When I was in college, we had a street vendor who would park himself at the entrance to our dorm quarters, usually at the onset of any given weekend. He'd greet us with a fun hello, opening a neatly stored, colorful assortment of sweets and savories. Having a Pied Piper-esque persona (maybe not to the same grave extent) and fondly called "Gundumani" this small scale seller of confections sold ready-to-eat mini versions of highly popular snacks. His business venture came from the top of his head, literally, in a treat laden- straw basket, doubly aiding as a sunshade, which he placed firmly on the crown of, yes, his head.
Gundumani sold these yummy goodies to many a snack (read junk food) starved college student. Only seen traveling by foot( he never had shoes), he was a one man enterprise who covered colleges and surrounding communities, his bare feet and oversized top hat taking him from city to city, town to town.
Many would complain about the dubious hygienics of the preparations - to me, there wasn't anything better. Those special delights were nectar compared to dorm food and aided as several meal replacements, especially when I wasn't particular about the day's menu. Not too good since I gained 20 pounds in the process, feasting on these street mithais (candies). Much love did I hold for everything in the crown- carted array... flaky, layered "bombay mithai", syrup infused "then kuzhalu" (literally translated as honey tubes) and of course, the treat I bring you today, sesame chikki. Sesame chikki is what would finish off far and fast from Gundumani's stockpile.
Actually, chikki is brittle, sans the leavening agent. Similar to the hardened confection, sugar is caramelized and mixed with chosen nuts (seeds in this case), and left to cool. Sesame chikki is made with toasted sesame seeds. More often, it is sweetened with jaggery. In our house, we tend to prefer the taste of regular sugar for this recipe, since it takes on the crispier texture of a fine brittle.
Chikki making is fairly easy. Even spreading of the seed bundled hot syrup and it's eventual hardening will be where the preparation gets only slightly challenging. An altogether 20 minute prep, some time cooling and your chikki is ready to snap and crunch.
So, in memory of the enthusiastic street entrepreneur who made so many of us happy through his playful banter and wonderful head topping sweetshop, this recipe goes...
- 1 tbsp ghee or unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 cup sesame seeds
- 1 1/2 cup sugar
- *1 cardamom pod, powdered
- Liberally coat a large baking sheet and a rolling pin with the ghee/butter.
- Toast the sesame seeds in a wide frying pan over medium low till light and golden .
- In a saucepan (nonstick works best) over medium heat, melt the sugar, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to avoid clumps of burnt sugar. As soon as it reaches a light, glossy caramel color , about 10 minutes,(a light coca cola), add the sesame seeds and powdered cardamom and combine.
- Working swiftly, pour mixture on to your greased baking sheet. With the greased rolling pin, spread to a thinness of about 1/4 inch.
- *Cool completely. Break apart into pieces.
For clean neat squares of chikki, score straight lines up and down with a knife in a checkerboard pattern while it is still warm and just break along those formed lines after it cools. As you see, I didn't attempt that here.
I should mention, not always the monopoly of street vendors (though they do render an insanely yummy supply) sesame chikki is quite well made in bakeries throughout India and most famously in the beautiful hill station town of Lonavla.