Nan Khatai – “The Bread of Cathay” aka another reason I love Gujaratis

Original Nan Khatai on left, healthier option on right

Those of us from the Indian sub-continent are probably very familiar with Nan Khatai. To the best of my knowledge this is the only “cookie” in the Indian cuisine. The name Nan Khatai has been attributed to the Persian for “Bread of Cathay” (Nan, which means bread in Persian, Khatai which means from Cathay or China) as well as Persian for “Bread made with six ingredients” (Nan – Bread, Khat/Shat – Six – flour, eggs, sugar, butter or ghee, leaven produced from toddy or grain, and almonds).

The history of this delicacy is interesting (courtesy Apparently, the Dutch colonists set up a bakery for making bread for their consumption in Surat (a port city in the state of Gujarat in India). When the Dutch left, they entrusted the bakery to a trusted employee called Dotivala. Dotivala experimented with a number of recipes and came up with a recipe for a puff pastry biscuit called “Khara Biscuit”, “Nan Khatai” and “Farmasu” or “Surti Batasa”. All of these recipes exist in some form or another to this day. That is saying something considering we are talking about a period in history about 200 years back.

Nan Khatai was exported to Mumbai and became a popular accompaniment to Masala Chai (Indian Sweetened Tea with Spices). From Mumbai Nan Khatai went all over India. The North Indians did not care too much for leavening and produced a version that remains popular to this day and is very similar to the Scottish Shortbread.

Now that you have the background, on with my story. A couple of weeks back I made Shortbread. That triggered a desire in me to have some Nan Khatai, which then led to the question, can I do something to the recipe to make it a little healthier? I decided to do a little test and make a batch of Nan Khatai the regular way and another healthier version. The verdict, the original rocks but the healthier alternative is not too shabby. Think of it as the McVitie’s Digestive equivalent to Walker’s Shortbread. A couple of things I would do differently is

a) Use 1/2 whole wheat and 1/2 all purpose flour instead of all whole wheat flour

b) Bake the original Nan Khatai a little less. I browned them a bit much. In my defense I was busy playing with my younger daughter.

Anyway here are the recipes.

ORIGINAL NAN KHATAI (Makes 20-24 cookies)


Can’t be easier – use a ratio of 2:1:1 of All Purpose Flour, Ghee or Butter and White Sugar)

A pinch of salt

Some shelled green cardamom ground into a powder

HEALTHIER NAN KHATAI (Makes 20-24 cookies)

Use a ratio of 1:1:1/2:1 of Whole Wheat Flour, All Purpose Flour, Ghee or Butter, Sugar (Brown or White)

A little 2% milk

A pinch of salt

Some Baking Powder – In my experiment with two cups of flour I used 1 and 1/2 tsp

Some shelled green cardamom ground into a powder

STEPS (Same for both)

1. Mix the ingredients and make a dough out of them.

2. Roll small balls out of the dough and flatten into 2 inch discs. They should be about 1/2 inch thick. Place them on a cookie sheet.

3. Sprinkle each ball with some ground cardamom.

Nan Khatai ready to go in the oven

4. Bake in a preheated oven at 350F for 20 mins.

5. Cool on a cooling rack and enjoy with some coffee or tea.



Filed under Indian

2 responses to “Nan Khatai – “The Bread of Cathay” aka another reason I love Gujaratis

  1. Frantzie Couch (Bridgid Cook's Mom)

    These Indian cookies sound delightful. Question: Do you put some cardamom in the dough for both recipes, or only scatter it on the tops before baking? The original recipe sounds like the cardamom is a dough ingredient, but the healthier recipe doesn’t list the cardamom as a specific ingredient.
    I’ve only recently discovered cardamom – what a lovely discovery!

  2. Sorry I wasn’t clear. The cardamom is added to both recipes but is sprinkled on the top before baking – you may want to sprinkle and then press it down lightly in the dough. It is not mixed with the dough. I would recommend you try the original recipe first to get an idea of what you are shooting for – in terms of the taste profile. Good luck!

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