Every year on the eve of Independence Day, in the middle of a park in rain kissed, Midwestern suburbia, with the smoky scent of hot dogs, the frothiness of malt ales filling the lungs and the sounds of picnic-mat conversations floating in the air, one’s eyes are set on the wide open crepuscular sky where the firecrackers go off in co-ordinated, kaliedoscopic grandeur. That is the defining moment, a moment of clandestine jubilation for bringing in a Diwali of sorts for one, albeit a little untimely. Similarly, when the season’s first frosts set in and the crumpled leaves have been swept away, the twinklers that are unearthed from stashes in the frigid garages to light up the bare trees, stars and posts in the frontyard seem to one like a thousand diyas lighting up on the soft, cool curls of the Ganga, from a distant past. When nature wears its green garb again and the line trimmers chirr into action, when the closets and pantries get their makeovers in shifts, it seems as if “Spring Cleaning” is a bit of a misnomer, that it needs to be clocked forward to the Fall, for when the silver would duly be polished and the lamps shined. When the sugar-coated macaroons and marshmallow peeps make their sprightly appearance on Supermarket shelves, one secretly wishes to replace them with mithais and kaju katlis. Thus and so, there are cues all year round, if one chooses to take notice, that remind one of the Diwali dhamaka from back home. It’s that time of the year again and what better way to celebrate this dazzling festival of lights than with our Caramel-Candy Diyas that are sure to outshine the routine rows of boxed Swad sweets at the local Indian grocer’s..
Caramel-Almond Diya Base
1 Cup skinned and slivered almonds (See Note)
¼ Cup milk
¾ Cup sugar
¼ Cup water
¼ Cup butter, cut into cubes
Grease a small plate with ghee. Set aside. Grind the almonds to a fine powder. Place the powder and the milk in a small saucepan and cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring constantly.
Place the sugar and water in another heavy-bottomed medium saucepan. Heat on low until the sugar melts and allow it to caramelize. Do not stir, but you can tilt the pan to ensure that the sugar cooks evenly.
Once the sugar turns amber and all the crystals have dissolved, take the pan off the heat and whisk the butter. The mixture will froth at this point, so be careful. Next, return the pan to low heat and add the almond paste. Whisk continuously for a few minutes, until the mixture starts leaving the sides of the pans. Transfer it to the prepared plate and spread it using a spatula. After it cools completely, divide the fudge into 12 parts. Form each part into a diya shape and set aside.
If you are using whole almonds, soak them in water for a few hours and remove the skins. Add the 1/4 Cup milk and grind together to a fine paste.
Candy Melts – white and red (substitute white chocolate or royal icing)
Yellow food coloring
Sprinkles and colored sugar
To make the flames, draw 12 2-inch long teardrop shapes on a piece of wax paper. Turn the paper over and tape it to a thicker cardboard for stability.
Melt half a cup of white candy melts in the microwave as per package directions. Tint the candy yellow using food coloring and transfer it to an icing cone or ziptop bag with the end clipped off.
Squeeze the bag and trace the outline of the flame with the candy. Then, fill it in completely with the candy, using a toothpick to spread everything around if needed. You can also add sprinkles or colored sugar (while the candy is still wet) for sparkle. Allow to dry for an hour or so and then peel the flames off the paper carefully.
To complete the diya, make a small cut on one side of the base. Squeeze a dab of melted candy and put the flame in place. Hold in place until set.
Ideas for variations in the flame design-
- Once the yellow color dries a little, add a little melted red candy on top and spread with a toothpick for a flame-like design.
- Use the red candy to paint the outline of the flame, add some sprinkles and then cover the whole area with the yellow.
- Paint the centre red and add a yellow outline. Add sprinkles in between, then cover the whole flame with yellow.
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