Churning Out A Dreamy Winter Dessert
Be it Delhi’s Daulat Ki Chaat or UP’s Malaiyo, Makhan Malai or Nimish, these frothy and fascinating delicacies are straight out of a winter wonderland.
The coldest months deliver the most magical culinary delights. Come winter and ethereal, frothy, and fluffy-looking white and yellow mounds of the rare ‘Daulat Ki Chaat’, makes an appearance in Delhi’s Walled City. A popular winter dessert, it’s similar to frothy concoctions sold in cities of Uttar Pradesh by the names of Nimish in Lucknow, Makhan Malai in Kanpur, and Malaiyo in Varanasi. Nosh it to your heart’s content because with this dessert with the consistency of the most delicate creamy froth, just disappears in your mouth within seconds.
Unlike the tangy, spicy palate that gets associated with a chaat, Daulat ki Chaat is a sweet delicacy, available between November and February. Khemchand Adesh Kumar, a seller of Daulat Ki Chaat in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk has been making it for over 36 years says, that earlier, it was a delicacy that only the “Raja and Maharaja” could afford. He calls it the chaat for “raees” and hence the name, Daulat Ki Chaat.
Detailing the process of whipping up this dessert, he says, “A mixture of milk and cream is simmered. It is left in the open to cool down and for dew to fall into it. In the wee hours of the morning, this mixture is churned using a mathani (a traditional wooden churner). The jhaag (froth) that appears is collected, mixed with kesar and dry fruits. It’s served with karara (coarsely powdered sugar) and khurchan. This entire process takes around six to seven hours.”
Dew is vital to the process. According to Kumar, it’s the dew that creates the froth and that’s one of the main reasons why it is sold in winter.
DECADENT, BUT DIFFERENT
While many would consider Daulat Ki Chaat, Nimish, Makhan Malai, and Malaiyo, similar, food connoisseurs differ.“Having grown up in Lucknow, I find Nimish or Namish (as Old Nakhlauwallahs called it) fascinating. It is a simple delicacy, unadulterated with the likes of khoya and flavours. I find Daulat ki Chaat less foamy, more solid,” says food historian-author Anoothi Vishal.
The traditional method of preparation, Vishal says, was to heat buffalo milk on a low flame, ensuring it doesn’t boil. When a good portion of water has evaporated, it was left to cool, stirring often so that malai does not form. The milk was left out in the open at night, covered with a fine cloth, to be cooled by the dew. “Early morning, this dew-cooled milk would be churned with some sugar till frothy. The jhaag was removed and kept in an earthen pot with kewra, saffron and elaichi. This was Namish. Simple, sans nuts, cream, etc.”
Author Sangeeta Khanna, who ran a blog, Banaras ka Khana says, “Malaiyo is closer to the Lucknow version. Varanasi’s version is unique because it’s made in one place that is known as Thatheri Bazaar and not all over the city. Over the last decade, many new places selling this delicacy have come up, but they use poor quality trans-fat based whipped cream or icing for making Malaiyo. It’s all commercialised and is sold through the day. Real Malaiyo melts the moment sunrises due to the increase in temperature. Quality of milk and humidity in the air is extremely important for Malaiyo.” Malaiyo milk — saffron-flavoured sweet milk left behind in the vessel after the Malaiyo has been taken out — is also served in Varanasi.
The origin of this frothy decadence is unknown, with little or no mention in written history. “Makhan Malai isn’t from India. It was invented by Botai tribe in Afghanistan and came to India via Silk Route. This is what I have read and heard from the elders in my family. When it came here, we accepted it and gave it an Awadhi touch. We added saffron, dry fruits, and even khoya (condensed and dried milk). That’s how this dessert travelled to other places and became popular,” says Mohsin Qureshi, cluster executive chef, Lebua Lucknow.
However, Vishal points out: “Namish was a Lucknow invention and is mentioned by Mirza Jafar Hussain, who wrote about Lucknow’s declining culture in the late 19th century.”
FROM STREET FOOD TO FINE DINING
Though mostly sold on the streets, this dessert has made its way into fine dining, with menus of restaurants like Indian Accent and Haveli Dharampura in Delhi featuring Daulat Ki Chaat and The Saffron Tree in Kolkata listing Nimish.
Chef Manish Mehrotra, who owns Indian Accent in New Delhi and New York, says, “What’s available in our menu, is more of a Lucknow, Kanpur, and Varanasi version. The Delhi version is different where they add a lot of additives, after making the foam. In Lucknow, Kanpur, and Varanasi, they first make a mixture and then aerate it. But we call it Daulat ki Chaat in Delhi because people here know it by that name. In our New York restaurant, we call it Makhan Malai. We have our version of additives for it. For instance, we add rose petal chikki on top, golden almonds on top of it, and serve it with 500-rupee fake currency notes.” Instead of traditionally churning it, the mixture is aerated with a siphon at the restaurant. “The traditional churning process leads to the creation of foam. And because of the fat content and winters, that foam with fat solidifies and the air is trapped in it. It’s a very scientific thing and we should be proud of it that we have been doing it for the last 150 years,” says Mehrotra. “It’s quite popular in New York. When Michelin star was launching their New York website, Daulat ki chaat was one of the first stories that they put on their website.”
The author tweets @Namyasinha