In the days before ovens became a regular feature in homes, most dishes that needed to be baked were cooked on an open fire. This is how dum ka roat was prepared in the old days. Dum ka roat is a sweet that was often made during engagement ceremonies and weddings. Since it used expensive ingredients, maybe these events justified the cost. It was thus something reserved only for special occasions, unlike the gajar ka halwa or the gulab jamuns that would be prepared every now and then.
Huge platters of dum ka roat were baked on open fires, giving it a deliciously smoky and burnt crust which everyone relished and coveted. My mother recalls how these special trays were lined with banana leaves (to ensure that it wouldnâ€™t stick to the bottom), the dum ka roat mixture would be poured into these trays and they were covered with a lid while burning coals were spread around the edges on the outside to give it that special crust.
Image courtesy: Andaleeb Wajid
Baking it in an oven takes away some of the enchantment. The crusty bits are still relished and coveted but nothing can match the taste of dum ka roat cooked on an open fire. Dum ka roat is rich and textured, thanks to the khoya and semolina that go into it. Sugar, eggs and ghee are also part of the recipe but what gives it the special richness would be the generous amount of ground almonds that are used in it, along with a dash of saffron.
The recipe is simple â€“ all these are combined together and baked until itâ€™s cooked. But try a piece of this dum ka roat and you will be a changed person. At first glance, it appears to be a regular sort of sweet, cut into squares or diamond shapes if firm enough. Take a bite and you can experience the almonds that elevate this into a very special dish while the semolina gives it a grainy texture. Your face will definitely break into a smile and youâ€™ll go back for more.
Those living in Chennai are probably familiar with Basha Halwawala in Triplicane. Although they are renowned for many sweets, they are most famous for their dum ka roat. Their version of dum ka roat is smoother, moist and tinged a deep reddish brown colour while they ensure that every customer gets a little of the burnt crust.
The sweet shop is family owned and has been around for nearly 90 years now and the recipes have been passed on from generation to generation. While most other sweet shops sell their versions of dum ka roat, the one at Basha Halwawala is eponymous with the shop and has been a closely held family secret. Dum ka roat here is available at Rs.400 a kilo.
At home, my mother recently dug up an old faded inland letter which my grandmother had written to her in the days when phone calls between Vellore and Bengaluru were expensive and recipes had to be shared anyhow. After asking how we all were doing, and conveying her salaams and wishes, she got down to giving the recipe in Urdu and Iâ€™ve reproduced it here, in English. This is one of the recipes that is fool-proof if you follow the measurements exactly.
Image courtesy: Andaleeb Wajid
1 cup semolina
2 cups sugar
Âľ cup ghee
1 cup khova
1 cup milk
100 gms badam
Soak semolina for an hour in milk. Grind, khova, badam, sugar and mix with ghee and saffron and bake at 170 degrees centigrade for at least forty five minutes to an hour, until the top is deep and golden brown.