‘Bolinhas de Coco’ are small cookies, typical of Goan-Portuguese cuisine, that are crisp on the outside and soft within. These special cookies, referred to as Bolinhas (balls), Bolinhos (cookies) or even Bolinyas, are made with semolina and Coco, the Portuguese word for ‘Coconut’. The recipe is an unusual one, wherein the semolina and coconut dough is allowed to soak overnight. This ensures that when baked the next day, the golden-brown cookies have a crisp crust and are fluffy on the inside. These sweet cookies are usually flavoured with fragrant Cardamom (Elaichi) and have an iconic criss-cross pattern on the top.
Bolinhas are typically prepared in celebration of festivals, especially Christmas. They form a delicious part of ‘Kuswar’ or ‘Consuada’, the traditional and festive sweets that are made to be shared with family and friends. The cookies also serve as a great tea-time snack and are perfect with piping hot coffee or tea.
“The longer we soak the dough, the fluffier the Bolinhas will be,” said the old Raandpin (cook), opening a large dabbo (aluminium container) filled with rawa (semolina). It was Ayah‘s (nanny) afternoon off and the cook was in charge of looking after the two Carvalho children. Isabel watched as the elderly lady filled a maap ( wooden measure) with rawa, pouring it out onto a paraat (wide, shallow plate). She then opened another dabbo and measured out pearl-white sugar crystals into a large, deep aidan (vessel). “Do you want to know what makes the biscuits special?” she asked, as Isabel’s sparkling brown eyes widened with curiosity.
“It’s the fresh, sweet coconut that we’re going to add into the cookies,” said the Raandpin, pointing to a mound of white coconut scrapings on the kitchen counter. “The coconut is the most sacred of all the fruits in Goa. We wouldn’t be here today without it!” she said, lighting the chul (fireplace) and placing the aidan of sugar on it. “The coconut palm is a ‘Kalpavriksha’. It must never be cut down or else its soul begins to dry up and weep,” she said, “What’s a Kalpavriksha?” asked Filip, as he walked into the kitchen and grabbed a piece of Pão (bread) from the table. The old lady swatted the young boy’s hands with a waalo (tea towel) as he tried to steal some Amyacho Halwo (mango jam) from a ceramic pot. “You won’t have any place for dinner if you keep gorging on that jam!” she said. “Kaki (aunt), you’ve still to tell us what a Kalpavriksha is,” said little Isabel, climbing a chair that the cook had pulled up for her.
Pouring a maap of water into the warm aidan of sugar, the old lady sat on a small stool before the fiery chul, stirring the hot mixture with a daulo (long spoon). “Kalpavriksha is a ‘giver of life’. Every tree grants blessings and if you make a wish beneath the green fronds of the coconut palm, your dreams will surely come true,” she said. “Hundreds of years ago, when the first humans arrived in Goa, they found a vast green wilderness, filled with dense jungles and dangerous animals. A young man and his family took shelter beneath a tall coconut palm. Exhausted and alone, the man wished he had some tools to build them a home. The kind soul of the coconut palm heard his plea and the tree swayed to the ground, providing the man with sturdy fronds to build a small thatched hut. As the Sun rose higher into the blue sky, the man and his family worked on building their hut. Soon, they began to feel hungry and thirsty.”
The sugar syrup bubbled on the chul while Kaki continued to narrate her story. “The spirit of the coconut palm came to their rescue once more, offering the humans tender green coconuts to feast on. The man and his family relished the sweet coconut flesh and refreshing water. The days wore on and the little family, having settled close to the generous coconut palm, began to venture deeper into the dense jungles.”
Rawa sizzled as the Raandpin poured the golden grains into the sugar syrup, giving the mixture a good stir. “One day, the man and his family came upon a great river, it’s deep waters raging ahead to meet the sea. “If only we had a boat to venture out onto the river, we’d be able to catch fish to eat,” said the man to himself. The generous coconut palm helped him once more, falling to the ground so that its thick trunk could be used to make a raft. The man, delighted, fashioned a raft and set sail on the river, looking for fresh fish. But when he returned to the shore, the poor coconut palm lay on the ground, it’s soul weak and shrivelled. Regretting having taken from the tree endlessly, the man and his family offered the tree fresh water from the river and placed holy flowers on its brown bark. The soul of the tree, immensely pleased with the love and respect they gave, was restored to full life and ever since, the coconut palms give endlessly of themselves as we continue to pray to the sacred trees.”
“May we help to stir the coconut into the Bolinhas dough?” said Isabel, clambering off the chair and running up to the cook. The plate piled high with the fresh, white scrapings was far too heavy and Filip had to help the little girl to carry it to the aidan of rawa. The elderly cook used her hands to mix the coconut gratings into the sweet semolina mixture. The children stuck their hands into the mixture too, pretending to help while trying to sneak in mouthfuls of the sweet dough. Finally, the Raandpin added eggs into the mixture. She placed the aidan of dough into a paraat of water, to keep the ants away. “Tomorrow, you’ll have delicious cookies waiting on the breakfast table,” she said, as the two children smiled with glee, “All thanks to the bountiful coconut tree.”
(Makes 18 small cookies)
- 1 cup freshly grated Coconut
- 3/4 cup fine Semolina
- 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons Sugar
- 1/2 cup Water
- A pinch of Salt
- 1 heaped tablespoon Ghee (Clarified Butter)
- 1 large Egg, separated
- 3 teaspoons Rosewater
In a wide pan, dry roast the fine semolina on low flame, stirring often to make sure it doesn’t burn. Take the pan off the heat as soon as the semolina gives off a fragrant aroma and be sure NOT to wait until the semolina has changed colour. We do not need to toast the semolina until it is brown. Transfer the semolina to a bowl and keep aside.
Place the pan back on the heat, add in the sugar and the water and keep stirring until the sugar dissolves. Once the sugar has dissolved completely, allow the syrup to simmer gently for another two minutes until little bubbles begin to cover the entire surface of the syrup. The sugar syrup will still be watery in consistency.
Add in the toasted semolina and stir to combine. Mix in the fresh coconut scrapings, ghee and salt and keep stirring the mixture until most of the moisture has evaporated. The mixture will begin to thicken and pull away from the sides of the pan. Cook the mixture over low heat, stirring continuously, for five minutes. Take the pan off the heat and allow the mixture to cool completely. Once cooled, refrigerate the mixture in an airtight container and leave the semolina to soak overnight.
When you’re ready to bake the next day, leave the semolina mixture on your kitchen counter to come to room temperature. Meanwhile, carefully separate the egg, adding the lightly beaten egg yolk and the rosewater to the semolina mixture. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg white until frothy, then add in a teaspoon of sugar and continue whisking until the egg white is white and shiny. Gently fold the beaten egg white into the semolina mixture.
The semolina mixture will now be soft and fairly sticky. Refrigerate the dough for half an hour and once it’s easier to shape, divide the dough into small balls (about an inch in diameter). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and spread a small amount of ghee on the paper to prevent the cookies from sticking to it.
Place the balls of dough on the lined baking sheets, leaving an inch of space between them. Gently flatten each ball of dough and use a toothpick or small knife to score criss-cross lines into the top of each cookie. Return the baking sheets to the refrigerator while you preheat the oven to 180*C/ 350*F/ Gas Mark 4. After five minutes, take the baking sheets out of the refrigerator and bake the cookies for 30 minutes until they are golden-brown. Rotate the baking sheets front to back, interchanging their positions on the oven racks, in the last ten minutes of baking. This ensures that all the cookies colour evenly. Take the cookies out of the oven and place on a wire rack to cool completely. Once cooled, the cookies may be stored in an airtight container, at room temperature, for up to 4 days.
Recipe Notes: The dough for these cookies, refrigerated overnight, usually has the addition of eggs. Since we’re a little unsure of refrigerating raw eggs overnight, we’ve adapted the recipe by adding in the eggs just before baking. These delicious cookies are usually flavoured with vanilla or cardamom. We’ve chosen to add in some rosewater, just to give the cookies a touch of exotic flavour!
Story Notes: Our stories, set in the early 1900s, are entirely fictional & inspired by childhood tales, local legends and books.
Try another Coconut & Semolina based Goan Specialty – Baath Cake