Candy for the gods: ‘Sakkare acchu’ always reminds me of Makar Sankranti
Sitting cross-legged on the red-oxide floor of our kitchen in Hyderabad and watching mother furiously stir a pot of bubbling sugar syrup on a coal stove is one of my earliest memories of Sankranti. A smoky aroma would fill the room as the red-hot pieces of coal crackled and danced before turning to ash on the grate of the aggishtike (kummati aduppu).
Wooden moulds bound with jute thread would be neatly placed in a plate with the holes facing upwards. When the syrup reached the desired consistency, mother would deftly pour it into the moulds and just five minutes later, demould them. This was the moment I waited for each year, when she would magically “create” milky white ducks, peacocks, houses, flower pots and even coconuts, all with just sugar syrup! I would pick each one up carefully and place it in a steel box which was then put away till the day of the festival when the ‘sakkare acchu’ would be offered to god before being distributed to everyone.
Sakkare acchu, which translates to sugar mould in Kannada, refers to the figurines made with sugar syrup for Makar Sankranti. A popular ritual in the state of Karnataka, these candies are distributed with the quintessential ellu-bella (sesame seeds-jaggery) mixture that is synonymous with the festival. Needless to say, they are a hit with children. My sister and I had our favourite shapes — while I loved the tulsi pot (Brindavana), my sister was partial to the peacock.
Labour of love
Making these figurines at home is an elaborate process and requires traditional wooden moulds. While silicon moulds are available too these days, the preparation takes time and patience. Most people, therefore, resort to buying readymade sakkare acchu from shops. These days, they come in a variety of hues too, thanks to food colouring, and are also available for sale online, as I recently discovered to my surprise.
But as my mother always says, nothing beats the charm of making these figurines at home. She fondly recalls learning to make sakkare acchu from my grandmother, who had an enviable collection of wooden moulds sourced from Tirupati and Chennai. Grandmother took special pride in the large moulds she had managed to pick up from near the renowned Parthasarathy Temple in Chennai. Back then, making sakkare acchu was a grand affair that began at least a week to ten days before the festival with all the women in the extended family coming together to help.
Each mould has a pattern (say, a flower, animal, bird, etc.) and consists of two identical pieces which need to be coupled and bound tightly together. The sugar syrup is then quickly poured into the cutout portion and filled to the brim — an important step as it needs to be completed before the mixture solidifies. Many a time, mother would add a few drops of cold water to the syrup when she found it hardening too soon.
The syrup takes just 5-10 minutes to completely set, after which the thread binding the moulds is cut. A gentle tap is enough to demould the figurines though a knife tip comes in handy at times to gently pry a stubborn edge. As a child, I would secretly wish for a handful of sakkare acchu to break apart while demoulding so mother would discard them and I could instantly pop one or two into my mouth while they were still hot. The joy of the ambrosial hot sugar melting in the mouth was a heavenly feeling.
While the recipe consists of just a couple ingredients apart from sugar, getting the syrup right is key. If too thick, the figurines become brittle, and if too thin, they will not set. Curd, milk and lemon juice are added to give a milky white colour.
Come Sankranti and the sight of sakkare acchu takes me back in time to my childhood when I would happily eat 4-5 pieces at one go. Though mindful of my sugar intake today, I still prefer homemade acchu over the store-bought ones as I can ensure they are free of additives like colour and other substances. More importantly, these little rituals evoke fond memories of simpler times and help keep our traditions alive for future generations.
1 cup sugar
¼ cup water
2-3 tsp milk
2-3 tsp curd
Juice of one lemon
Muslin cloth for filtering
1. Soak the wooden moulds in water for at least 4-5 hours prior to preparing the sakkare acchu. Pat dry with a towel and join the pairs using a string or rubber band. Arrange on a big plate with the holes facing upwards.
2. Take sugar in a thick bottomed vessel and add water (just enough to cover the sugar). Heat on a low flame while stirring continuously till the sugar dissolves completely.
3. Filter this liquid using a muslin cloth to remove impurities.
4. Place the filtered sugar syrup back on the stove and add the milk and curd. Mix and continue to stir till the mixture turns homogenous. Pass this mixture through a muslin cloth again to remove any remaining impurities.
5. Divide the filtered sugar syrup into two parts and heating one part while keeping the other aside.
6. Stir continuously as the mixture begins to froth. Allow it to thicken, this could take more than 10-15 minutes. When the liquid bubbles and boils, remove from the stove, stir vigorously till it turns milky white and put it back on the stove. Repeat this process at least 6-7 times until the mixture turns translucent. When the syrup is bubbling, take some of it on to a spoon. If the bubbles stay longer on the spoon, it is a sign of the syrup thickening.
7. Add the lemon juice at this point and continue to stir. You may need to repeat the process of taking it off the stove, stirring and putting it back until the liquid attains a consistency akin to castor oil.
8. Once that happens, take off the stove and pour into the moulds quickly. Since the syrup hardens in a few seconds, it is best to work with small batches of syrup.
9. Wait for 5-10 minutes before removing the rubber bands. Gently demould using the sharp edge of a knife if necessary.
10. Store in an airtight container.
The freelance writer from Bengaluru has a passion for travel, culture, food and design.