Every year during the months of January through March the first crops of rice are harvested and readied in Bangladesh. The first fresh rice harvest is used in making many different kinds of desserts called “Pitha”. The tastes are delightful and the season is especially nice and cool. I loved this time of year growing up, not only because the weather was great but because we got to eat all kinds of Pithas that we never got to enjoy at any other time of year. Even though we have access to rice flour all year long, it’s especially nostalgic for me to make Pithas in the early part of the year, just because it reminds me of my childhood when things were simple, uncomplicated and filled with simple joys of being with family and friends.
This particular Pitha is called “Pati Shapta” which loosely translated means to make flat and roll. Which is exactly what this is; a Bengali crepe!
Pitha (Crepe part):
6 cups All Purpose flour
2 cups Rice Flour
½ cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
10 cups water
Sift together all- purpose flour, rice flour, salt and baking powder together. Add sugar to the mixture and mix well. Add beaten eggs then slowly add the water whisking to prevent any lumps. The mixture should be a rather thin batter.
8 tablespoons of butter (1 stick)
2 Large Cinnamon sticks
5-6 Cardamom pods, crushed
1 ½ cup Sooji (Farina)
1 Cup Desiccated Coconut (just look for smaller flakes instead of long stringy flakes)
¾ cup brown sugar (or date palm sugar otherwise known as Jaggery, if you have that handy)
1 quart half and half
Let’s start with the filling. In a heavy bottom 5-6 quart dutch oven heat butter until melted. Add Cardamom pods and cinnamon sticks and stir fry until fragrant. Add the Shooji (farina) and cook over medium high heat stirring constantly.
When the color reaches a light toasty brown color and begins to smell nice and toasty (about 6-8 minutes), add the desiccated coconut flakes and stir fry another 3 minutes. Slowly add in the half and half to the mixture and continue stirring. Mixture should start thickening very quickly.
Slowly add brown sugar ¼ cup at a time and tasting as you go along to make sure the sweetness is not too much. You can add more sugar to make it sweeter or less depending on taste. Continue stirring until all the liquid is absorbed and the filling becomes a soft paste like consistency. Kind of like smooth peanut butter. Take out the Cinnamon sticks, remove from heat, cover and set aside.
Heat a 5 inch non-stick frying pan over medium high heat, brush the bottom of the pan with a little bit of vegetable oil and pour ¼ cup of batter in the middle and quickly tilt the pan in a circular motion to coat the bottom of the pan and place on back on the heat. Little bubbles should start appearing all over the batter. Within 35 seconds or so, the crepe should be ready (do not flip it over).
Take off the heat and place about 2 tablespoons of filling on one edge of the crepe and roll it into a tube.
Lightly flatten. You can enjoy it warm or at room temperature. Makes about 50 Pithas. Since each person will at least eat two, it will serve about 20-25 people.