Few Indian sweets are so regal in their bearing and yet so accessible as shahi tukda. What better way to celebrate Diwali than by recreating this luxurious and comforting Indian dessert?
The origins of the delectable shahi tukda are shrouded in mystery. The one thing there is no mystery about though is how delicious this dessert is. On the face of it, it’s simple enough to prepare, taking an ingredient as humble as bread and transforming it into an unctuous treat. In the simplest avatar, triangles of bread are deep fried, dunked in sugar syrup and topped with sweet, creamy rabri. The sky is the limit from there, with countless regional variations as well as chefs doing their own innovative takes on the classic dish. Last year, Chef Vineet Bhatia even came up with a Easter Egg Shahi Tukda which could be filled with chocolates.
Regarding the origins of shahi tukda, there are a few interesting possibilities. According to Chef Dirham Haque, Executive Sous Chef, Four Seasons Hotel Bengaluru, the dish “may have a Mughal link to it. Some feel that Babur brought it with him in the 16th century when travelling to India. Some believe it could have morphed from the British favourite bread pudding. However, that seems a bit far-fetched.”
It is called shahi…or regal, and tukda means piece and may have a Mughal link to it. Some feel that Babur brought it with him in the 16th century when travelling to India. Some believe it could have morphed from the British favourite bread pudding, however, that seems a bit far-fetched.
Saliha Mahmood Ahmed, winner of MasterChef UK 2017, concurs. In her book Khazana: A Treasure Trove of Modern Mughal Dishes, she writes: “Shahi tukre is the Mughal version of bread and butter pudding. The term shahi translates as ‘royal’ in Urdu and tukre means ‘piece or bite’. The Mughals would break their fast with this dessert in the month of Ramadan, and this tradition persists in parts of south-east Asia today.” She incorporates egg in her take on the shahi tukda. “Interestingly, in the original Mughal version of the dish, the imperial cooks did not use eggs – the bread was fried and then doused in sugar syrup and topped with thickened milk. I’ve used eggs here as I feel it enhances the final texture of this regal dish,” she says.
Chef Haque further elucidates that “some claim that shahi tukda was a twist on Um Ali, an Egyptian bread pudding. As the story goes, a king while on a hunting expedition stopped in a nearby village along the river Nile for some food. A local cook from the village was summoned to craft a meal fit for the king and his entourage. Some stale bread, nuts, milk and sugar were quickly thrown in together and baked in the oven. The delicious Um Ali came to be named after this ingenious cook.”
Whatever its origins, shahi tukda certainly featured prominently in the Mughal kitchen. The Mughal khansamas were deft craftsmen whose culinary expertise was influenced by Persian, Turkish and Central Asian cooking styles. The Mughal emperors took to shahi tukda like fish to water because of its texture and richness and soon the dish became a popular dessert for festivities like Eid. A close cousin of the Mughlai shahi tukda is the Hyderabadi double ka meetha, called so because it is made with ‘double-roti’, a colloquial term for bread.
Using leftover bread to create innovative recipes, both sweet and savoury, is something chefs have done since time immemorial. “Think Spanish gazpacho or the Italian panzanella or ribollita. Or a good old Cabinet or Chancellor’s pudding, with that British flair,” says Chef Haque.
“It is possible that shahi tukda was a chance invention in the royal kitchens of Awadh,” he adds. The proof of the pudding of course is in the eating and, logically, in the making as well. Chef Haque’s recipe is a medley of the fragrances of cardamom and saffron, which add a fine touch to the smooth texture of milk and cream. The bread, deep-fried in ghee, adds that definitive bite…and the generous smattering of nuts and, optionally, varq on top give it that royal edge.
Awadhi Shahi Tukda
6 white bread slices
200 ml ghee
500 gm sugar
30 gm cardamom powder
10 ml rose water
500 ml milk
0.5 gm saffron
50 gm almonds
40 gm pistachios
50 gm danedar khoya
· Soak saffron in 30 ml hot milk.
· Bring the rest of the milk to a boil.
· Reduce the milk to half, add khoya to the boiling milk, add 200 gm of sugar, cardamom powder and the saffron-milk mixture.
· Boil the milk for some more time and let it rest.
Sugar syrup for shahi tukda
· Mix the rest of the sugar with water. Boil.
· Switch off the flame and add rose water.
· Remove the edges and cut the bread in circular pieces with a cutter.
· On a low flame, deep fry the bread evenly in ghee till the slices turn golden brown and crispy.
Plating the shahi tukda
· Soak these bread slices in the sugar syrup one after the other, and place them on a serving plate.
· Just before serving, pour the cooled rabri over the bread slices and garnish with toasted almonds and pistachios.
This dish serves four.