Chandrakala is a fancy deep-fried sweet native to Northern India.
I discovered chandrakala during a recent visit to Haridwar, which is a gorgeous city located on the banks of the Ganges River, where the swirling turquoise river pours out from its source in the Himalayas.
As I peered at dozens of colorful desserts on display at the sweet shop, just gazing at this sweet made me feel excited to try it. When I chose it, I had no idea what was inside the enticing pastry.
After tasting it, I was in that rare blissful state that arises when you find something that is perfect for you, and for that moment.
After talking to others I know in India, I discovered that chandrakala is a lesser-known sweet when compared to so many others.
In fact, it took me some time to discover what its name even was, because everyone I described it to had not heard of it.
I finally learned the name for this sweet. Apparently, chandrakala is a special occasion treat associated with Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. That means its appearance is fleeting indeed.
To me, that makes it even more special. I feel a little bad that I am enjoying it now, for Valentines, but anyways … perhaps I will make it for Diwali next year!
After trying chandrakala, I made it my mission to learn more about it. I also thought to myself, one day I will make it. I will enjoy as many as I want, and I won’t have to go to India to have it again.
Well friends, that day has arrived! After three iterations of pastry, three types of fillings tested, and many hours of creative fun, I finally discovered the magic formula for chandrakala. I am so pleased to share it with you.
What Is Chandrakala?
Traditionally, chandrakala is a pastry filled with dried fruits and/or nuts, and concentrated milk solids, spiced with cardamom, and sweetened with sugar.
Learn to make Homemade Ghee, the Spiritual Way
The sweet comes in two shapes. Chandrakala is Hindi for “moon art.” Chandra is moon, and kala is art.
So chandrakala refers to the crescent moon-shaped pastry. Surya is the sun, so the round pastry with scalloped edges like sun rays, is actually suryakala.
Between these shapes, I enjoyed making and admiring the round suryakala shape more. Even better, it was much easier to assemble.
The filling is the same, so for our purposes, I am counting the two shapes as the same sweet. The chandrakala is more popular, so I used that name for this recipe. I hope that wasn’t confusing!
My version of chandrakala omits the milk solids, although I do include a recipe with milk solids for my Indian readers, and those who wish to experiment with something that is likely new, and who have a way to source it.
I purchased my “mawa” milk solids from the Indian store. There is more information about mawa in the recipe notes for those who are interested.Chandrakala is everything you dream it should be.Click To Tweet
My non-milk solids version is filled with crushed pistachios, dried apricots, sugar, and cardamom. This combination is pretty awesome, and I prefer it.
My sugar syrup is flavored with rose water. Being close to Valentine’s day, how could I not choose rose?
Chandrakala is everything you dream it should be: nutty ghee butter with a tasty golden crunch on the outside; sweet and chewy with pleasing textural bits on the inside, and coated in a clear, sweet, syrupy exterior.
It’s just the right sweetness (not too sweet), and, heated slightly before enjoying, it is absolutely divine. The warming releases the chandrakala’s intoxicating aroma.
Crunchy Deep-Fried Pastry
The chandrakala pastry is made with all-purpose flour mixed with rice flour, and enriched with ghee to ensure a crunchy pastry. This combo really works. It is decadent in the nicest way.
For deep-frying, I mixed one part ghee with about six parts sunflower oil, and it worked great.
Both oils have very high smoke points that are higher than the desired frying temperature of between 350 and 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
You don’t want to use extra virgin olive oil for deep-frying, because its smoke point is too low. You need something refined, and designed for high heat.
Ghee is an exception. It isn’t refined, and it is still good for high heat cooking.
A thermometer is essential for this task, because getting the correct temperature is important.
If you go too high, you will know it, because the oil will start smoking long before it becomes dangerous at around 500 degrees. If this happens, you really should discard the oil and start over. Try not to let it happen.
It takes a few minutes to fry the Chandrakala, and you will need a slotted spoon to manipulate the pastries in the oil.
Deep-frying is nothing to be afraid of. It isn’t messy like you would think.
Once you try it once, you will feel comfortable with it, and your horizons will open up, because there are many great dishes that require this treatment that you can now make at home.
Cleaning Up After Deep-Frying
After completing your frying job, let the oil cool before straining it through a fine mesh strainer (to remove any food bits), and then store it in a canning jar until the next use.
Use a paper towel to remove the excess oil from the saucepan and discard it in the garbage. If you do discard your frying oil, put it in a disposable container and seal the lid. Then put it in the garbage. Never put oil down the drain.
I tend to reuse the same oil a few times. Each time before using, I subject it to the smell test. If it smells good, it is good. Rancid oil is pretty easy to smell.
Making The Rose Sugar Syrup
The image below demonstrates some of the steps. Please see the method below for more details.
Recipe for Pistachio and Apricot Pastries (Chandrakala) in Rose Syrup
For the pastry
For the recommended pistachio and apricot filling
- 1 tablespoon ghee
- ⅓ cup pistachios, ground medium
- ¼ cup castor sugar, see instructions for alternatives
- ⅓ cup dried apricots, finely chopped
- ½ teaspoon cardamom powder
- 2 tablespoons pistachios, roughly chopped, for the topping
For the traditional milk solids filling
- ½ cup khoya, also known as mawa, grated (see notes)
- ¼ cup cashews and almonds, ground medium
- ¼ cup castor sugar, see instructions for alternatives
- ¼ cup cranberries and raisins, chopped
- ½ teaspoon cardamom powder
for the sugar syrup
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 1 ½ cups water
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 1 tablespoon rose water
Prepare the pastry
- Sift together the flour and salt. Add 2 tablespoons of ghee that you have warmed to a liquid state, and rub the mixture together between your fingers to evenly distribute the ghee.
- Add water, a little at a time, until the mixture comes together into a firm dough. Use a wooden spoon to stir the water into the flour, then knead for a few minutes, until the dough becomes soft. Cover with a damp cloth, or plastic wrap, and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes.
If necessary, prepare the sugar
- It is important to use the right sugar for this recipe. Regular sugar is too coarse and it will be grainy, so you’ll need to source castor sugar, baker’s sugar, or superfine. These are all the same thing. Unfortunately, castor sugar is not readily available in the U.S., and what is available is good, but expensive, especially if you want organic sugar. To work around this problem, process raw sugar in a food processor or blender until fine. You want it somewhere in between regular sugar and powdered sugar.
For the pistachio and apricot filling option
- To complete this filling, heat the ghee in a non-stick pan on low heat. Add the cardamom powder to release the aroma. Add the ground pistachios and the castor sugar, and heat for a couple of minutes. Add the apricots and mix and heat thoroughly. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
For the milk solids filling option
- To complete the filling, heat the khoya/mawa in a non-stick pan on low heat, stirring continuously, for three to four minutes. Add the castor sugar, ground nuts, and cardamom powder, and continue stirring for 1-2 minutes. Add the dried fruit and mix and heat thoroughly. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
Method for the sugar syrup
- Heat the sugar and water in a saucepan, stirring continuously until the sugar dissolves. After it comes to a boil, add the milk. The milk will help any impurities to rise to the surface in the form of scum. Remove this by skimming the syrup with a spoon. Continue to simmer the sugar water until the syrup reaches one-thread consistency, about 25 minutes.
- To test for one-thread consistency, remove a bit of syrup with a spoon. Allow it to cool, then touch the syrup with a clean forefinger, and touch your thumb and forefinger together and pull apart gently. One-thread consistency is when a single thread is formed between your fingers, and does not break. You can also test the consistency by letting the syrup drop from a spoon. If it forms a clear drop before falling, you are pretty much there.
- Add the rose water, and stir. Keep the syrup simmering on very low heat until needed. If it gets too thick, carefully add more water and cook it out until smooth and the proper consistency again.
Make the chandrakala
- Knead the dough for a couple more minutes, and then roll it into a log. Slice into 24 disk-shaped portions. Roll larger portions into a three-inch flat disk. Roll smaller portions into 2 inch disks. Your disks should be quite thin. It is better if they are thinner on the edges and thicker in the middle.
- Lay the larger disk on the counter. Place one tablespoon of filling in the centre and cover with the smaller disk. Use your fingers to press and seal the edges of the smaller disk around the filling. Moisten around the outer edge, and pinch and twist the edges in a pattern to seal firmly all around the center. Leave the pastry on the counter as you seal it. This makes the work very easy.
- Complete as many pastries as will fit comfortably in your fryer without overcrowding.
- Meanwhile, heat sufficient oil (between 2-3 inches) in a small saucepan on medium heat. Use a thermometer to measure when the oil reaches between 350 degrees and 375 degrees.
- Gently drop the pastries into the oil and deep-fry until golden brown. Use your spoon to flip the pastries as they fry.
- Remove with a slotted spoon and drop into the hot syrup. Soak for 2–3 minutes, turning the sweets over, and using a spoon to drench the sweets with the syrup.
- Remove the pastries from the syrup with a slotted spoon. Place the chandrakala on parchment paper, and top immediately with chopped nuts.
- Be careful with the hot syrup, as it is extremely hot and sticky, and it could burn badly if it sticks to your fingers. Be mindful of the sugar syrup’s consistency as well. If it gets too thick, carefully add more water and cook it out until smooth, and the proper consistency again. I found that as I went, my syrup darkened into something that started to resemble light corn syrup. That is still fine. It is extra flavor as far as I am concerned.
- Prepare your next batch of pastries and repeat steps 1 to 7 until all the chandrakala are made.
- The Chandrakala is ready to enjoy when the sugar syrup has fully hardened. You can store chandrakala in a sealed container and keep it in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for a couple months. Gently warm the sweets in a microwave or oven before enjoying them again.