Hyderabad’s Old City is home to several dishes made popular by the Nizams and Nawabs and some asking around might lead you to Farzana Ahmed in Aziz Bagh, who makes the famed badam ki jaali, a delicious mithai made with ground almonds and sugar. Farzana runs a business out of her home, where they take orders for weddings and other events, to make these traditional sweets. Since these sweets have not been commercialized in mass markets still, not many know of their existence.
The recipes have been passed on from generation to generation and yet, it remains a well-guarded secret, retaining the freshness of homemade sweets. Farzana says that while they have more than a hundred different varieties of sweets to prepare, the most popular is badam ki jaali, which sells for Rs. 800 a kilo, where you may get around 40 pieces.
There is another traditional dish like the badam ki jaali, which is cherished in many Muslim households but is not sold in shops commonly.
My grand aunt brought the recipe for lauz with her from Madras (now Chennai) and ever since then, lauz is a must during weddings, when both sides exchange gifts of mithai. Lauz is almost like a peda but there’s more to it than just khoya and sugar and its texture is quite different too. It’s thinner, flatter and much more sugary.
After years of observing my mother make this, I know that the theory behind it is simple. It’s the execution that seems like a big production. There’s khoya, ground into a thick paste and there’s sugar, also ground into a fine powder. Add to this a handful of blanched, ground almonds and a generous pinch of saffron. It’s all cooked together until it becomes golden, and when ready, it’s taken off the fire, cooled and brought together into a dough. The dough is rolled out (all with the help of a lot of powdered sugar) and cut out into shapes.
There’s another version of lauz that’s even better, if that’s possible. It’s called Rangeen Lauz, because apart from the regular khoya layer, there are two layers – a green one with pista and sugar cooked together and a white one with almonds and sugar. All three layers are cooked and rolled out separately, arranged on top of each other, pressed lightly and then typically cut out into diamond shapes (with silver foil on top for a festive look).
The deviation from this is the badam ki jaali. A circle of cooked badam lauz is rolled out. It’s covered with silver foil. Another circle of the same size is cut out and then intricate, lacy shapes are cut out from the circle (jaali in urdu means mesh or lattice) and it is placed on top of the first circle. This is slightly roasted on an open fire or (baked in an oven these days) until the top is pale brown. The jaali is smoky and has a more developed taste to it.
In my novel More than Just Biryani, I have described several dishes but lauz is what stood out among them for several readers who wanted to know what ‘sugary sunshine that melts on the tongue’ actually tastes like. I may have overdone the hyperbole but it’s every bit true. If you don’t believe me, here’s the recipe. You can try it for yourself and see.
Khoya – 1kg
Powdered sugar – ¾ kg + a little more for kneading and dusting
Blanched and ground almonds – 50 gms
Pinch of saffron
Grind the khoya into a thick paste. Add the remaining ingredients and cook it in a large vessel, stirring continuously so that it doesn’t scorch at the bottom. The colour should change from pale to molten gold. Keep stirring. Test for readiness by dropping a little bit on a cool plate and rolling it together to form a ball. Once it’s reached this stage, remove it from fire and stir to cool it down further.
Once it’s cooled down enough, bring it together to form a dough. Knead the dough with more powdered sugar, and roll it out on a sheet of parchment paper. Use cookie cutters to cut out shapes. Ensure both paper and cookie cutters are generously dusted with powdered sugar or everything will stick together. Store in a container once the lauz pieces have dried out a bit.