When I was seven, I spent every day that summer at my Mumma's house in Karachi. Mumma was my maternal grandmother and really, everyone from the ancient gardener to the youngest grandchild called her Mumma. To call her anything else would simply offend her and no one wanted to bear Mumma's wrath. As far as her house went, I use the term house loosely, because it was more a palace, at least in my seven-year old eyes. Room after room, filled with shiny glass curios she and my grandfather had collected on their international travels, enough silk flowers and music boxes to rival an antique shop, and my personal favorite, a giant grandfather clock that chimed every hour.
And every day at 4 p.m. on the nose, the clock would chime for chai. And aunts, uncles, and cousins would pour out of every crevice of that house and descend to the sitting room for their afternoon tea and gossip fest. To this day, I am not certain how many people actually lived in that house. All I know is that at 4 p.m., the sitting room was crowded, loud, and smelled faintly like Chanel No. 5. The relatives occupied every available seat, with the stragglers taking up places on the large floor cushions.
Mumma presided over the clatter like a queen presiding over her court. She watched closely as the chai was poured from her bone china teapot decorated with English tea roses along the handle. This was no ordinary chai. Rather, it was chai that had bern simmering on the stove for a good hour, while my grandmother's cook slowly added milk and cardamom and cinnamon until the chai was creamy and fragrant.
But afternoon chai was never just chai, you see. The table would groan under the weight of platters of tea sandwiches, plates of kebabs, and dishes filled with samosas. But even back then, my little hands were drawn to the cookies. Or as my grandmother called them, biscuits. Sometimes topped dried fruit, sometimes filled with sticky jam, and other times sprinkled with nuts. And while the others gravitated toward the savory dishes, I slowly pulled the plate of biscuits toward me until it was squarely in front if me like a dinner plate. Clearly, my love affair with cookies began early.
On the best of days, this pistachio cookie would be the biscuit of choice. And oh, what a biscuit it is. Perfectly crumbly from the semolina. Slightly salty from the salted pistachios. And lest you worry about the addition of gram flour, know that it adds the most wonderful caramelized nuttiness that goes so well with browned butter. If you don't believe me, bake up a batch and watch as the biscuit tops crack charmingly under the weight of sparkling sugar or even more pistachios.
This is the perfect biscuit for book clubs and dessert parties, for Sunday brunches and lazy afternoons. And it is most certainly perfect for 4 p.m. chai time.
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup semolina
1 1/4 cups gram flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 cup chopped pistachios
A handful of chopped pistachios or sparkling sugar for topping cookies
Yields approximately one dozen large cookies or two dozen smallish cookies.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Melt butter on the stove until golden brown. If you have not used brown butter in a recipe before, or if the you always end up in burned butter instead of brown butter land, read Simply Recipe's tutorial asap. Once brown butter is cool, add to a mixing bowl and beat in the brown sugar.
In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, semolina, gram flour, baking powder, and pistachios. Mix flour and butter gradually until dough forms. Knead until dough is smooth. If dough is too sticky, wrap dough in waxed paper and refrigerate for 20 minutes. If dough is manageable, there is no need to refrigerate it. Roll out balls of dough and place cookie sheet (and Silpat because gosh, my life has been so much better since I started using my Silpat regularly). Flatten dough ball slightly and top with chopped pistachios or sparkling sugar.
Bake for approximately 20-25 minutes on the middle rack of your oven, until cookies are light golden. Cool. Devour.