1kg sugar (the white colored, large-grained variety);
Water as necessary;
1 cup milk; and
4 tsp sour curds.
Wooden sugar figurine moulds;
A large saucepan;
A fine muslin cloth for straining;
A round-bottomed steel vessel;
A round-bottomed ladle; and
A set of tongs.
1. Before you start out, soak the moulds in water for 15 minutes. Remove them from the water and dry them completely. They should be moist but not wet.
2. In a large saucepan, pour the sugar and then pour enough water to cover the sugar. Then pour some of the milk.
3. Bring to a boil and stir until the sugar melts completely.
4. Strain the syrup into another saucepan through the muslin cloth. The cloth will have trapped some of the impurities from the sugar.
5. Repeat this process until you use up all the milk and all you're left with is a white paste.
6. Now add the 4 tsp of the sour curd and boil once more. You will see the remaining impurities of the sugar collect to one side at the top of the syrup.
7. Filter the syrup once more and you should be left with a transparent liquid.
8. Put the mould pieces together, bind them tightly with rubber bands and have them ready next to you on the counter top.
9. Take one cup of this syrup in a round-bottomed vessel. On the lowest setting of your stove, heat the syrup, stirring constantly from the bottom with a round-bottomed ladle. When the syrup starts bubbling, hold the vessel with a pair of tongs and rub the syrup with some pressure at the bottom of the vessel. When you hear a crackling sound and the syrup is just starting to turn opaque, then it's ready to be transferred to the moulds.
10. Pour the syrup into the ready moulds. Tap gently on the counter top to let the syrup trickle down into all the corners of the mould. See if you need to top off with some more syrup.
11. Let sit for about 5 minutes. Peel open the moulds carefully. Once you take the sugar figurines out, put the moulds back in cold water for 2 to 3 minutes at a time. Dry them out and use as before. They should not be warm when you pour the syrup into them. The figures will not set in warm moulds.
12. Repeat the process with 1 cup of syrup at a time.
Note: If there are any changes to any of the above, I will post it up here.
May the syrup be a brilliant white, and sweet with that tiniest hint of tang; may the figurines hold together beautifully (or not, if there are hopeful young children hovering around the kitchen for fat crumbs; sorry, must side with the kids); may they brighten many a festival and family gathering.
My earlier post on Sakkaré Achchus appears in its entirety below, along with the photographs, so it's all in one place. If you try out this recipe please do let me know how they turned out.
And just one more thing. When I told my aunt that there was an interest in the recipe and I wanted to put it up on the blog, she willingly and happily agreed and reeled off the instructions. In that spirit, I would like to make a request - please do not copy these instructions or photographs elsewhere, whether for commercial purposes or otherwise without permission or attribution. Thank you.
Sakkaré Achchu (in Kannada for "sugar moulds") is the mainstay of many a South Karnataka festival. Celebrations of Sankaranthi and Dussera, and family rituals such as weddings and housewarmings are incomplete without the sugar figurines.
Beautiful to look at, the figurines are used to embellish puja displays, are part of the gifts to the guests and are, most importantly, simply delicious to eat.
The ingredients are few and the process is painstaking, but pretty straightforward. The first step is to purify the sugar so that there are no impurities and the figurines turn out white instead of a dull shadow of white. The sugar syrup is boiled with curd and stirred constantly to separate impurities from the sugar. After two or three iterations of this, the resulting sugar syrup is simmered on a slow flame in a round-bottomed steel vessel until the syrup develops a thick consistency.
Simmering sugar syrup
The moulds need to be soaked in water and must be damp so that the figurines loosen up easily when they are ready to be removed. Moulds are two wooden slabs with various shapes carved into them, each half a mirror reflection of the other.
A banana-bunch shaped mould
A bird-shaped mould
Just before the sugar syrup reaches the right consistency, moulds are readied by tightly tying together the matching pairs with rubber bands.
Various moulds ready for the syrup
Syrup being poured into the moulds
In a couple of minutes, the moulds are ready to be opened.
And this is when you hope and pray that the figurine is weak in some spot and breaks apart so you get to eat the broken one hot off the mould. If you're desperate enough, you try to jinx it by rubbing your index finger the floor, counter-top or your grandma's hand. Trust me (and my gut), it works.
Fresh and still warm figurines. Yummmm
Homemade sugar figurines (with my grandma's and now my aunt's recipe) are the best. The purification process imparts a slightly tangy flavor and balances out the sweetness of the sugar and the constant stirring of the syrup turns out soft figurines that literally melt in your mouth.
No matter how delicious the end result is, the best part of the whole process is the family getting together to make them. Usually one member of the family takes on the onus of making the figurines for the entire family. My grandmother made it for all her daughters and shipped them off to wherever they lived in the years they were not with her to make them. Now, my aunt, my mother's younger sister is the family sugar goddess. She uses the same moulds that my grandmother did (some of them are losing the sharp outlines and so we have figurines that look like elephant shapes, only sort of).
Yesterday, as we made the figurines for a family function this weekend, much of the talk revolved round my grandmother and how she used to make them and how we used to pester her for the broken pieces (ever the frugal lady, she used to put the broken pieces back in the simmering syrup when we kids weren't looking). I'd asked my aunt to come over to my house to make them so my son could see how they are made. Every Sankaranthi I remember the sakkaré achchus and am glad that my son has some idea of what they are all about.