Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sesame Speculaas & Makar Sankranti

"Tilgul Ghya Aani God God Bola !"

This is a saying in Marathi dialect, which means "have tilgul (sweets made with sesame) and speak as sweetly as it's sweet taste". If ever you happen to be in Mumbai (Maharashtra, India) on the 14th of January, you will find people offering tilgul to each other while repeating the quote above.

This is perhaps the only Indian festival whose date always falls on the same day every year i.e. the 14th of January. This is because the festival of Sankranti is based on the solar calendar unlike the rest of the Indian festivals, which are based on the lunar calendar.

Makar literally means "Capricorn" and Sankranti is the "day when the Sun changes it's position from one sign of the zodiac to the other".

It is supposed to be an auspicious day and is celebrated with lots of donations/alms and cooking 'Khichdi' (a dish made with moong daal (split mung lentils), rice, clarified butter and spices) in the Indian houses. Sesame seed sweets (tilgul) with sugar or jaggery are made, eaten and offered to all.

This occasion is considered so auspicious that people think whosoever dies during this Uttaraayan (i.e. the Sun being in the Capricorn house) period goes to heaven directly.
Bhishm Pitamaah of the epic Mahabharata waited for this period to come so that he could attain 'Nirvana' (relief from the cycle of birth and death).

This festival is celebrated in almost all of India in one way or the other. It is the harvest time for farmers.In Southern India, it is called 'Pongal', in Punjab it is called 'Lohdee', in Maharashtra it is called 'Til (sesame seeds) Sankraanti' .

Now a little something on "Speculaas"--They are thin, very crunchy, slightly browned, spiced traditional Dutch biscuit/cookie that are enjoyed on the Feast of St. Nicholas (also known as Sinterklaas). For those unfamiliar with this celebration, it takes place on December 6th to commemorate the death of St. Nicholas of Myra. St. Nicholas was a man of great generosity especially to those less fortunate and his love of children is reflected in the tradition of Dutch children putting out their clogs (shoes) on the eve of December 5th so St. Nicholas can fill them with candy and presents.

So why Sesame Speculaas during Makar Sankranti?

Well, speculaas are sweets/cookies that have once been the symbol of generosity, and since Makar Sankranti is all about being gracious and benevolent to the needy and giving alms; I thought they are some way!

Hence, you are offered this rare combination and asked to talk sweetly with all. Afterall, we don't have a bone in our tongue for a reason. God never wanted us to be harsh and rude, so he gave us a flexible boneless toungue to speak. :)

I adapted this recipe from a Cookie book I borrowed from the library here. "The Best Of Baking" (International Culinary Society, NY)

Sesame Speculaas
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup less 2 tbsp brown sugar (adjust according to your taste)
3 tsp cinnamon powder
1/2 tsp cardamom powder
1 cup ground blanched almonds
1 1/2 cup plain flour
4 tbsp sesame seeds, for sprinkling
a pinch of baking soda

butter for greasing
flour for dusting
milk for brushing

Cream butter and sugar together. Add the cardamom, cinnamon and mix well.
In a separate bowl, add the flour, baking soda and ground almond meal.
First stir in the butter and sugar mixture to the flour mix, then knead vigourously.
Wrap dough in foil and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Roll out the chilled dough carefully placed between two parchment sheets, about a cm. in thickness. Using a round form/cookie cutter cut out discs of the dough.
Place the discs on a lined cookie sheet.
Brush thinly with milk and sprinkle the sesame seeds on top.
Bake on the middle rack of an oven pre-heated to 400 degrees, for about 10 mins.
Immediately remove from the baking sheet and allow to cool on a rack.
Can be stored upto a week.

This also goes out to Cooking For Kids- Milk event, held at Neivedyam . And to

And to Priti (of IndianKhana) for her Festive Food- Makar Sankranti.

And while I was baking this I thought I would make a mention of Rose (of All about Cakes) who is giving away a 100 piece Betty Crocker Cake Decorating Kit at her blog, to celebrate her 100 posts. Good news on an auspicious day! :)


  1. neat idea of baking sesame cookies..look pretty ..Happy sankranti..

  2. What pretty cookies! Ibet they taste great!



  3. Navita, came here via Pam's blog, you're looking for friends... you found one. Food with a cultural lesson, great. I followed.


  4. happy sankranti!
    looks delicious!
    first shot is really too good!

  5. Hi, Navita. We have the same saying in Kannada too for Shankranthi festival. Til cookies look wonderful, enjoy! :))

  6. Looks delicious, Happy Sankranti!

  7. Nice one! I love anything with sesame!

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Navita, Thank you for stopping my by my site, I'll be back for more exploring ;-)... your cookies look amazing!!

  10. Hi Navita, Happy makar sankranti. Thats a nice piece of info about sesame cookies.

  11. How thoughtful to combine two traditions. Your sesame cookies look delicious!

  12. Thanks for the blog visit!

    Those cookies look divine! You have an interesting and beautiful blog as well:-)

  13. Navita - great educational post and the sesame cookies look amazing!

  14. Happy sankranthi.nice info and delicious cookies.I had wanted to bake these and you already did it.Cheers.They look perfect for Sankranthi and be gracious to share with me.When can I come over? :D

  15. Oh thank you for all this information--I am thrilled to find your blog, super novice cook of Indian food that I am...

  16. I've never had these before - they look really tasty.

  17. thats a great idea of baking..i love to make this..looks divine Navita.

  18. Yum, I love sesame candies. Yours look fantastic!

  19. Navita,
    It is indeed a pleasure to make your acquaintance and thank you for visiting me. You have found a friend in me!
    I am very conversant with speculaas, seeing that I grew up with the Dutch and speak a dialect called Afrikaans!
    I love your sesame action of the speculaas and looks so crunchy and delicious.

  20. I ve seen a lot in stores but never tasted, perfect cookie. Happy Sankranthi

  21. Sesame Speculaas looks very delicious
    Happy Sankranti !!

  22. I like and use sesame seeds a lot. I like your combination too.

  23. Perfectly done,the cookies look so crisp and the nutty sesame all over are so pretty:)

  24. What interesting little cookies! And the history is just as intriguing. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog!

  25. Sankranti wishes to you dear, wow lovely dish, looks soo cute

  26. These look so pretty with the sesame seeds! I'm going to try these even though I don't usually like to do chilled dough. I think my guys will like them a lot!

  27. These look so pretty with the sesame seeds! I'm going to try these even though I don't usually like to do chilled dough. I think my guys will like them a lot!

  28. Hi Navitha, Sesame cookies looks yum...thanks for sharing it :-) Happy Makar Sankranthi to you too :-)

  29. Hey Navita, here is some surprise gift for u!

  30. That's looks really lovely...and the pic is so pretty.....thanks for the wonderful entry dear...Wishing you n all Happy Sankranti

  31. I had baked the speculaas last month, more of the spicier version. Yours is a very pretty twist. That half eaten one looks like a moon!

  32. Wonderful idea of baking it...super!

  33. hi navitha, nice write up and great piece of information..the speculaas look awesome. well captured!

  34. great entry! these are completely unique to me, yet i'm still quite sure that i'd love them. :)


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