These cardamom-spiced shortbread cookies were inspired by the Indian sweet kaju katli.

EatingWell.com, October 2022

Gallery

Credit: Pooja Makhijani

Recipe Summary

active:
30 mins
total:
2 hrs 35 mins
Servings:
40

Nutrition Profile:

Advertisement

My late maternal grandmother made the best kaju katli (literally "cashew slice"). As a young child, I remember her pulling threads of chasni (hot sugar syrup) between her thumb and forefinger—no candy thermometer needed—and quickly incorporating nuts and spices, before rolling out the mass of candy with her well-worn rolling pin and slicing it into perfectly symmetrical diamonds. Her hands moved symphonically, with effortless grace. It was like music—and magic. Her kaju katli were firm and velvety and perfect.

I ate warm kaju katli in my grandmother's narrow railroad kitchen in India, and cold kaju katli from stashes transported back to the United States. Those sweets didn't last very long in our American refrigerator; although my mother often tried to replicate her mother's signature recipe in our New Jersey kitchen, it was never exactly the same. 

Several years ago, I began to experiment with Western baking techniques and South Asian flavors, following the footsteps of countless bakers on TV, on social media and on the bookshelf. It was a creative pursuit that allowed me to bring my whole self—my whole pantry— to the proverbial table. With flour and butter and sugar, I explored the multidimensionality of my histories and geographies, and created some delicious desserts in the process: a pistachio-cardamom celebration cake, gulab jamun-inspired doughnuts, tamarind-jaggery gingersnaps.

And some of the sweets I created were destined for Diwali, a major festival across South Asia and in the South Asian diaspora, celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists. Diwali celebrates the duality of good and evil, light and dark, and knowledge and ignorance, although the deities, rituals and stories that are associated with the holiday differ from region to region and community to community. When I was a child, Diwali meant opening gifts, lighting diyas and exchanging sweets. Now that I'm a mother, our Diwali celebrations include some traditional practices—new clothes and sparklers and gatherings—and also plants instead of rangoli (floor artwork), books instead of scripture, and cookies instead of mithai (confections). 

In 2019, I decided to create a cookie recipe that evoked my grandmother's kaju katli, but without the finickiness of candymaking. They would complement my mother's now-signature recipe—besan ladoo, another nutty treat, made with gram flour, ghee, sugar and chopped almonds—in our family's Diwali sweet box. My grandmother's treat was rich and unctuous—kaju katli's primary ingredient is cashews, which, like all nuts, are high in fat. But they weren't very sweet and didn't melt in the mouth. 

I tried various flours, sugars, fats and spices before landing on a buttery and crumbly and nutty and warm shortbread. It was a hit with loved ones and family: a college friend said its flavor lingered and was perfect with afternoon chai the next day.  

Our diaspora Diwali is different, but spiritual, magical and textural in its own way. That I chose to honor my grandmother with a cookie that is now part of our Diwali repertoire is wholly me. My daughter is a third-generation American, and her identities are different from mine, from her ancestors'. I look forward to how she will transform our family celebration and create new constants in our lives.

Ingredients

Ingredient Checklist

Directions

Instructions Checklist
  • Combine butter, sugar and salt in a food processor; process until completely combined.

    Advertisement
  • Whisk all-purpose flour, pastry flour, cashew flour and cardamom in a large bowl. In three batches, add to the butter mixture, processing just until combined, scraping the sides as needed. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead a couple of times to make sure the ingredients are fully combined. Shape the dough into a square; wrap loosely in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, at least 1 hour to overnight. 

  • Preheat oven to 325°F. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove the dough from the refrigerator; let stand at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes.

  • Roll the dough on a lightly floured work surface to 1/4-inch thick. Cut into desired shapes (diamond shape is traditional, see Tip). If the dough becomes too warm to handle, return it to the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes before continuing. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets. Bake the cookies, 1 pan at a time and rotating the pan from back to front once, until the edges are just golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. Let cool on the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. 

  • Dust the cooled cookies with confectioners' sugar or garnish with silver leaf, if desired.

To make ahead

Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Equipment

Parchment paper

Tips

To make cashew flour, pulverize 1 cup unsalted raw cashews and 2 tsp. all-purpose flour in a blender or coffee grinder. The flour prevents the mixture from becoming cashew butter.

To cut diamond shapes without a cookie cutter: Using a paring knife and a ruler, cut dough into 1-inch-wide strips. Then make diagonal cuts at 1-inch intervals at a 30- to 45-degree angle across the strips to create diamond shapes.

Silver leaf is an edible decoration made from silver, often used to garnish desserts. It is flavorless, but adds a visual element. Silver leaf is sold in loose leaf and transfer sheets. If using loose leaf, be sure to have a clean brush on hand for application as it can stick to the skin. Buy it online.

Nutrition Facts

1 cookie
140 calories; protein 3g; carbohydrates 13g; dietary fiber 1g; sugars 4g; added sugar 3g; fat 10g; saturated fat 4g; mono fat 4g; poly fat 1g; cholesterol 12mg; vitamin a iu 141IU; folate 12mg; sodium 15mg; calcium 8mg; iron 1mg; magnesium 4mg; phosphorus 15mg; potassium 92mg; selenium 2mcg.
Advertisement