Growing up is no fun…one tend to feel less enthusiastic and less curious about the things that usually used to excite him/her when life was all about toys and school.Ditto is the case with the spirit of Festivals. India being a land of festival, where almost everyday is celebrated by one or other religion as some festival. Beginning from New year and followed by Lohri, Makarsankrant, Holi, Id, Gurupoornima, RakshaBandhan, Ganesh Chaturthi, Onam, Pongal, Durga Pooja, Navrozo, Navratri, Muharram, Diwali, Easter, Christmas etc.
Though festivals in the past would mean celebration, enjoyment, holidays, friends, relatives, food , new clothes etc, somehow the exuberance is lost now, and festivals now, generally means just a day to either relax since its holiday or to overindulge in festive delicacies. No fun, no feelings…..the basic essence of festivals have somehow evaporated in the heat of hectic schedules, crazy lifestyles and shrinking families.
Well, that’s the reason I am not much into festive cooking , since I do not like to slog in the kitchen when I should rather be with my family, enjoying a relaxing day or else love to meet friends and relatives.
This time I tried to make this Diwali sweet well ahead of Diwali, and though it won’t last till Diwali for sure, I at least, can claim the credit of cooking something for a festival ;-). So Diwali sweet , it is !
I have some fond memories of making of Varo, every winter, when my father used to slice nuts and arrange proportions of sugar and nuts, while my mother caramelized the sugar. We used to watch with awe, the conversion of sugar granules to liquid , the white sugar changing the form and color, the dense mixture of nuts and sugar syrup and then the way it used to solidify into a brittle….it was so mesmerizing ! They used to make at least 4-5 batches of this sweet to distribute amongst married aunts…Those were the days….*sigh*
Varo is a very popular sweet amongst Sindhis, and is also almost mandatory to send in this sweet to the married daughters or sisters, as winter food. It is really simple to make ( If you are comfortable with cooking with caramelized sugar I mean), ready in a jiffy, rich in appearance (Since its loaded with dry fruits) and ask for easily available ingredients. Just a bowl of Almonds, cashew nuts, unsalted pistachios, green cardamoms, poppy seeds and sugar..that’s it !
Varo basically is a sweet made from caramelized sugar (praline) mixed with dryfruits.It could be called as a Dry fruit/ Nuts Brittle.(Thanks Suresh for helping in describing the texture)
Before starting with ingredients I would like you all to go through the note given below, that explains some basic rules of caramelizing sugar.(Source here)
Caramel : A mixture produced when sugar has been cooked (caramelized) until it melts and becomes a thick, clear liquid that can range in color from golden to deep brown (from 320 to 356 degrees F as measured with a candy thermometer)
Color is important when making caramel; recipes are separated into two types, light or dark because each has it’s own attributes. As caramel is cooked, it develops an appealing flavor and aroma, getting more intense as it darkens, and more pliable in texture, resulting in different types of candy. As the color and flavor become more intense, the texture becomes softer when cooled. For most recipes, amber is the desired color. It has a rich, sweetly mellow flavor and hardens to a perfect texture.
The just-melted sugar syrup is called light caramel. As the sugar syrup continues to cook, it reaches the golden stage, followed by the slightly darker amber stage and then the dark stage. If the color becomes excessively dark, the caramel will be bitter and can quickly burn. If you under cook it, it won’t have enough flavor.
Light caramel tastes very different from dark, and behaves differently for caramel work, such as caramel cages or pulled sugar. Light caramel will harden into a very hard, glass like sheet. Dark will harden into a softer texture; the darker the caramel, the softer it will be when it hardens with the most caramel taste.It’s usually within a temperature range of 320 to 356 degrees F. At 376 to 410 degrees F it will turn dark brown and then black.
Bottled up !!!!!
- Sugar 250 gms
- Water(2 tbsp) or oil (1 tbsp)
- A small cup of sliced dry fruits/nuts (Almonds, cashew nuts, unsalted pistachio, dried coconut, dried dates )
- Poppy seeds 2 tbsp
- Green cardamom 2-4 (Depends upon how strong flavor you prefer)
- Start with slicing the dry fruits, mix them together and keep aside.(NOTE: I added some raisins too, but the heat of sugar syrup almost charred those.So better use tough nuts).
- You can rinse poppy seeds with hot water for couple of times and strain using tea strainer.(This is believed to reduce the morphine content of poppy seeds and also to remove the soluble dirt, if any.). Drain on kitchen towel to get rid of excess moisture.
- Keep a greased surface handy. Anything like a back of flat steel plate or kitchen platform ( Of course squeaky clean), but grease it well with edible oil ( no fragrant oil please).
- Keep handy a bowl full of ice cubes or chilled water, just in case you scald yourself with hot sugar syrup.
- Now in a thick bottom pan or iron kadai, mix sugar and water/oil, cardamom seeds (green elaichi ) and mix well. On medium flame of burner, keep stirring the mixture, making sure, no nasty lumps of sugar are present.Break the lumps if any, with the spatula ( Be sure, you are using spatula made from steel or good quality wood, coz many so called heat resistant spatulas succumb to the heat of caramelized sugar.)
- Be alert, monitor carefully, and as soon as the sugar melts, add the strained poppy seeds.(Be careful, if the seeds still have some water around it, there might be spluttering.So make sure you strained and kinda soaked excess water using kitchen towel). Stir well.
- Now depending upon how chewy or how crispy /hard you want your Varo to be (instructions given above the ingredients list), switch off the gas when the colour of sugar syrup changes to preferred colour, I chose it to be amber (Ideal).
- Immediately put all the sliced nuts and mix well. You have to do this quickly or else there wont be even distribution of nuts.
- Spread the mixture on a greased surface . Now the benefit of using the back of plate is that you can just tap the plate so as to get rid of tiny bubbles in the mixture. Also you can tilt the plate to spread the mixture without touching the surface (with spatula) of the mixture. It is believed that touching the surface of the praline make it lose its glaze or shine. Never tried smoothing the layer with spatula so cannot be sure if that's the case for real.In any case do not worry about smoothing the surface, the beauty of a varo lies in the uneven peaks and lows made by haphazardly placed nuts.
- Let it cool down completely and after some time you will have a perfect crisp nutty brittle, for a crunchy munchy sweet treat.
- Break it into pieces when its not completely hard. Or else use some pestle like tool , gently break the brittle into large pieces, once it is perfectly hard.
- Store it in airtight container and it can last as long as few weeks to couple of months.