Sweetened Semolina wrapped in puff pastry makes these VEGAN Kesari Puffs the easiest dessert to put together in a jiffy!
Did you have a weird food combination that you used to love (or still do) that everyone else found weird? I always eat cashews and raisins together but only on a 1:2 ratio – 1 cashew and 2 raisins. Weird, and even I know that but it is the perfect ratio of creaminess to sweetness, and doing it any other way feels wrong to me.
My brother had a whole other food thing – he would eat poori (which are a deep-fried flatbread, eaten as a popular South Indian breakfast with a side of mashed potatoes) stuffed with Kesari ( a sweet semolina pudding). It might not seem weird to you, if you didn’t know what either of those things are, but trust me, it’s not two items that are normally paired together. It all started one evening when we were visiting our grandmother and she made us kesari, but my brother spied leftover pooris from their breakfast that morning, scooped some of the piping hot kesari into the poori, rolled it like a burrito and went at it.
Ever since, it became his thing: and whenever we visited, my grandmother got into the habit of making both Poori and kesari for my brother. Grandmothers can be indulgent and a little quirky that way – no matter how insane the request, if it comes from a grandchild, it must be fulfilled.
We all ridiculed his choice in dessert for over a decade until last week, when reminiscing over the phone, we laughed about the Poori Kesari for a while, but after putting down the phone, I got thinking. My mother always told us: don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. And in all these years, I’ve never tasted this weird thing my brother obsessed about.
I wasn’t going to heat up a vat of oil to deep-fry flatbreads to recreate it, but I could do the next best thing: puff pastry. It would taste the same, if not even better, with the flaky layers of crispy pastry and light veins of creamy fat running through it would be the perfect thing to encase the soft semolina pudding with. I could even label it as Kesari Puffs and the very thought of that made me salivate, despite the years of childish mockery that surrounded this dish.
Once I made up my mind, the rest flowed naturally without a second thought. I always, ALWAYS have a package of Pepperidge Farm’s Puff Pastry in my freezer. It has saved me many a time when unexpected guests came-a-knocking. While a sheet of frozen puff pastry was thawing on the counter, I readied the kesari.
Roasting semolina can be a therapeutic thing as you absentmindedly swirl it over mild heat, like playing with beach sand on a warm afternoon. While I normally dry roast it for other dishes, for this dessert, I added a smidgen of coconut oil, and the fragrance wafted up in the heat and wrapped me in blissful comfort.
Once the semolina was toasted and fragrant, I swapped the contents of the pan for some cashews and raisins (without paying any attention to my weirdly specific eating ratio) and fried them in some more coconut oil until the cashews were golden brown and the raisins were puffed up. Straining them out of the pan, I made a simple sugar syrup, flavored with the gloriousness of saffron.
Once it began to boil, spewing a sweet vapor mingled with the mild flavor of saffron, I poured in the toasted semolina in a smooth cascade and kept stirring until it absorbed all of the liquid. It might seem like a bit of an overkill at this point, what with coconut and saffron already in play, but I added a tiny splash of vanilla followed by a few drops of orange blossom water.
Imagine with me, will ya? Coconut, Saffron, Vanilla and Orange blossom. It’s a heady cocktail of aromas but no, they do not over power nor cancel each other out. I wish I could describe the way every mouthful teases your senses on their way down your gullet, but I’m afraid words do them no justice.
Once the warm Kesari had some time to cool off, I tossed in the fried nuts and divided them into balls and put each inside a square piece of puff pastry, and brought the four ends together to the top to encapsulate it.
15 minutes later, the Kesari Puffs came out of the oven looking beautifully golden brown, and I couldn’t help but sneak a bite while it was still quite steamy hot.
And once I finished reveling in the deliciousness of this simple pastry, my immediate next reaction was shame: shame at not having recognized the genius of my little brother for having decided to pair two most unlikely things together to craft himself an absolute delicacy.
These Kesari Puffs go into the permanent family archives now, along with my abashed apologies and the story of how you really, really should not knock it until you’ve tried it.