Colourful fairs, laughter and special cultural and ceremonial festivities flourish in Bangladesh as the weather starts to cool down after the harvest season. It is truly a joyful time in rural Bangladesh as farmers finish bringing their livelihood home. Another attraction of winter in Bangladesh is the beginning of the pitha season. Pitha, also known as pithe, can be either sweet or savoury. The main ingredient of pitha is rice or wheat flour. Each pitha has a unique shape and design. Even though the word “cake” is usually used to describe pitha, I refuse to classify pitha as cake (although I love cakes, don’t get me wrong!).
Depending on the region, celebration and mood, there are hundreds of types of pitha. Pithas can be steamed, deep fried, pan fried or roasted and are mainly served during breakfast or as a snack. There are also particular pitha associated with special occasions or holidays.
I am sharing a basic pitha dough recipe and the frying process that can be used to prepare two pithas with completely different shapes and textures. The first one yields “golap pitha”, a rose-shaped crunchy pitha. The second pitha is a soft, succulent heart shaped “hridoy horon” pitha.
Basic Pitha Dough
½ cup milk or coconut milk
1⁄8 tsp salt
1 cup flour
1 tbsp clarified butter/ghee
Oil for deep frying
1. Boil milk/coconut milk over a medium heat. Add salt. When milk is at boiling point, add flour and mix well.
2. Turn stove off after dough is formed, about 2-3 minutes after adding the flour.
3. When the dough is cool enough to handle, take the ghee in your hand and knead it in very well to form a smooth dough.
4. To fry, heat enough oil so the pithas can be deep-fried. The oil temperature should neither be too hot nor too cool. If the oil is at smoking point, the pithas will turn dark brown without being cooked in the centre. On the other hand, if the oil is lukewarm, the pithas will absorb a lot of oil and not taste very good. The oil should be at a low-medium heat and bubbles should form when you add the pithas. Fry the pithas with patience, taking the time they need so that the pithas are perfectly fried inside and out.
The frying step is critical. If pithas are not fried properly, the hridoy horon pithas will remain hard, especially in the centre and the golap pithas will not be crunchy.
Golap Pitha (rose shaped pitha)
1. Divide the basic pitha dough into 5-6 small balls. Take one small ball and roll it into a thin tortilla on a lightly floured surface.
2. With a circular cookie cutter, cut small round shapes from the large tortilla.
3. Take three small pieces and stack on top of one another. With a sharp knife, cut the stack in such a way that there are four equal wedges, keeping the middle intact. This will result in 12 petals to form the rose. Now, take each of the petals and bend in the middle to achieve the shape of a rose.
4. Cover the flowers with a wet cloth before frying. Repeat with remaining dough.
5. Fry the roses following the method described above. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve the crunchy pithas.
Hridoy Horon Pitha (heart shaped pitha)
1. Divide the basic pitha dough into 6-8 small balls. Take one small ball and roll into a tortilla on a lightly floured surface.
2. Fold the tortilla in an accordion style (i.e. fold as a paper fan but with the folds closed in all the way through). Fold the accordion into a heart shape as demonstrated in this YouTube video.
3. Repeat with remaining dough.
4. Fry the hearts following the method above.
5. Make a sugar syrup by boiling 1 cup sugar, 1½ cups water and 2-3 green cardamom pods. The syrup consistency should form a single thread when you touch the syrup with your forefinger and your thumb. If the syrup is too thick, the pithas will stay hard instead of becoming soft. You may add some rose water to the syrup if you desire.
6. Soak hot pithas in the lukewarm syrup for 3-4 hours. Serve as is or with some whipped cream.
Pithas are best enjoyed with family. Better yet, make it a family event where the young and the old can take part and play with their imagination to give pithas unique shapes and decorate as their heart desires. Some of my favourite memories from my childhood are gathering in the warm kitchen during cold winter mornings to make and eat pithas with family and friends.
Count your blessings from Allah (SWT). Make memories, eat pithas.
For any questions related to the technique or the recipe, visit www.withaspin.com.
Lail Hossain is a mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend, management consultant and the founder and publisher of www.withaspin.com, a blog that shares insight on how to tackle and celebrate everyday life through food, creativity and family. She writes and photographs various topics that include family and raising kids, DIY projects and recipe development.