Sticky and saccharine sweet, Chikki is India’s answer to fudge. These brittle candies are available in perfect square lattices beautifully pockmarked with peanuts on a bed of rich, brown layer (lent by the use of jaggery in the dish).
Often compared to peanut brittles, the Chikki is arguably a far superior version. While the former is an amalgamation of plain peanuts and melted refined sugar, the latter uses jaggery—a perfect marriage of golden caramel and earthy molasses. The mixture is boiled down to a lava-like blend and promptly cooled with roasted peanuts to achieve the solid consistency.
The preparation does not take more than half an hour. The groundnuts are roasted first till golden brown and then crushed to powder. Ghee is added to the jaggery and stirred in medium heat till it caramelises. The ground powder is then mixed with the gooey, brown concoction. This is then poured over square moulds along with the final sprinkle of peanuts.
The origin of Chikki can be traced back to the 19th century. In the Maharashtrian hill station of Lonavla, a particularly resourceful candy shop owner was known to have invented the recipe for this sweetmeat. Maganlal Agarwal, a resident of Lonavla, made what he called the Gud Dani, a mix of ingredients with high calorific value. His incentive behind this novel dish was to use it to lure workers into enthusiastically laying railway tracks from erstwhile Bombay to the hilly regions of Lonavla. A train service would not only placate the British but boost sales for shops in the natty hill station. Legend goes that the workers were so overjoyed with Agarwal’s culinary prowess that they worked harder than usual to complete the project. As a bonus for his efforts, the British allowed the Chikki to be sold to all customers travelling between Bombay and Lonavla. After cracking this fortuitous deal, Agarwal was prompt to change the name from Gud Dani to Chikki (a probable derivation from the Marathi word ‘chikkat’, which means sticky) and began packaging it as Maganlal Chikki for distribution across India.
Though technically an Indian invention, the aesthetics behind this recipe are foreign. Multiple European countries have dishes akin to the Chikki—Peanut Brittles in the UK, Alegía and Amaranth candies originating from Mexico, Pastelli (sesame bars) from Greece, Gozinaki (candied walnuts fried in honey) from Georgia or even the Keo Lac (a recipe that uses pecans, peanuts and almonds) from Vietnam.