Vella cheedai is traditionally deep-fried, and is prepared on Janmashtami. Janmashtami is an Indian festival that marks the day Lord Vishnu (the Preserver) descended on Earth from the Heavens, took birth as Lord Krishna, and saved people from the evil forces of the demon Kamsa, and others like him. Indian festivals, especially in the South, are marked by specific dishes for specific festivals. Vella cheedai, payasam and appam form the sweets, while savouries include uppu cheedai, and thattai for Janmashtami. These offerings are made to the Lord after prayers. All the preparations are gluten-free.
I make vella cheedai every year whether or not I make anything else. I still need to learn making uppu cheedai. The traditional deep-fried version is something I have nailed, but something happened this year – I cannot recall what it was – that prevented me from frying them. I think I added a tad more liquid than needed which made the dough soft. I knew it immediately that the cheedai would not fry well. It would disintegrate in oil. I tried frying one, and it did. I could not waste the rest of the dough and it struck me that I could try baking. It worked. The baked version was nearly the same as the fried ones. The fried ones have a crisper exterior and the hot oil caramalizes the outside evenly to a dark golden. The baked version will not have the same texture. It is however hard on the outside and soft, crumbly inside, and the taste cannot come closer than this. Besides, it does not have all that fat. In truth, the fried version too is not very fatty. However, this is definitely lower in fat.
I tried it again the next day and again. Each time it worked. I am sharing it because I know it is a good recipe, but if one of you tries the recipe and it works for you, I will like it better. Please try.
I prefer the use of brown rice flour and organic jaggery. Sweetness varies with how the jaggery was made. Some are sweeter than others. Some have an element of salt. Preferably use sweet ones. Organic jaggery can be shaved or cut very easily and hence recommended.
Testing the syrup:
As in many Indian sweets, the important thing here is the syrup stage. The correct stage is reached when a drop of jaggery syrup placed in a a tbsp. of water will not disintegrate, and when rolled with fingers it will immediately form a soft ball. If it turns hard you have cooked it too much and if it disintegrates into threads or melts in the water, the syrup needs a second or two more of cooking.
Recipe: Vella Cheedai, baked version [Vegan, GFCF]
Yield: About 20 rectangular pieces
Brown rice flour – 2 cups / 260g
Jaggery, cut into small pieces or shaved – 1 cup / 144g [You can increase by a quarter cup if you want it more sweet]
Water, to melt jaggery – 1/4 cup level / 39g
Coconut milk – 1 to 1.5 tbsp.
Fried slivers of coconut [optional]
White sesame seeds – 1 tbsp.
In a heavy wok, and place the jaggery with the water, on medium heat to melt. Sieve the jaggery syrup as soon as it melts, through a clean muslin cloth to remove impurities, if any.
Place the melted jaggery back on heat and cook for about 3-5 minutes. After 3 mins check for the ‘soft ball stage’. Cook till the jaggery syrup reaches the correct stage, a minute or two more. Do not leave the kitchen.
As soon as the ‘soft ball stage’ is reached, add the flour, sesame seeds and fried coconut (if using) to the wok. You must work quickly now. Mix with a slotted spoon so that you can form a dough, cut, press and mix, while the syrup is hot. If it does not come together in two mins add a tbsp. of coconut milk. By now it should be warm. If comfortable use your hand or just continue with the ladle. Form a dough. The dough should be hard.
Pre-heat oven to 180 deg. C. Drop the dough into a rectangular, 7″ x 5″ jelly pan, lightly greased and dusted with rice flour. Press it evenly across the pan. You can brush oil on the surface and smoothen the surface with the back of a bowl.
Sprinkle and press sesame seeds on top. Bake in the center rack at 180 deg. C. for 12-15 minutes. Remove and make sharp rectangular cuts using a scale with a knife. Dust flour on the knife to prevent sticking.
Return into oven and bake for another 10 minutes or till golden on top. Don’t let the top burn, as it will taste bitter.
Remove tray from oven and cool completely. When cool, life the pieces off with a pancake turner.
It should have a bite on the exterior and remain crumbly, but not soft, inside.
I am guilty of having a less sweet palette than most other people. Cheedai is traditionally a sweeter preparation. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup jaggery to the quantity I have used if you like things sweet. To me, that would be saturation point. 🙂
If your cheedai is soft inside (doughy), it means that the syrup was not cooked to ‘soft ball stage’. Alternatively if you are not able to mix the flour, it would mean that the soft ball stage was crossed.
Instead of turning on to a baking tin, you can make small ping pong sized balls of the dough and bake them like cookies. They cook faster, and will end up like nan-khatai.
You can use a round cookie cutter instead of cutting into pieces. You can also use only half of the dough at one time, and make thinner cookies. Check the baking time.
Cuts should be made at the time mentioned in the recipe. Once cool, the surface turns hard, and slicing might be difficult.
I am guilty of updating posts these days, the next day! My apologies. I usually end up staying up late to publish them, and when I look at the post in the morning, I find that I have missed the tips.