Enjoyed as a snack or dessert, malpua are famously prepared during the holy month of Ramadan by Muslim families across India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to break their fast. In some regions the batter is prepared by crushing ripe bananas (or in Bangladesh, coconut), adding flour, and water or milk, and perhaps a pinch of cardamom. It is deep-fried in oil and served hot. The Bihari version has sugar added to the batter prior to frying, while in nearby Odisha the fritters are dipped in syrup after they are fried.
In northern India, malpua don’t contain fruit, but may contain maida (refined flour), semolina, milk and yoghurt. After resting for a few hours, the batter is spooned into hot oil to form a crisp-edged bubbling pancake, which is then immersed in a thick sugar syrup.
To make the batter, combine the flour, palm sugar, baking powder, fennel seeds, poppy seeds, cardamom and a pinch of salt in a large bowl. Stir in the warm milk and whipped yoghurt. Add a bit more milk if needed to make the batter of pouring consistency. Cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap and leave to rest at room temperature for 5–6 hours.
Near serving time, prepare the syrup. Pour the water into a large saucepan and bring to the boil over high heat. Add the sugar. Allow the mixture to come up to a bubble without stirring, then reduce the heat to low and cook until the syrup reaches the ‘soft ball stage’, or 105–110°C (220–230°C) on a sugar thermometer. To test, dip a spatula in the liquid, then carefully place a drop of sugar syrup on your forefinger. Touch your finger to your thumb: the syrup is ready when it sticks onto your thumb, with just one thread. If the syrup is thicker, stir in a little more water, bring it back to the boil and turn off the heat. Stir in the cardamom pods, set aside and keep warm.
In a non-stick frying pan, heat about 2.5 cm (1 inch) oil over medium–high heat, to 170°C (325°F), or until a cube of bread dropped into the oil turns brown in 20 seconds.
Reduce the heat to low. Pour a ladleful of batter into the oil and fry for 1–2 minutes, until golden brown underneath, then turn and cook on the other side. Drain on paper towel, then immediately immerse in the warm sugar syrup.
Repeat with the remaining batter; depending on the size of your pan, you may be able to cook two or three at a time.
Garnish with the almonds and serve as soon as possible, while the malpua are warm and juicy.
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