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Saturday, September 28, 2019

Ooty Varkey

Today we are travelling to Ooty, a hill station in Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu for a baked delicacy called varkey. It is a rustic shaped, flaky, baked biscuit which is quite popular in the region. I have been to the place but don't recall even seeing them. My brother in law used to work as the director of 'Pasteur Institute of India' in Coonoor. The institute and their bungalow with an enviable garden used to be right in front of Sim's park. They have lived in the area for about a decade and half and I need to check with them later about these and to see if my sister in law knows the recipe by any chance. 

There were not much authentic recipes online for us marathoners to try. Thanks to Gayathri, who came up with this perfect recipe after a couple of trials, I got to try and enjoy this utterly delicious biscuit from the comforts of my home. The Urdu word 'varq' means layer and the word 'varkey' probably is an allusion to the cookie's texture. This crispy, rich tasting biscuit is said to be originated in Nilgiris during the British era and the local makers of varkey are trying for a geographic location tag. According to the GI application submitted by the 'Ooty Varkey Producer's Association', these biscuits were invented in Ootacamund aka Ooty when it used to be the Summer capital of Madras presidency. Confectioners in the area employed several local and migrant laborers from Kerala to churn out large number of baked snacks to suit the tastes of British officials stationed there.

According to a 'Times Of India article', The Ooty varkey is said to be a local adaptation of the French puff pastry, which incorporates fat into the dough in stages. Varkey makers use homemade leavening agent called maavai which is basically the starter from the previous day's batch. This maavai is made from all purpose flour, semolina, sugar and banana. It is added to a bigger batch of flour, sugar and salt which forms the final dough for the fresh batch. They also set it for overnight fermenting according to Gayathri. Others in the plains use yeast in varkey production. No animal fat is used in the production of varkey. 

The local varkey producers believe that the varkey turn out better only when the dough is kneaded by hand and baked in brick ovens with wood fire. Cooking these can take about 12 hours since the local weather is cold. They think that 25 deg C is the right temperature to make varkey and so the local summer weather suits best for the purpose. It seems to be also the reason why varkey's sales are more in summer than the cooler months in this hill station area.
The shapes of varky can vary. One can pinch portions out of strips into balls and bake. Or shape them into neat squares or rectangles  which look like puff pastry when baked. The original version however is the one which looks like the bakers were in a hurry to even shape them. It is a rustic version where the strips are roughly shaped into a round lump and randomly pressed on top once with finger tips. They can also be fried instead of baking if one opts to do so but they are traditionally baked since the dish originated in the bakeries. They can be enjoyed along with tea or coffee. Or they are soaked in hot milk for about 10 minutes and eaten as a cereal.

Our local temperature was around 16 degree C when I prepared the dough last week and it went up to around 21 degree C by mid afternoon. I left out the dough at room temperature for about 8 hours but there was no way for my dough to rise as there was no leavening agent. Also the rectangle I made out of dough was no where perfect and the varkey shape may not have turned out as the authentic ones. However the cookies still turned out super good texture and tastewise. They were utterly crispy, somewhat crumbly and I could feel the buttery richness though butter is not part of the recipe. They have a very faint sweetness which made even my husband to enjoy them. I made a small batch thinking that there would be only me eating these but I regretted it after putting one in my mouth. I did not brown them much since they were done even before I removed them from the oven.

(I halved the original recipe and had to use less than 3 tbsp. oil.)
Ingredients for the cookie dough: (Yield 12)
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp. all purpose flour
2 tbsp. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 tbsp. oil
Water as needed (I needed about 2 or 2.5 tbsp. water)
Ingredients for the paste:
All purpose flour as needed
Oil as needed (I used about 2 tbsp in total.)

* Add all the ingredients to a mixing bowl.
* Combine them to a crumbly mix.

* Add water only as much needed to form a soft, pliable dough. Let it sit for a couple of hours. Or the dough can be let to sit at room temperature overnight. (I left it at room temperature for about eight hours.)

* Generously oil the work surface that is going to be used. This is important when you need to lift the dough to fold. If not greased well, the dough is going to stick to the work surface. I used a 1 by 1 foot granite slab to work. 

* Place the dough ball at the center and roll it into a thin rectangle, which should be transparent enough to see through.

* Pour 1 to 1.5 tbsp of flour and 1.5 tbsp. oil over the rolled out rectangle and make a spreadable paste. 

* Add extra flour and oil if the paste is not sufficient enough to spread. Spread the paste evenly all over the rectangle. 

* Starting from one of the longest side, lift 1/3 of the rolled portion and fold. 

* Similarly fold one more time from the opposite direction.

* Again pour oil and flour over it and make a spreadable paste.
 * Again spread and cover the entire surface with the paste. 
* Lift from one of the short sides and fold up to the center point. Then do the same from the opposite side. Cover and let it sit for 10 minutes.
* Preheat the oven to 355 degree F / 180 degree C.
* Roll the rectangle thinly and cut into 5 vertical strips.

* Pinch 2 portions from each strip (or more if the rectangle is big), roughly make into a round shape pinching at the top.

* Shape the rounds from all the strips.

* Arrange the rounds on a baking tray. Bake them until they turn brown, about 40 - 45 minutes. (Mine took less time.)

Jowar Kothimbir Vadi
Kalmi Vada

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Amara’s cooking said...

Beautifully done Varkis Suma. awesome that you shared the temperatures as the dough is very sensitive to deal with.

vaishali sabnani said...

Beautiful post with detailed information . So glad that you have shared all minute details , now i am sure whoever wants to blog them will not go anywhere else .
Love these little crunchy bites , and must try them !

Harini R said...

They look fantastic. Though I made double the quantity of what you made, my family felt it was gross injustice for me to do portion control for such an addictive snack :). So I really know what you mean.

Srivalli said...

So beautifully done Suma. Even though I had done the same measurement, my kids felt it wasn't enough. hehehe..so will have to make it again sometime.

sushma said...

Varky looks so nice and delicious Suma.

Narmadha said...

Varkey looks perfectly done. I also halved the same recipe and tried. It is surely a keeper.