Tamil: Thengai barfi | Hindi: Nariyal or narial ki barfi | Marathi: Narali pak or copra pak | Gujarati: Koperapak | English translation: Coconut candy squares | A quick sweet made with just coconut scraping, sugar and cardamom powder.
Till I came to Mumbai (then Bombay) I assumed coconut barfi was a South Indian preparation (thengai barfi) but soon found that it is a favourite in Maharashtra. There is no proper translation in English but since the process involves sugar being subject to a process similar to candy making, I term these ‘coconut candy squares’ or ‘coconut barfi’.
There are two ways to make thengai barfi. One method is to make a one-thread sugar syrup, add the coconut and cook the mixture to the correct stage. The other method involves cooking the coconut and sugar together allowing the candy stage to occur without addition of water. I prefer the second method because it yields a stiffer, less-soft product that is moist inside. I also find that the second method offers greater flexibility in regulating the amount of sugar.
North Indians seem to prefer a very soft barfi. I find it too sweet, very sticky and messy to eat. I also find the addition of artificial colour disturbing and hate if ‘rose essence’ is added to the barfi. ‘Copra vadi’ found in shops borders on the other extreme. They are dry and I end up crunching coconut cud for what seems eternity. Choosy? Yes.
Mum is responsible for making me so choosy. She has set the standards high, I tell ya! I make mine exactly like she does. Stiff on the outside and a wee bit moist inside. Why I like it? I can hold it without getting my fingers syrupy and moist, and because the moisture inside prevents the coconut from turning to cud.
Since I do not use a thermometer while making sweets it is a little difficult to describe the correct stage of candy. I observed the time and have done my best to describe it accurately.
How to recognise when the barfi is ready to be set:
Try swiping a little of the mixture on a relatively clean inner side of the ‘kadai’ or wok. Within 10-15 seconds the sugar will start to crystallise and the sweet will turn white. Even if the rest of the mixture in the kadai may not seem ready, trust me, it already is. The mixture will also swell a little but that is difficult to recognise till you make the barfi a few times. At this stage empty the mixture into the greased jelly pan. It should roll off easily in big lumps without sticking to the wok.
I use less sugar than the recommended measure. I recommend that you start with one cup of coconut and when you gain confidence, start making larger batches.
A rectangular or square jelly pan. You could use a round plate but a jelly pan ensures that you get more pieces and that they are all uniformly cut. I use a heavy bottom, aluminium pan to make this sweet as my cast iron woks are very small in size.
Measure by weight rather than cups. This way you can be sure about the amount of coconut held in one cup. Measuring in cups leaves room for errors.
Refined sugar can be substituted with brown sugar. I wanted white squares for the blog so, used white sugar this time. Generally I prefer raw sugar. Since sugar granules vary in size and sweetness weighing is better measure than cups.
I used saffron strands and cardamom powder. A pinch of nutmeg instead of cardamom also lends a good flavour. All flavourings are optional. Rose water is a popular flavouring agent, but I positively detest it!
I use only freshly grated/scraped coconut. I haven’t tried and cannot recommend substituting fresh with desiccated coconut or dried coconut powder. I feel that the proportion of sugar would change drastically and this method may not even work.
Recipe: Tengai barfi | Coconut candy squares | Narali pak | Nariyal ki barfi | Koperapak
Yield: about 35 pieces and some left over bites that were half the size of the rest
Freshly scraped coconut (only the white portion) – 280g | 3 cups
Granulated sugar (I used white) – 280g | 1 + 1/3rd cups
Freshly crushed cardamom powder – 1 tsp.
A few strands of saffron (Optional)
Grease a 7 x 9 inch jelly pan with a drop of neutral oil
Run coconut in a mixer for a short burst, just enough to crush it slightly but let it remain granular. Just a quick run. Careful! Don’t grind into a chutney.
Place the coconut in a heavy bottomed wok and mix granulated sugar into it.
Cook on medium flame for 7-10 minutes. Keep turning and tossing the mixture, mixing it well. Keep a watch on the flame and reduce it if even a few specks of brown start appearing. By now the sugar should have melted completely into the coconut, and the mixture should turn sticky.
Reduce flame, cook further for about 5 minutes. The mixture should be translucent and swell slightly now. To test, swipe the mixture on the ladle along the edge of the wok. If the sugar starts to crystallise and turn white, the candy stage has arrived.
Pour into the greased jelly pan. If rightly prepared, the coconut barfi should slide off the wok easily without sticking to it. Pat with a greased ladle. Or, cover the jelly pan with foil and smoothen the top with a flat surface till even.
Let cool for at least 15-20 minutes at room temperature. Mark the surface with lines cut with a sharp knife into desired size. When it cools completely, about 30-40 minutes, cut along the lines completely. Remove carefully, lifting the edges with a knife.
The best time to enjoy would be after the squares cool totally. For complete setting it takes about 12 hours. Store in an airtight container. It lasts for a long time, but I have tested only for 3 days so far.
Tie up a ribbon. Package it in a wooden box. It makes such a great gift for Diwali or for any of your Indian-sweets-loving-friends!