remove and drain on a paper towel.
Dunk these fried parcels into the sugar syrup for a few minutes and mix well, coating each parcel in the syrup.
Remove on a baking sheet and let it cool.
The labanga latika is ready to be served warm or cold.
- The filling can be made with only khoya; replace the coconut with semolina if you wish. Add chopped dried fruits or only raisins.
- You can find the recipe to make khoya at home in An Easy Khoya recipe.
- Enhance the sugar syrup with natural flavours like saffron, rose water, cardamom or cinnamon powder.
- The parcels need to be fried on medium heat so that the insides are cooked through while the outside is brown and crisp.