Photo Credit: Neelangana Vasudeva
The first thing that hits your tongue is a wave of ghee, warm and mellow and swathing. Then the crisply jagged nuts, the pistachios and almonds and cashews and walnuts. Then, a gush of mawa. The Aflatoon is appropriately named - it is indeed peerless.
Perhaps the most famous Aflatoon in Mumbai is made by Suleman Mithaiwala on Muhammad Ali Road. Their website tells us that "this mouthwatering sweet is made of mawa, eggs, sugar, rawa, mix ghee (normal + pure ghee) and dry fruits"; it's quite hard to finish a bar of it!
By all accounts, Suleman Mithaiwala was the shop that introduced Mumbai to it; it is said that the grandfather of the current owner invented it. Rich, and fortifying, it's definitely one of their more popular sweets - every time I have visited, I've stood in snaking queues that twine around the store, the customers all staggering back with bags heavy with it. Suleman Mithaiwala makes several versions that can cost as much as Rs 500 per kg! The crowds grow threefold during iftar time, when Aflatoon and malpua and other sweets sell like hot cakes. It is definitely a sweet for special times!A Bohri delicacy, aflatoon is not the easiest mithai to prepare. From what I could gather at the mithaiwalas, first, the eggs and sugar are vigorously beaten into a froth. It is now time for an alliance to be formed with the mawa - it is added into the egg-sugar mixture and whipped until arms start aching. Next, a commingling of rawa and ghee (plenty of the latter, and not quite so much of the former. You don't want it to dominate the taste). Finally, a fillip of taste with the addition of spices and dry fruit, then it is left in the oven to bubble and blister and cook. The baking doesn't make this a healthy sweet by any chance, but it does make it rather unusual. An overnight cooling, and the dish is done. Of course, there is no way that any halwai worth its salt will part with its precious recipe!
Luckily, there are plenty of recipes available online that offer alternative ways of making the halwa; quite often, the recipe does not even call for baking. An approximation of the original can be quite easily prepared on the stove-top on a pan, and that is the recipe that I will give you.
Where to buy the best Aflatoon
Other than at the popular Suleman Mithaiwala, aflatoon can be found at Lookmanji's Mithaiwala, and Afzal Sweet Centre, which stands near Mahim Dargah. Afzal is open through the year, but its famous aflatoon is available only throughout Ramzan. Many other halwais in Mumbai stock it but it has also spread its wings to other parts of the country. For instance, Hyderabad's famous Pista House (the bakery at Bazaarghat) has also started selling the sweetmeat.
The mithai has also been transformed into biscuits. Sadat Hasan Manto mentions them in his book, My Name is Radha. Perhaps more than Mumbai even, the biscuits however, are Ahmedabad's pride and joy. A friend tells me that for Bohris, Hussaini Bakery, outside the Bohra dargah, is properly the most popular purveyor in the city. She isn't terribly fond of the sweet itself, but her family has made visits to the Hussaini Bakery a pilgrimage, and so the flavours have seared themselves into her consciousness.
Aflatoon biscuits are very closely twined to the history of Ahmedabad. I remember reading online that at the 600 year celebrations of the city, The Alliance Francaise of Ahmedabad, chose to serve aflatoon biscuits to its guests, in order to better showcase the city's edible heritage.
The same friend told me that she has bought aflatoon biscuits in Mumbai as well, at Nafees Bakery. A quick search online led me to Indore's famous Nafees Bakers, that sell not just rectangular aflatoon cookies, but also kesar pista biscuits, khari biscuits, elaichi toast and rusk, all neatly packaged.
This is the recipe that my friend gave me. Although she herself is not a big fan, her family is, and this is their (vegetarian) recipe.
Dry fruits (pistachios, almonds, raisins etc)
Milk powder 1/2 cup
Milk 1 cup
Semolina 3 tbsp
Powdered spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom) 1 tsp each, or to taste
Ghee 2/3 cup + 1/2 tbsp for frying the assorted dry fruit
1. Chop up the nuts and raisins, and fry them lightly in the 1/2 tbsp ghee. Set aside.
2. Pour the remaining ghee (2/3 cup) into a pan, and heat. Once the ghee heats up a little, add half the semolina and stir. A lot of stirring is required for this recipe! Add in the milk powder, when the semolina-ghee mixture starts to sizzle on the sides. Next, in goes the sugar. Don't worry if the mixture looks a little dry. Stir it thoroughly, until completely mixed, and then add the mawa.
3. The name of the game here is stirring. Don't stop, until the mawa has broken down into a granular size, and has taken on a burnished, rust-gold colour. If you stop stirring, it will burn. It will take about fifteen minutes on a slow flame.
4. Now pour in the cup of milk, and add the spices. Stir well. Once everything has blended into a pale liquid, add in half the dry fruits. Stir, and keep cooking on high flame until the whole mass starts to bubble and froth. It will reach boiling point; do nothing, except reduce the flame a little. Keep boiling, until it has reduced to a lumpy mass that will stick to your spoon.
5. Grease a serving dish with ghee, and lay out the aflatoon. Sprinkle the remaining dry fruits and cool until solid. Serve!
About the Author:
Meher Mirza is an independent writer and editor, with a focus on food and travel. Formerly with BBC Good Food India, she loves anime, animals and artsy things but also comics, technology and death metal.
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