Appam has a first name. Some people prefix ‘unni’, as in unniappam and some ‘nei’ as in ‘neiyappam’. As you move up West, appam become appe. The basic recipe remains the same but the sweetness is reduced. Appam has many variations. My sister prefers making these with whole wheat flour, and she tells me they turn out softer, but I haven’t bothered to try, because of Jr.H’s intolerance to gluten. It is also made with cream of wheat (rava / sooji).
Do not let the shape intimidate you! Appam is very easy to make! The shape is very much like Nordic delicacies made using an ‘aebelskiver / ebelskiver’ pan. Making appam in a flat pan may be a little tricky, as it will not retain a neat shape, hence, the use of the ‘appakaaral’. ‘Appakaaral’ is the Indian name for the specially moulded pan used to make appam. When fried inside the moulded pan, the outsides of the appam get cooked first. Owing to pressure, the batter on the inside of the appam will expand and some of it will flow out of the center like a volcano spewing lava. This causes the spherical shape. If you do not have the mould, simply use a wok, preferably deep. The shape will be different but the taste will not change.
I have used ambemohar brown rice, a local strain from Maharashtra, which is divinely aromatic. Any rice variety can be used, keeping the same proportion. I would not advise using glutinous rice because I have not tried it myself. Use raw rice and not the parboiled variety.
The soaking period. I have noticed that when I soak rice overnight, the appams always turn out soft. I think it has something to do with fermentation. The bread like texture that an appam has when bit, is an indication of fermentation.
The amount of jaggery used. Depending on your ‘sweetness quotient’, you can use 1/2 to 1 cup of jaggery for a cup of soaked rice. While reducing the jaggery does not affect the texture, its increase beyond a cup can cause the appam to disintegrate in the oil.
The type of pan used. I have used aluminium, non-stick and cast iron ‘appakaaral’, and I find that cast-iron gives the best appam. I do not use non-stick and aluminium pans anymore for health reasons. The best pan would be the one we get in Kerala, made with bell-metal (vengalam). I have to make a trip to Kerala for that. The reason bell-metal is considered appropriate is that the appam will turn on its own when the underside is cooked. In other pans, it won’t. You will have to keep and eye and turn it on your own, otherwise it will burn. And it caramalizes easily because of the jaggery.
Updated in 2015: Since 2013 I also own a second hand bell-metal appakaaral. I have been told before that it is the best pan to be used and now I know why. It is as good as the cast iron pan. And it is true that the once the underside is cooked the appams dislodge with ease, mostly by themselves as opposed to a cast iron pan where you might have to nudge them with a spoon or stick. The colour is also more uniform.
Recipe: Appam (Neiyappam | Unniappam)
– Deep-fried spheres with jaggery and rice
Allergy informtion: Vegan | Gluten / Lactose / Dairy / Casein / Nut free
Yield: 45 [My mould has very small depressions measuring about an inch]
Brown Rice – 1 cup | 170g, soaked overnight. [I used ambemohar]
Jaggery, pounded, grated, or powdered – A little over half cup | 165g
Water – 1/4 cup, a tablespoon less actually
Elaichi / Velchi kela (A small, local variety of banana) – 1, overripe, but not soft or mushy
Green cardamom, podded and pounded – 4-5 pods
Mash banana with a fork or pass through a grater, set aside. Pound cardamom and set aside.
Soak rice overnight or 3-4 hours, covering it with just enough water to allow it to swell. Drain, rinse, drain completely, and grind the rice along with powdered jaggery, adding water by a tablespoon, as needed.
Do not add more than 2-3 tablespoons of water. When half ground, add mashed banana. Scrape batter from the sides of the blender back into the center and grind to a smooth batter. The batter will become liquid as the jaggery blends with the rice.
Remove, and pass through a fine sieve to make sure that the batter does not have any coarse particles or impurities from the jaggery.
To the batter, add pounded cardamom. Mix well.
Place ‘appakaaral’ or ‘ebelskeiver’ pan on heat. Pour oil into the depressions upto three-quarters full. Let the oil heat. Test the temperature by dropping a drop of the batter in one of the depressions. It should sizzle and rise up. This indicates that the oil is ready for the pancakes to be fried. Reduce heat.
Using a small ladle pour the batter in each depression filling it upto three-quarters. Cook on one side for about 2 minutes, or till the batter expands and flows out of the center of each depression onto the surface of the pancakes. Let it cook and settle and check that the edges are caramalized.
Using two spoons or wooden skewers, carefully turn each appam over, so that the caramalized underside is on the top, and the lava goes down. Cook for a minute or two till, the overturned portion is caramalized. Prick gently with the skewer, drain the oil and remove onto layers of kitchen paper to drain oil.
Repeat with the remaining batter. If the oil reduces by less than half, replenish. Cast-iron pan seems to use up less oil.
Serve when cool. These stay good for a day, or at the most, two. If you omit bananas, they last four days, but won’t be as soft.
My mould is a contemporary design with depressions that measure only an inch. Due to this the appams are not spherical, as the ‘lava’ flows all over the pan. I recommend the use of moulds that have fewer and bigger depressions for best results. Fewer depressions ensure that heat is evenly and well transferred, and bigger depressions give good shape.
If your appam disintegrates in oil, add a tablespoon or two of fine rice flour to the batter. Mix and try again.
Sometimes appam may not swell. Mostly this happens with batter made using rice flour, especially store bought. It is not advised anywhere, but I know this works because I have tried it. When I was vegetarian, I used to add a tablespoon of fresh yogurt to the batter. You can also try adding over-ripe banana. That works too.
Banana is added for two reasons – flavour and texture. The flip-side is that you cannot preserve appam for more than a day if you add banana.
For soft appam, soak rice and grind into a batter rather than use rice flour. I always substitute flour with batter, wherever possible! It make so much difference and it is easier too! Brown rice works better than white.
Possible substitutions for jaggery recommended by readers:
Toddy palm sugar, Coconut palm sugar, Gula Melaka if you reside in S.E.Asia, and whole cane sugar or voll-rohrzucker if you are in Germany. These substitutions have been recommended by Vijitha, Radhika, and PG. If you use any substitute please let me know how it works, as I haven’t used any of these.
When I told you, you give us South-ies jaggery and rice and we will come up with a million dishes, I wasn’t joking. Ok! ‘Million’ is taking it too far, but if you recall the number of dishes I have posted in this blog with just rice and jaggery, you will know what I mean. And I haven’t even covered half the delicacies yet! …And there are so many I do not even know to make, and there may be some I don’t know about yet.
Vella cheedai [Rice flour and jaggery balls] – Deep fried method
Vella cheedai – Baked method
Vella kozhakottai [Steamed dumplings with coconut and jaggery filling]
Vella payasam [Jaggery, coconut milk and rice porridge]