Visheti (Zanzibari Crystallised Diamond Shortbread)

Visheti (Zanzibari Crystallised Diamond Shortbread)
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The more and more I make Zanzibari food the more confused I get when trying to explain what they are. But then when I compare the recipes, tastes and methods of certain dishes, I am left in awe at how food from around the world is literally all the same! It’s just down to what spice, herb or method we each use to make it our own.

These ‘Visheti’ are exactly one of those things that lies in the house of many nationalities. To be specific Visheti is the equivalent to Scottish Shortbread or a French Sablé Biscuit. They all use a lot of butter to give it a really crumbly, melt in your mouth affect.

As I mentioned on my Instagram post these biscuits were something I had never attempted before. They were always left to my grandmother. She used to spend weeks stressing about the hundreds she would be making for the Zanzibari Royal family for Eid celebrations, and all I remember as a child was being kept out of the kitchen and thrown the odd ugly shaped Visheti to taste. They always looked so difficult to make (I guess if you are making ridiculous amounts, it does get pretty intense!). The only association I had with these was a gigantic silver sauce pan with sizzling hot sugar syrup in it, and two or three women surrounding the pan trying to flip and shake the Visheti to be able crystallise the sugar onto them. The miraculously I would see them on Eid at the Royal Families house and they were stacked ever so beautifully, yet I never touched them as I was scared my grandma would come tell me off!

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So I guess after 15 years or so it was time to associate Visheti in a good light and I finally learnt how to make them. First step to learning was trying to figure out how to simplify a recipe that made 500 biscuits down to about 50!

Safe to say I am no longer petrified to make or eat them and could happily demolish a whole batch by myself. They’re just so nourish and divine even before the sugar step!

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Method:

Making the Biscuit

  1. Cut your cold butter into tiny pieces, then add into your flour & baking powder.

  2. Using your fingers and thumb, rub the butter with the flour till you it all comes together and resembles bread crumbs.

  3. Then add in 50ml of the melted butter and using your hands bring the dough together into a smooth ball.

  4. Only use the rest of the butter if there are still dry parts in the dough. The more butter the better to be honest, so if you chuck it all in it’s fine, as long as it’s not a sloppy mess!

  5. When you have your perfect dough ball, wrap in cling film and leave to rest at room temperature for 10 minutes.

  6. When ready, roll your dough out onto a clean surface. Because of how much butter is in the dough you shouldn’t need to add flour to your surface as the oil will compensate from it sticking.

Ingredients:

Biscuit

  • 200g Plain Flour

  • 100g Cold Butter (Dairy Free Alternative is Okay)

  • 50-75ml of Melted Butter (Dairy Free Alternative is Okay)

  • 1 TSP Baking Powder

  • Vegetable Oil for Deep Frying

Sugar Syrup

  • 1 Cup Caster Sugar

  • 1 Cup Water

  • 1 TSP Ground Cardamom

  • Pinch of Saffron

7. Roll it out into a circle until it’s slightly thicker than a coin.Maybe 60mm? Next time I’ll measure!

8. Then using a knife or pizza cutter, cut vertical strips roughly 2cm-3cm apart.

9. Then pull each strip away, one by one and create small diamonds by slicing diagonally.

10. This mixture should give you roughly 75 diamonds.

11. Once cut and ready, heat your oil in a deep base frying pan.

12. When the oil is super hot, put your Visheti into the fryer (make sure you don’t over crowd them) and then keep turning them with a ladle so they brown evenly.

13. You are looking for a light golden brown colour, too dark and then they will be too hard! So keep an eye on your temperature.

14. Remove form the oil and place on paper towels to soak up the excess oil and cool off.

15. These need to be completely cool before the syrup goes on. So feel free to make them in advance if that helps.

Making the Syrup

1. Add all the ingredients into a saucepan and turn the heat up high and give it a slight stir.

2. Once the mixture has come to boil, out a timer on for exactly 12 minutes and DO NOT STIR ANYMORE.

3. By 12 minutes the syrup will have thickened and turned yellow/gold because of the saffron.

4. Place your Visheti biscuits in large saucepan and then pour the hot syrup over them as quickly as possible.

5. If the pan is not heavy toss the Visheti inside it , so the syrup coats them all. If not use a wooden spoon to turn them in the syrup.

6. Do not stop tossing or stirring till the syrup has crystallised and stuck to the Visheti.

7. Once the syrup is all hard and the biscuits are coated, they are ready to enjoy!