Diwali is almost here and Christmas is around the corner. The festive season is synonymous with indulgence, especially when it comes to sweets. However, the health-conscious wave of 2023 is redefining indulgence with a nutritious twist, bringing millets to the forefront of festive confectionery. This is, after all, the year of millets according to the UN and the Indian government.
These ancient grains, once the staple of our ancestors, are making a triumphant return to the modern plate. But this time, they're not just confined to savoury dishes; they're breaking into the dessert scene with a healthy bang. However, incorporating them into desserts, especially traditional mithais, poses a unique challenge for both home cooks and professional chefs alike. These grains have been notoriously tough to work with, primarily due to their dense and sometimes coarse texture. Yet, as we navigate the sweet landscape of 2023, culinary experts are finding innovative ways to infuse these wholesome grains into decadent desserts.
More about millets
The Government of India has notified millets as Nutri-Cereals. Sorghum (Jowar), Pearl Millet (Bajra), Finger Millet (Ragi) are the ones cultivated on a large scale. Minor millets namely include Foxtail Millet (Kangani/ Kakun), Proso Millet (Cheena), Kodo Millet (Kodo), Barnyard Millet (Sawa/ Jhangora), Little Millet (Kutki) and two pseudo-millets Buckwheat (Kuttu) and Amaranthus (Chaulai). Food influencer Pradhuman Singh Rajput, who posts as @burgerarmyofficial on Instagram is a proponent of this superfood. “Millets are game-changers in the dessert world for those looking to savour both healthy and tasty options. Try making millet granola or cookies, since they work well with a coarse texture,” says Rajput. He also recommends using millet crumbs as a guilt-free alternative to traditional bread crumbs. Toast millet grains and ground them into a coarse flour, to add a delightful crunch to cakes and muffins.
Shivam Bhagat, the Director of Bhagat Halwai, offers a traditional take, highlighting how millets can add a nutty flavour and a healthful twist to desi desserts. He suggests making Bajra Ladoos and Millet Kheer this winter. “Bajra Ladoos are the winter delights in many parts of north India, especially on festive occasions like Makar Sankranti. These ladoos carry an ideal combination of millet flour, jaggery, clarified butter, and mixed nuts like almonds, cashews and pista. From toddlers to teens to senior members of the family, Bajra Ladoos gratify the tastebuds of people in all age groups. Similarly, Millet Kheer garnished with saffron strands is another mouth-watering dessert for the winter season.”
Tips and tricks
Chef Ananya Banerjee emphasizes the importance of choosing the right millet for desserts. "Bajra, ragi and kangni work well due to their mild flavours and fine texture,” she advises. She also stresses the need to balance flavours and adjust liquid content when using millet flour, as it absorbs more moisture than regular flour. “Combining millet flour with other flours and adding a bit more leavening agent can help achieve a balanced texture,” she adds. Moreover, she suggests enhancing the flavours with natural sweeteners and spices, and adding fruit or whipped cream for an extra layer of taste and texture.
Food blogger Shubham Parikh calls millets the “unsung heroes of desserts,” praising their health benefits and unique flavour profile. He encourages people to view millets as a culinary upgrade for sweet cravings, bringing a nutty richness that can elevate mithais and cookies to a new level.
Says Chef Deepak, The Tigress Resort and Spa, Ranthambore, “Being a chef, I try different millet desserts and find them tasty and healthy. Millets are gluten free and they contain a lot of nutrients. This means that they can be used as replacements for refined flours in sweets and desserts. Here are a few recipe ideas you can try at home.”