Karanjis, Turnovers with Coconut Filling
Ring in the end of the year with a sweet treat. These little flaky baked empanada look-alikes are filled with a sweet coconutty goodness. My mother’s karanjis are my favorite sweet Diwali treat. Although, Diwali celebrations are long since over it is never too late to make karanjis.
Now for the recipe, my mother doesn’t believe in writing down her recipes and even when she does write down her recipes her instructions are extremely vague as she does not use measuring cups or spoons but cooks by instinct. So it is a challenge to recreate her recipes. This is my attempt at reverse engineering her recipe for karanjis. After several attempts spread over many years, I think I have finally nailed it this year. This is not the traditional recipe. I have made many changes to speed up things and lighten calorie content but the end result is just as delicious. Even so, this is not the easiest or the quickest or the lightest recipe in the world but it is well worth the effort. I make the dough at least a day before and keep it in the fridge. You can also make the filling ahead of time, up to a week before is fine too. So you can break up the process over several days. Karanjis are meant to be eaten as snacks like cookies, although they make a great after dinner dessert with some coffee.
My mother’s recipe for the dough was very similar to the classic puff pastry dough recipe, although she used shortening instead of butter. Until this year I was too timid to make the dough from scratch, so I have experimented with store brought puff pastry dough and pie dough. This year I decided to make the dough myself and it was a modified pie dough recipe. The recipe was inspired by America’s Test Kitchen’s pie dough recipe, but uses less butter.
Pie-Dough Recipe (makes 24 karanjis)
2 cups unbleached sifted all-purpose flour
1 stick of butter (kept in the freezer for a few hours before making the dough)
2 tablespoons vodka
4 tablespoons ice-cold water
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
First cut the stick of butter into small pieces; then add all the ingredients to my food processor. Slowly add the water and then the vodka till the dough comes together. Wrap it in plastic wrap till you are ready to work with it.
It’s the filling that makes these special. The original recipe starts with fresh coconut. Processing fresh coconut is not an easy task so I usually rehydrate unsweetened coconut flakes, which you can usually find at either an Indian grocery store or a natural foods store. You can also use fresh grated coconut in the freezer case if available. Under any circumstances do not use the overly sweetened coconut flakes from the baking aisle. To add sweetness to the coconut flakes you will need unrefined raw cane sugar chunks called jaggery. These chunks are what make the filling unique. You can find them in your Indian grocery store. I have substituted jaggery with a mix of maple syrup and honey and that was quite good, a couple of years ago when I could not find jaggery. You also need fresh nutmeg, slivered almonds, golden raisins and cardamoms.
Recipe for the Filling (makes 48 karanjis)
8 oz. dried coconut flakes
1 pound of jaggery
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup slivered almonds
2 cups hot boiling water
4 cardamom pods
2 teaspoons canola oil
Pinch of salt
½ cup water at room temperature
1. Add water to the dried coconut flakes, set aside for a couple of hours to reconstitute the coconut flakes.
2. Break the lump of jaggery into smaller lumps using a chef’s knife and then pulse them in a food processor.
3. Grate the nutmeg, remove the cardamom from the pods and process in a mortar and pestle or a clean coffee grinder that you only use for spices.
4. Use a heavy bottomed skillet or saucepan for this step.
5. Add the oil to the pan.
6. Add the processed jaggery and the reconstituted flakes sprinkle some water, mix well.
7. Add raisins and the slivered almonds.
8. Add nutmeg and powdered cardamom.
9. Add a pinch of salt.
10. Cook until the coconut mixture attains a light golden brown color, this will take about half an hour to 40 min. This step requires a lot of patience; you can sprinkle some water or add a little melted butter to prevent sticking and the mixture catching at the bottom.
You can either make little empanadas; this is the way karanjis are shaped traditionally. Or you can make tiny pies or tartlets, using a mini muffin pan. You will need to adjust your baking time accordingly. To make the empanada shape, roll out tiny circles of about 2 to 3 inches in diameter. This will support a tablespoon of the filling. The recipe for the pie dough included above makes 24 karanjis.
1. Preheat the oven to 450F
2. Roll out 24 discs and add a tablespoon of filling to the bottom half of the disc. Fold the top half over the bottom half. Repeat with all 24 discs. Crimp the edges with the back of a fork
3. Arrange on a cookie sheet, don’t overcrowd.
4. Bake between 12 and 18 minutes, till the crust is crisp and golden brown.
5. Cool on a cooling rack.
6. Store in a container with tight fitting lid. Karanjis will keep at room temperature for at least a couple of weeks, if they are not long gone before then.
I made 24 karanjis for Diwali and another batch of 24 for Christmas, the coconut filling will keep for a month in your fridge.