My first ringside view experience of a real Christmas celebration was in 1970-something in Nairobi, Kenya. Our Landlady, Mrs. Lucy Coutinho, was originally from Goa, and just as my mother used to go into a hyperdrive mode, preparing munchies for Diwali, "Lucy Aunty" would do the same for Christmas. Her Goan dishes were to die for. Biscuits (or "cookies," in American lingo) of many flavors, fruitcake (I confess, I LOVE fruitcake), cheese straws, and "karanji" (a coconut- & sesame-filled deep fried dumpling).
The Indian state of Goa was previously a Portuguese territory and is situated on the shore of the Arabian Sea, south of Mumbai. The cuisine is unique, an amalgam of Portuguese, Western, and South Indian influences: For example, coconuts paired with jaggery (unrefined cane sugar), integrated into European-style dishes.
I first made a coconut and sesame shortbread last Christmas at the request of an old school friend, Deirdre Pereira, and did a borderline "Pygmalion." This year's variation incorporates the Ingredients used for masala tea, cardamom, ginger, black pepper, cinnamon —Panfusine
Test Kitchen Notes
These shortbread cookies come together quickly and easily—a plus during hectic holiday baking. In terms of flavor, they fight a palatable battle between sweet and savory, with the sesame, black pepper, cardamom, and coconut at the front lines. Fortunately, there is a peaceful resolution, as the flavors balance each other perfectly. The shortbread is quite spicy, and together with the nuttiness of the sesame and coconut, it makes a sophisticated addition to any dessert table and is perfect for afternoon tea.
about 24 cookies
frozen shredded coconut, thawed
sesame seeds, toasted 'til light brown
Preheat oven to 325° F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a dry pan, toast the shredded coconut until it turns a light reddish brown color and starts emitting a "coconutty"' aroma. Set aside to cool, then combine with the toasted sesame seeds. Add these to the flour and combine to disperse the sesame and coconut uniformly.
Cream the sugar and butter till light and fluffy. Add the spices and combine well.
Add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and work into a ball of dough, just until it all comes together. Wrap in a plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 1 hour.
Remove the dough and roll it into a 1/4-inch-thick sheet. Using either a pastry wheel or a cookie cutter, cut out shapes and place on the parchment-paper lined baking sheets.
Bake for about 12 to 14 minutes, till the edges begin to appear brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container