A love of sweets must run in my blood. Back in Kenya my grandfather worked in a sugar cane factory, boiling up vats of syrup bigger than a fully-grown wildebeest. He even knew syrup temperatures without having to use a sugar thermometer. My grandad’s passion for cooking with sugar led him to become one of the best sweet makers and teachers I’ve ever known.
My other grandfather was head chef to one of the most well-known sugar merchants’ in East Africa. He’d rustle up the most spectacularly orange chickpea flour fudge and be ready to teach anyone willing to learn. Being just a tot when he passed away, my mum passed on his wonderful recipes to me.
Indeed, the very nature of both my grandfathers’ livelihoods depended on the sweet stuff, which is why I put my love of sugar down to it pumping through my veins.
What the fudge?
These diamonds of sweet fudge have a delicious, crumbly and chewy texture from the ground cashew nuts. Laced with ground cardamom and vanilla extract, floral undertones are created beneath a creamy layer of white chocolate. As soon as you take a bite, the fudge begins to melt on your tongue and a burst of subtle flavours take over. Bliss.
Elaborate Indian sweets like jalebi (orange spirals soaked in syrup) and mohanthal (chickpea flour fudge) are abundant, but the beauty of burfi (the type of milk fudge we’re making today) is that it’s one of the simplest, yet most wonderful sweets to make at home. You can even do it in the microwave.
The world of Indian sweets is a vast ocean of colours, flavours, textures and smells. The law of making Indian sweets is that it’s not possible to skimp on the sugar, milk and ghee (clarified butter).
From burfi to rasmalai (sweet paneer dumplings in milk), dairy is the second most important component to whipping up a batch of treats. Heavily reliant on ever-revered cows and buffalo for producing milk, Indians love using it for sweets.
I have an ambivalent relationship with Indian fudge. This sweet pushes my ‘crave’ button at the strangest times. When I take a bite, I’m a chubby six-year old, asking my parents if I can be treated to a trip to Leicester at the weekend.
I remember visiting Leicester’s famous mile of pure Indian indulgence at Diwali time. Bright and colourful lights illuminate the route to beautiful sari shops, aroma-filled restaurants and of course, those bustling sweet shops.
Skipping to the Indian sweet shop is still something I love to do. Their vast arrays of treats in every colour and flavour you can imagine stir happiness inside me.
At the shop, the entire process is similar to buying a pick-n-mix; first you select which sweets you’d like (I usually go for the brightest colours), the shop assistant will box them up in a beautiful package, weigh them and then charge accordingly. Pretty diamonds of cashew nut fudge, along with chocolate and coconut varieties will almost always make an appearance in my box of goodies.
600g ground cashew nuts, (coarseness depends on your taste)
1 tsp coarsely ground cardamom seeds
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp oil
100g white chocolate
Set aside a 12 inch cake tin greased with the 1 tsp of oil
1. Bring the sugar and water to boil in a large heavy based pan until the sugar syrup thermometer reaches 115°C/soft ball stage.
2. Quickly and carefully add the ground cashew nuts, vanilla extract and cardamom seeds. Mix together until the mixture resembles a non-sticky dough.
3. Place this mixture in the greased pan and smooth the surface as much as you possibly can because you are going to cover with chocolate. I use a hot metal spoon to get a completely flat surface. Cool overnight, but not in the fridge.
4. Melt the chocolate over a bain-marie and cover the set fudge with the melted chocolate. Smooth over and allow to cool at room temperature, until the chocolate sets.
5. Cut the chocolate fudge into diamond shapes or any other shape you may wish to. Decorate as you wish. I used sugar flowers and edible glitter.