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burficapp.jpgWe have come upon the Hindu, Sikh and Jain festival of Deepavali (or Diwali, or Divali), the Festival of Lights, and that means candies! Most Asian traditions do not normally close meals with dessert, but rather sweets and puddings are reserved as feastday treats. Burfi (or barfi or barfee) is a type of fudge popular throughout India, made of a sugar syrup, nuts and/or a flour, perhaps with a dairy enrichment, and seasoned with local spices. Coconut burfi (called thengai burfi in Tamil), both vegan and dairy, is popular in the south, and is typically seasoned with cardamon or saffron, sometimes thick with cashews or pistachios (lovely green colour). Here I provide two nut-free recipes, the first vegan and the second with dairy. The dairy-free burfi is sweetly crystaline with spicy, lemony cardamon. The milk fudge is buttery and floral with saffron. Neither is for diabetics.

Most burfi recipes written by Indians insist on fresh coconut, and I’m sure that is the more authentic ingredient, but I’ve tried both fresh and dessicated for each of these recipes, and I recommend dessicated for both. The cardamon recipe as written below only works well with dessicated coconut because I use the simple sugar syrup technique familiar to Western candymakers. Without getting too technical, the late addition of fresh coconut will dilute the sugar syrup too much with its moisture and inhibits its ability to set properly. Some similar recipes that I’ve read do start by driving the moisture off of the freshly grated coconut on the stovetop, but this still introduces an uncertainty, and in a way just brings us back to the dessicated coconut in the bag. And while there is more subtlety and avocado-like flavour in fresh coconut, I think that subtlety is lost in the end when making highly seasoned burfis like these, with lots of cardamon and lots of saffron. The biggest difference in my experience is texture: the fresh coconut makes a chewy fudge and the dessicated a flaky one. So while the saffron burfi recipe is more intuitve and does not require a candy thermometer (although it is more efficient to use one), I still don’t think that it is necessary to kill a live coconut for it. Personally, I need a very good reason to undertake the extraction of meat from that hairy little rock; it is even less fun than killing artichokes.

These recipes each make a very small batch of fudge. By “serves four,” I mean that four adults have a piece or two and then it’s gone, not sitting on the counter the next day tempting people away from their best intentions. I made mine in a ceramic loaf pan, and the long rectangular shape helped me to cut them in the traditional diamond shape, although it did leave a lot of little half-pieces, too. I really do recommend seeking out cardamon and saffron, but if you can’t find them, I might suggest allspice and (1/8 – 1/4 tsp) nutmeg, respectively. Happy Deepavali!

Crystalline Cardamon Coconut Fudge (Thengai Burfi)

Twenty minutes plus two hours setting; serves four

butter for greasing
1 cup water
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 cup dessicated shredded coconut (fresh is too wet)
1/2 tsp cardamon (seeds from about 6 green pods, ground in a mortar)

1. Butter a bread loaf pan, as if you were making a short loaf. Place it in the freezer.
2. In a small saucepan over medium flame heat the sugar in water and stir to dissolve it. Clamp on your candy thermometer and keep heating until the thread stage when the temperature reads 112-115C, about ten minutes. Feel free to stir.
3. Stir in the coconut and the cardamon. Turn it all into the loaf pan.
4. Leave the candy to cool and set on the counter. Cut with a buttered steak knife before it is completely cool.

Creamy Saffron Coconut Fudge (Thengai Burfi)

Twenty minutes plus two hours setting; serves four

butter for greasing
1/2 tsp saffron threads (a big pinch)
1 Tbsp warm milk
1/2 cup milk
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup shredded coconut (fresh or dessicated)
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp milk

1. Butter a bread loaf pan, as if you were making a short loaf. Place it in the freezer.
2. Put the saffron to steep in the tablespoon of warm milk in a little cup or pan, and keep them warm if you can.
3. In a small saucepan over medium flame heat the sugar in the milk and stir to dissolve it. Stir as bubbles come, then become so numerous the height of the syrup is doubled, keep stirring until it becomes nice and thick. This description is fairly imprecise, but you are not yet at any critical juncture, so don’t stress. However, if you have a candy thermometer, then go just to the softball stage, about 115C.
4. Once the temperature is attained, or you feel the syrup is pretty sticky, stir in the coconut, and when it is well-combined melt in the butter.
5. Keep stirring, scaping away all over, as this mixture thickens. It will start to pull away from the sides – keep stirring. When it starts to pull away from the bottom, too, and the coconut shreds start to look distinct in the syrup, turn off the heat and stir in the warm saffron milk. Quickly rinse out your little cup or pan with the teaspoon of milk to get all the goodness out, and stir that in, too.
6. Turn it all into the loaf pan.
7. Leave the candy to cool and set on the counter. Cut with a buttered steak knife before it is completely cool.

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