Bakarkhani. The very name is enough to send old Hyderabadis into a nostalgic mood. A luxuriously rich 14-layered bread garnished with slivers of nuts and a sprinkling of sesame seeds, the bakarkhani was once the star attraction of the table at feasts in Hyderabadi families. But today, only its memory remains, says Nawab Shah Alam Khan, whose family's mehman-nawazi and their heritage recipes are legendary.
"I ate bakarkhani when I was a school boy. This Mughali bread travelled all the way from the North during the time of the Mughals and came to Hyderabad. It was a delicacy of the royalty — its time-consuming preparation is testimony to that fact. It used to be a bread rich in taste and texture," Shah Alam reminisces, adding, "Today, there are hardly any chefs left who know how to prepare it."
The secret to a perfect bakarkhani lay in the way it was baked, according to Sadaf Yasin, a Hyderabadi foodie, for whom the bakarkhani is the stuff of childhood . "Since it wasn't a native food, not many people were trained to make it. And whenever it was prepared for special occasions, we used to eat it with much delight," says Yasin, who recalls the laborious process that went into preparing this flavourful bread in the spacious kitchen garden of her ancestral home. "the bawarchi would begin his preparations early in the morning. He would dig the soil, and prepare the earthen tandoor from scratch. Meanwhile, a dough would be made of maida mixed with ghee, sugar, cardamom powder, nuts and khuskhus, and set aside for a couple of hours. This dough would then be rolled out into round discs, and put in the clay tandoor. The freshly-baked bakarkhanis would then be dipped in pots of pure ghee. The aroma and taste still lingers in my mouth," says Yasin.
Flaky on the inside, with a soft crust outside, the bakarkhani was served in quarters with accompaniments like qorma or kaliya. This usually made the first course of any lavish spread at weddings or other feasts.
Sadly, it's rare to find the authentic bakarkhani in Hyderabad anymore, even though it's still available in parts of Lucknow, old Delhi, Patna and Gaya. There are a few new variants of the bakarkhani though, that trace their origin to Bangladesh and Kashmir. But Nawab Alam Khan considers these "merely distant cousins" of the real bakarkhani. "They can be called bakarkhani naan or bakarkhani pastry, at the most," he says.
A recipe of modern version of bakarkhani naan
Ingredients: - 4 cups maida - ½ tsp salt - 2 tsp sugar - 1 ½ tsp yeast - ½ tsp powdered green cardamom - 1 egg -¼ cup ghee - Milk to knead the dough - Poppy seeds, a handful
Method: Sieve flour in a bowl. Add salt, sugar, yeast, powdered green cardamom, ghee, egg and mix well. Now, add milk and knead to a soft dough. Cover it for two hours and let it rise. Then, divide the dough into eight balls. Flatten on a pastry board and apply some ghee. Fold in half. Apply some more ghee on it and fold lengthwise. Fold again in circular way to make a ball. Press very lightly with your palms to flatten it. Sprinkle poppy seeds on it and bake it in an oven at 200°C for 10 minutes. Take out from the oven and lightly brush with ghee. Bakarkhani naan is ready. Serve with qorma or kaliya.