Appam has a first name. Some people prefix ‘unni’, as in unniappam and some ‘nei’ as in ‘neiyappam’. As you move up West along the Konkan coast, appam become appe. The basic recipe remains the same but the sweetness is reduced and some lentils get added to the batter. Appam has many variations. My sister, P, prefers making these with whole wheat flour, and she tells me they turn out softer, but I haven’t bothered to try, because of Jr.H’s intolerance to gluten. It is often made with cream of wheat (rava / sooji).
Do not let the shape intimidate you. Appam is very easy to make. The shape is very much like the Nordic delicacies made using an ‘aebelskiver / ebelskiver’ pan – a deep frying pan with small hemi-spherical depressions that act as moulds for the batter. Making appam in a flat pan may be a little tricky, as it will not retain a neat shape, hence, the use of the ‘appakaaral’. ‘Appakaaral’ is the Indian name for the specially moulded pan used to make appam. When fried inside the moulded pan, the outsides of the appam get cooked first. Owing to pressure, the batter on the inside (centre) of the appam will expand and some of it will flow out of the center like a volcano spewing lava. This causes the hemi-spherical, domed shape. If you do not have the mould, simply use a wok, preferably deep. The shape will be different but it is the taste that matters, right?
I have used ambemohar brown rice, an aromatic, local strain from Maharashtra. Any rice variety can be used, keeping the same proportion. I would not advise using glutinous rice because I have not tried it myself. Use raw rice and not the parboiled (ukda) variety.
The few factors that affect the making of ‘appam’ are:
The soaking period: Since this is about fermentation, long soak results in softer appams, but it would also mean oilier appams. The bread like texture that an appam has when bit, is an indication of fermentation. My trick when I make appams in short notice is to add a ladle full of vegan yogurt or a slight dash of lime juice to aid the fermentation.
The amount of jaggery: Depending on your ‘sweetness quotient’, you can use 1/2 to 1 cup of jaggery for a cup of soaked rice. While reducing the jaggery does not affect the texture, its increase beyond a cup can cause the appam to disintegrate in the oil. Some varieties of jaggery are quite well fermented and that affects the taste as well as texture of the appam.
The type of pan: I recommend and use stone-ware, cast iron or bell metal (vengalam) appakaral. The reason bell-metal is considered appropriate is that the batter does not stick to the base of the pan. You will have to keep and eye and turn the appams in other pans, otherwise it caramalizes easily. The colour of appams made in a bell-metal pan is uniform overall and does not caramalize as easily as in other pans. Since bell metal prevents sticking the appams can be easily turned over to fry the other side.
Recipe: Appam (Neiyappam | Unniappam) – Deep-fried spheres with jaggery and rice
Yield: 45 [My mould has very small depressions measuring about an inch]
Brown Rice – 1 cup | 170g, soaked overnight. [I used ambemohar]
Jaggery, pounded, grated, or powdered – A little over half cup | 165g
Water – 1/4 cup, a tablespoon less actually
Elaichi / Velchi kela (A small, local variety of banana) – 1, overripe, but not soft or mushy
Green cardamom, podded and pounded – 4-5 pods
Mash banana with a fork or pass through a grater, set aside. Pound cardamom and set aside.
Soak rice overnight or 3-4 hours, covering it with just enough water to allow it to swell. Drain, rinse, drain completely, and grind the rice along with powdered jaggery, adding water by a tablespoon, as needed.
Do not add more than 2-3 tablespoons of water. When half ground, add mashed banana. Scrape batter from the sides of the blender back into the center and grind to a smooth batter. The batter will become liquid as the jaggery blends with the rice.
Remove, and pass through a fine sieve to make sure that the batter does not have any coarse particles or impurities from the jaggery. To the batter, add pounded cardamom. Mix well.
Place ‘appakaaral’ or ‘ebelskeiver’ pan on heat. Pour oil into the depressions upto three-quarters full. Let the oil heat. Test the temperature by dropping a drop of the batter in one of the depressions. It should sizzle and rise up. This indicates that the oil is ready for the pancakes to be fried. Reduce heat.
Using a small ladle pour the batter in each depression filling it upto three-quarters. Cook on one side for about 2 minutes, or till the batter expands and flows out of the center of each depression onto the surface of the pancakes. Let it cook and settle and check that the edges are caramalized.
Using two spoons or wooden skewers, carefully turn each appam over, so that the caramalized underside is on the top. Cook for a minute or two till, the overturned portion is caramalized. Prick gently with the skewer, drain the oil and remove onto layers of kitchen paper to drain oil. If fully cooked the batter will not stick to the skewer.
Repeat with the remaining batter. If the oil reduces by less than half, replenish. Cast-iron pan seems to use up less oil.
Serve when cool. These stay good for a day, or at the most, two. If you omit bananas, they last four days, but won’t be as soft.
My mould is a contemporary design with depressions that measure only an inch. Due to this the appams are not spherical, as the ‘lava’ flows all over the pan. I recommend the use of moulds that have fewer and bigger depressions for best results. Fewer depressions ensure that heat is evenly and well transferred, and bigger depressions give good shape.
If your appam disintegrates in oil, add a tablespoon or two of fine rice flour to the batter. Mix and try again.
Sometimes appam may not swell. If this happens try adding a small over-ripe banana or squeeze very little lime juice. If adding bananas, the appams should be consumed within 4-5 hours as it will spoil easily. Bananas, especially the elaichi kela or elakki variety adds good flavour.
For soft appam, soak rice and grind into a batter rather than use rice flour. Brown rice works better than polished.
Possible substitutions for jaggery recommended by readers:
Toddy palm sugar, Coconut palm sugar, Gula Melaka if you reside in S.E.Asia, and whole cane sugar or voll-rohrzucker if you are in Germany. These substitutions have been recommended by Vijitha, Radhika, and PG. If you use any substitute please let me know how it works, as I haven’t used any of these.