08/19/13 10:20am

Desify: A Few Good Indian Sweets for Rakhi

Gaajar burfi at Maharajah Sweets in Jackson Heights, Queens. Photo by Anne Noyes Saini.

Gaajar burfi, a carrot-based Indian sweet from Maharaja Sweets in Jackson Heights.

Sweets made with milk, nuts, lentils, and spices are an important part of religious festivals in India. Later this week, Hindus will observe Raksha Bandhan–or Rakhi, for short–a Hindu festival celebrating relationships between brothers and sisters.

The sweets (mittai, in Hindi) eaten at Rakhi represent the sweetness of the bond between siblings. On the morning of Rakhi (Aug. 21) a sister ties a decorative red thread on her brother’s wrist, signifying her hope for his well-being. In return, a brother gives his sister gifts of sweets and money, signifying his promise to always protect and care for her.

Laddoo, jalebi, gulab jamun, and rasgulla are especially popular, but I prefer less common Indian sweets like milk cake, gaajar burfi (made with carrot), and anjeer burfi (made with fig). You can find all of these at Maharajah Sweets on 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens—my go-to source for Indian sweets in New York City.

Milk cake at Maharajah Sweets in Jackson Heights, Queens. Photo by Anne Noyes Saini.

Milk cake, Punjabi dulce de leche.

Maharajah’s owners hail from the North Indian state of Punjab, so it’s not surprising that their milk cake (a very Punjabi sweet) is particularly good. It’s a dense, rich, dulce de leche-like sweet that combines cardamom with milk and sugar that are slowly cooked down until solidified and browned.

Anjeer burfi at Maharajah Sweets in Jackson Heights, Queens. Photo by Anne Noyes Saini.

Anjeer burfi, made with fig, almond, and pistachio.

Indian sweets can be overbearingly rich and sugary, but Maharajah’s gaajar burfi, grated carrot cooked with sweetened condensed milk and khoya (ricotta-like milk solids), is surprisingly light. Anjeer burfi—another relatively light Indian sweet—combines stewed figs with ghee (clarified butter), sugar, and nuts.

During late summer and fall, the huge demand for sweets—eaten and given as gifts at Diwali, Eid, Ganesh Chaturthi, Janmashtami, and other celebrations—keeps turnover at Maharajah unusually high. So it’s an especially good time to get fresh Indian sweets.

Maharajah Sweets & Snacks, 73-10 37th Ave., Jackson Heights, 718-505-2680

Check out Anne Noyes Saini’s ongoing food + audio projects on SoundCloud.

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