Gujiya – a sweet beyond Holi festival

‘Gujiya’ is a crescent shaped sweet with a thin pastry outside and soft ‘khoya’ (milk-fudge) mixture often lavishly sprinkled with nuts stuffed inside. The pastry is folded and edges crimped to seal the mixture inside and finally deep fried in hot ghee till golden.

Here in Orcha the Gujiya holds pride among delicacies like ‘Kalakand’, ‘Malai Laddoo’ and Chironjee sprinkled ‘Rabdi’.  The gujiya could either be dipped in sugar syrup or just served crusty as they come out of large ‘kadhai’ (deep fry pan) after fried in ghee. Other could be a gluten free Khoya Gujiya, where in the soft luscious textured khoya or reduced milk solid is just shaped like a crescent to resemble the traditional gujiya which otherwise has a refined flour pastry over the Khoya mixture.

Other variations are where the khoya is braised along with sugar, nuts and spices till it has acquired a nice brown colour and filled in the wheat pastry ready to be fried and served.

Well these sites of smell, taste and variety are not concise to one place but in a diverse land like India it can be experienced in every nook and corner.

Though many half baked chefs do experiment with traditional gujiya by way of chocolate gujiya, fruit filled and for the health conscious –  baked gujiya, but nothing can ever taste better than our irresistible khoya filled gujiyas deep fried in ghee!

The same dumpling takes on different names, forms and flavours as it travels from one region to another. For the festival of Holi, apart from khoya, sugar and the nuts, the gujiya mix may have some “Bhaang” (hemp – crushed marijuana leaves). In the region of the Indian state of Bihar ‘Pedakiya’ is made which consists of semolina and coconut filling, similarly in Maharashtra it gets a much of a flaky version and filled with ‘Khus-khus’ (Poppy seeds), coconut and nuts, which is similar to Goa’s ‘Nevri’.

Rajasthan makes ‘Chandrakala’, meaning moon light, here the shape from a crescent changes to a full moon shape with similar gujiya filling of khoya, nuts and the enchanting flavours of crushed cardamom seeds and the knotted edges.

In Vrindavan, both the regular Gujiyas and Chandrakala are an essential part of the Chappan Bhog. Chappan Bhog literally means fifty six ritual food offering to Lord Krishna including milk and dairy like yogurt, ghee, butter, cereals, lentils, vegetable preparations, papadums, chutneys and preserves, honey, fruits, sweets and mouth fresheners like paan and cardamom. This tradition of Chappan Bhog has its long existence especially at the Radha Raman Temple dating back to mid sixteenth Century where every single day an offering to Lord Krishna is made by his devotees and has virtually remained unchanged for almost five centuries now.

‘Ghotab’, crescent shaped, rose-scented, almond and walnut filled pastry, dusted with powdered sugar similar to Gujiya is a must for the Navroze festivity. Well did this influence our Gujiya??

Interestingly, ‘Kipferl’, Viennese specialty- dough filled with nuts supposed to be the predecessor of croissant was created to mark the victory of Europeans during the Ottoman crusade.

Similar to Gujiya is its savoury cousin ‘Samosa’, finding its place in India with the coming of Central Asian traders. The ‘Sambosa’ of Central Asia is filled with mince meat and with its name change from Sambosa to Samosa so did the filling changed from mincemeat to spicy potato.

In the early 16th century, a hand held meat and vegetable pie was introduced for the tin miners in the region of Cornwall, called the Cornish Pastry. Circular cut pastry filled with potatoes, turnips, onions and meat folded like a crescent with rope like edges had an additional virtue, miners’ hands were often covered with arsenic-laden dust, so the crust functioned like a disposable handle.

Whether the gujiya originated in Bundelkhand the regions of Uttar Pradesh & Madhya Pradesh or the Braj region of Uttar Pradesh it is for sure that the khoya has been the choice for gujiya. A good gujiya can just not be judged by its filling but by the pastry shell, the crispiness is as important as its finished look with its edges neatly crimped.