I first heard of popatjees when the hubby reminisced about the tea time snacks his grandmom and grand aunts used to make. His Mamaiji (maternal grand mother) and Serah Aunty (father's aunt) were well known for their repertoires of evening snacks - bhakras, karkarias, chaapat, cake, and on occasion, popatjees. The quirky name had stuck in my mind and I was curious about them but somehow I never got a chance to see them made or actually eat them either.
Popatjes are a simple snack - lightly flavoured fermented dough balls deep fried till dark brown and then dunked in a sugar syrup for a few moments and removed. The fermenting agent is ideally toddy though sour curd is commonly used if toddy isn't available.
The years passed, the elders were gone. I'd not encountered the popatjee yet. But, I had got my hands on my mother in law's popatjee no paenno - the special vessel in which the popatjees are made.
Ingredients were gathered, toddy was procured, the husband was booked for the afternoon, and I set out to make popatjees under his supervision.
1 cup Whole wheat flour
1 cup Semolina or rava
2 cups Toddy
2 tbsps Charoli
2 -3 tbsps Raisins
1 tsp Cardamom-nutmeg powder
1 tsp Vanilla
1 cup Sugar
2 cups Water
In a clean large bowl mix the wheat flour with the semolina. Add a pinch of salt. Into this pour most of the toddy, reserving around a quarter of a cup.
Mix with a spatula to form a loose, thick, porridge-y dough. Add the remaining toddy only if required. Cover the bowl with a napkin and leave it in a warm corner to ferment for 2 to 3 hours.
To make cardamom - nutmeg powder take cardamom seeds and nutmeg in equal weight and grind in a spice mill with some sugar to help it along. Store in an air tight bottle and use as required. Don't discard the skins of the cardamom pods - use them to make masala tea, or in your regular cooking.
Add the raisins and the charoli nuts, along with the cardamom-nutmeg powder and vanilla into the dough. Mix.
In a saucepan pour in the sugar and water and bring to a boil to make a simple syrup. Add a few cardamom peels to the water while making the syrup.
To make the popatjees get your cooking area organised. Put the popatjee no paenno on the gas hob and pour in enough oil to fill all the cavities to the brim. Heat the oil.
Have the syrup ready and conveniently placed nearby. Keep a colander and a vessel under it ready.
Once the oil is hot carefully drop in a heaped tablespoon of batter into each cavity of the paenno. If you're using a regular appe pan these cavities are much smaller so drop in a smaller quantity of dough.
Turn the popatjee in just a few seconds so the top also gets sealed and you get a uniformly cooked popatjee. Lower the heat and let the popatjees cook for a few minutes, turning as required.
Remove each popatjee carefully, drain what oil you can and dunk into the waiting syrup. If the syrup is still hot the popatjees will suck it in quickly.
Remove from the syrup in a few seconds, don't leave them in for more than 10 seconds. Let them drain in the colander.
Serve the popatjees as soon as you can.
We had our popatjees with our evening coffee. Well, in our house it's coffee time at tea time ;)
The key to a good popatjee is proper fermentation and if the dough has risen properly you will get a light porous popatjee that will not only absorb the sugar syrup quickly, it also lets a good amount of syrup drain out resulting in a sweet snack that's not sickeningly sweet. We did get the fermentation right, now we just have to perfect the art of getting them properly shaped! Regardless of the less than perfect shape, they did taste quite good and I'm sure Mamaiji and Serah Aunty would have both approved.