Friday, November 14, 2008

Debug my batter

For all the things I can cook, and cook well - just as BigGeek and Chip, they will vouch for it – I can’t, to save my life make idli/dosa batter. I usually buy the overpriced tubs of batter in my local Indian store and palm the dosas and idlis made from it as “home-made”. It’s pathetic, really. My mother, on the other hand is the queen of idlis. She had a bunch of Tamil co-workers and she got awesome tips from them and her idlis turn out to be soft and fluffy and delicious, her dosas crisp and golden that will put any udipi to shame.

Her batter always rises well. Always. No matter where she makes it. In German winters where she lived for a few years or in winters here. And we keep our house coooold. 65F. And she makes the batter and it rises like it is the tropical Mumbai. She can make batter on an Antarctican ice-shelf and it will rise. I don’t know what she does. I ask her and she says she has given me all her tips, but I still can’t get my batter to rise unless I keep it on the deck outside on a hot July afternoon.

It’s so depressing that I have stopped making batters at home. Altogether. But two days ago, optimism reared its head again and I said, “Why, not?” So I soaked two cups of urad dal (the skinned, whole ones), some methi seeds and tried my hand, again at making a multipurpose batter. Idlis, dosas, uttapams. But it turned out to be a total disaster. The uttapams were so heavy that I sprained my back holding a plateful of them. Sigh. So, please all yout idli-maidens out there, help me debug my batter. This is my trace output.

Tuesday, 10:30 a.m.
Yay! Vetran’s day. Let’s make idli batter. Soak two cups of Urad dal with a tablespoon of methi seeds. No rice. Plan to use idli rava.
Urad dal is skinned but whole? Check.

Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.
Hmm..dal looks soaked. Let’s grind it in my (horrible) Cuisinart food processor.
Use as less water as possible? Check. Grind very fine? Check.

Tuesday, 7:00 p.m.
Add idli rava. For each cup of urad dal, 3 cups of idli rava. I hope I haven’t got the ratio wrong. What if it's 2 cups? Let’s compromise. 2.5 cups of idli rava per cup of urad dal. Mix, mix, mix. With hand. A little water. I was told that the bacteria/yeast on the hand will help ferment in the chilly weather. No spatula (although I am sure my spatula also has a ton of bacteria too)

Tuesday 7:15 p.m.
Find a warm place for the batter to rise. Vents are not warm. Top of the fridge? Umm, no. What if I forget? That will be one stinky science experiment by the weekend. Oven? Maybe. (Stick hand in oven.) It’s not exactly warm. But it will do. Turn on the oven light for warmth and put the batter in.

Wednesday 8:00 a.m.
Who turned off the oven light? Who ? Who? BigGeek confesses to having committed the act before he went to bed on Tuesday. Arrrrgh. Take out the batter with zero hopes. The batter looks pathetic. It hasn’t risen. Turn on the oven light and stick the batter once again with many prayers.

Wednesday 6:45 p.m.
Batter looks even more pathetic. It hasn’t risen at all. My dinner plans crumble to tiny pieces. I have been looking to eating utthapams since two in the afternoon. BigGeek to the rescue. Batter is stuck into the oven. Oven is set to warm (170F) despite my vociferous protests that the batter will be cooked in it at that temperature. A large hairy hand shooes me away. The oven is too warm, the batter in. In a few minutes or an ternity in Dottie’s time, the oven is turned off. Hope hangs in the air.

Thursday 7:00 a.m.
Gingerly take out the batter. What are the three brown spots? Did the batter get cooked? Sniff, sniff, sniff. Its smells ok. And it has risen. But in an over-fermented sort of way. Store batter in fridge. Oh well. Atleast it did rise.

Thursday 7:00 p.m.
Chop onions for uttapam. Make chutney, make sambar. Drool at the smell.

Thursday 8:00 p.m.
Get the batter out from the fridge. Thin it a bit with water. Add salt. Heat griddle, make uttapam. They stick. Oh no they stick. Change griddles. Repeat. It sticks again. Panic. Chip is super hungry. Think fast. Take a can of flour from the pantry. Rice flour, hopefully. Add it to the batter. More water, more flour. Make uttapams. Better now. Still a bit sticky but not plastered to the griddle. Repeat 6 more times. Thank god dinner is over.

So this is what happened. Where did I go wrong? Please debug my batter. Sending out an SOS.


GettingThereNow said...

You could try adding a little sugar (just half a teaspoon maybe) to aid the fermenting process.

If you need to add water to make the water, add warm water.

Let the griddle get superhot, sprinkle some oil then swipe it quickly with a wet paper towel to lower the temp a little and clean away extra oil. Then add the batter. Sometimes the first 1 or 2 dosas/uttapams will stick but then the temperature evens out and they don't stick.

Hope this helps. Will come back if I think of something else.

DotThoughts said...

I did.. added warm water.. but the problem was with the fermentation, I think. With store bought batter, the dosas turn out just fine.. maybe one sticks.. but this was horrible :(

GettingThereNow said...

If Urad dal is more in proportion, it will stick too. Maybe you could add more idli rava. I use 1:4 ratio.

Altoid said...

DotT : I went thru this kind of angst too with idli dough. Dosa dough is simpler to make at home, I generally dont go for store bought cos they tend to be very sour.

Anyhow, it turned out to be a combination of issues. One, mom deduced the idli rava I was using was bad quality. So now I have switched to parboiled rice, instead of idli rava- they make very soft idlis. Secondly I wasnt fermenting it the right way. In the sense, I didnt really understand what happens when it fermenting happens(shows how detached from the kitchen I was while growing up ;). I am assuming you might not be having that problem- but I use the same process. Pre-heat oven for a few minutes before placing the dough and using the oven light. Sometimes it takes up to a day(24hrs) or more to ferment, depending on summer/winter.

I use 2:1 rice:urad dal for idli and 3:1 for dosa. And I also use Oster/Sumeet, I've never tried with food processor- maybe it doesnt make a difference, I cant tell. And I am nodding my head for the grind fine etc. So everything else seems alright. But then I took 5 yrs to set all the factors right ;)

Gauri said...

I use the 2:1 ratio too Dottie - for idlis that works fine.

Secondly I saw you'd mentioned "add as little water as possible" while grinding the urad dal. As little water as possible applies when you are grinding for medu vadas. For idlis - the batter does need some water while grinding. Ideal consistency : when you pour it out of the grinder it should fall in folds (as with some cake batter) into the vessel.

Another little tip : do you all get rice flour readymade ? If so, you could substitute that for the idli rava. I do that sometimes. Again a 1 urad dal : 2 cups rice flour works just fine. Idlis turn out super soft.

Advantage : the same batter also yields delicious crips dosas. win win situation !! :)

Only thing - ensure the rice flour is the non-glutinous variety.

rayshma said...

hahaa.. sorry.. no help here. if u need someone to eat it up.. u can count on me :))

eve's lungs said...

Dottie sometimes the top part gets dry and crumbly but sadly the batter doesnt rise . This saga is sooo familiar . I depend on good ole MTR

Mamma mia! Me a mamma? said...

Sigh...sorry I can't help you with this. I'm a buy-batter person myself!

Anonymous said...

I do a 4:1 ratio. Don't add idli rava. Use rice instead. Of the 4 cups of rice use 1 cup of regular and 3 parboiled and 2 cup of whole urud. When grinding rice add a handful of soaked Poha for softness. I usually place it on top of the vent with a thick towel wrapped around the vessel. When making the dosa, cut an onion and rub the exposed side on the tawa with a little oil, it prevents the dosa from sticking. Natural body heat has a small factor to play int he rising. So I tend to make the batter a few days before aunt Flo' visits. or sometimes just use a portable heater out of desperation :)Maybe I will just ship some to you :))

Anonymous said...

Sorry I meant 1 cup of Urud dal. 4 cups of rice and 1 cup Urud.

SilentOne said...

A wet grinder makes ALL the difference.
Do you have a hot water boiler tank ? Leave the batter next to that, if you have one. Thats what I do here and it works.

Preethi said...

Dottie 4 cups of idli rawa to 1.5 cups of urad dal.. soak the idli rawa too seperately and grind it too.. buy the coarser variety of idli rawa. I like Priya brand! I dont add methi. If you are looking for making dosas only and not idli add a handfull of soaked poha (soak for about 30 mins and grind and add to mixture). Mix well and leave it overnight .. I promise it will rise. If it does not add a little bit of baking powder just before you pour (wink). Also the key is in grinding the urad dal.. you grind it till it is smooth.. keep grinding with some more water each time till it gets fluffy and smooth.
The biggest joke of all.. me giving recipes to you!! :P

B o o said...

No idea with Idli Rawa, Dottie. But I think the problem with your batter was "too much urad". Try 1 cup whole urad and 4 cups rice. (3 cups of idli rice and 1 cup of raw rice) And while making dosas, sprinkle some water on the tawa each time to cool it down before pouring the batter. It does nt stick. I had a disastrous experience once where I had to throw the entire batter so was totally put off. Then my mom made while she visited and only upon seeing it with my own eyes, dared to try again! Idli, dosas are over rated if you ask me! :)

Munchkin said...

Wow! Everyone has already said what I was going to say anyway...
but for what its worth..
I use 1 portion urad and 2 portions rice. I add a decent amount of water to make it like cake batter while grinding.
While making dosas/uttapams I heat the pan quite a lot before i start(water droplets sprinkled on the pan should sizzle and evaporate) and rub the cut side of an onion on the pan after each dosa...

samskruthi said...

1)The ratio for urd dal :to idli rava is 1:2.
2)After grinding urd dal, add idli rava and mix it to the thick curd consistency with warm water.Add 1 tsp pf salt to it.
3)Fluffy idlis normally take 24 hrs for fermenting. Methi seeds are not required for idlis.
Happy idli making.

chandu said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
PG said...

Through you i have also got some good tips. The only tip i could give you would have been about rubbing the onion half on the pan. It is very helpful.

Its our space said...

The oven is the preferred mode of fermenting here too,but I follow this routine : Soon after grinding and the messy mixing with your hand deep in batter , put it in the preheated (to around 200 deg and switched off )oven . Take the batter out every four hours and heat the oven to 200 deg and turn it off to put batter back rises in 8-10 hours. The ratio others mentioned works most of the time. I use 1 (dal) to 5 times idli rice and get perfectly fine idlis and dosas and its cousins. And imo,idli rava doesn't work as well as the rice . Good luck !

dipali said...

I'm a lazy so and so who only buys batter and only makes dosa and uthapam, although I love idli. Totally useless here!

Anonymous said...


I see you have enough suggestions on proportions, but noone seems to have mentioned one thing: salt. The batter will not ferment if you don't add idli rawas from most Indian stores are very suspect - use parboiled or idly rice instead.

Our method, FWIW:

1. idly rice (there are several brands, but Ravi and Lakshmi seem to be pan-US brands).
2. Urad or Urad gota - no difference in amts, the gota makes for smoother/softer idlis.

For idlies:

5:1 (rice: urad) - soak for 4-6 hours in summer, overnight in wonter.

Dosas: 6:1 will work.

Note that 5:1 or 4:1 will also work as a multi-purpose batter, you may need to tweak the rice proportions for idlies - more rice = harder idlis.

Final batter consistency, for optimal rising, should be at homemade yogurt consistency (the 2% kind) - i.e. not watery, but like a thick viscous liquid.

Once ground, add salt.

In winter: (We did this in midwestern winters, now we live in milder climes - TX)

While grinding, turn the oven to the lowest setting - that is 170 on most electric ovens. turn it off as soon as it reaches that temp. By the time you grind the batter, the oven will have cooled down to a nice warm temp.

Leave the batter in the oven overnight (usual instructions on having the dish be large enough to accomodate rising etc. apply).

This has been foolproof for us over 15 years ....



Munimma said...

Post reminds me of Panchatantra. You know the one where the man buys a goat and carries it over his shoulder and hearing so many different comments, he shucks the goat and walks away ;-)

My 2 cents - salt is necessary and so is a warm oven (don't open in between), ratios vary, but they all seem to work. IMHO, 1 cup parboiled, 2 cups polished rice and 1 cup urad work/taste best. Make sure you put a large plate under the batter pan when placing in the oven. (My husband can vouch for that since he has had to clean it quite a few times.)
If it sticks, it has over-fermented, so add plain flour and salt (as you did).

Girl Next Door (gnd) said...

When I'm not buying from the store or borrowing from my sis, I do what gauri suggested - 1 cup urad daal to 2.5 cups rice flour.
I grind the soaked flour and simply fold the flour in.
The advantage - you can use lotsa water to grind the urad daal to get it super smooth, and it has never failed me. But I've only made it maybe 20 times in the last 12 years ;)

Sorry, you are not as lucky as your mom in the "Tamil" friend dept, u got the easy-way-out one ;)

Girl Next Door (gnd) said...

and yes, adding salt before u let it ferment...

Anonymous said...

For Dosa the ratio is 4 to 1 and it is Preferable to use LONG BODY RICE.

For Idli the ratio is 2/3 to 1/3 and IDLI rice or the Long Body rice can be used.Using Idli Rawa does not help many a time.

For idli : soak the ingredients seperately for 2 hours and then Grind the Uradh dhall with a bit of water until you are able to see some bubbles in the batter.

You could then add the IDLI rice to this and grind for another 10 minutes with a bit of water.The batter should be rough and not watery.Add a handful of salt while grinding as it helps.

For Dosa both the ingredients can be soaked together with a tea spoon of Methi seeds and also a handful of Thoor Dhall to get the Golden COLOR.Grind well and add salt just before switching off the grinder.

fermentation would ideally take 8 hours.

Latika said...

grind idli rava little fine. let the griddle get hotter. if griddle is old and corodded at end, buy a new .

Anonymous said...

I felt like that until I perfected the art thanks to my Chettinad friends along with some gut instincts . Dottie seems to have it pat but since there also has been a lot of noise after that, do this ::

1. Ratio
Idli Rava :: Urad = 1 : 2 if you are using a mixer or food processor.

2. Grind Urad first adding water little by little until you get a find thick dough, and add some more water until you get a consistency where the urad batter slides off your palms if you make a ball of it.( read foamy )
3. If u use parboiled rice instead, grind until it is a teensy bit grainy.

4. Mix both using your hands. Add salt, mix again.

5. If vents dont work and if your microwave oven does not connect to the exhaust vent, keep it in the microwave. The oven sadly has not worked for me or try covering the bottom of the vessel using fleece so the heat does not escape. Store in a silver or metallic vessel, that is a good conductor of heat.

That should be all.

Have fun.


Anonymous said...

I tried finding your location, if that is a problem and found that you are in Loudoun county. I live in Fairfax and my trick should definitely work. Same geography and climes, see ??

In fact, I suggest you get a wet grinder which costs $200/- and is available in 110 volts on line.

secondly, ditch the idli rava and switch to parboiled rice.
use ratio 1:4 for urad: rice.

rest is the same. use the microwave. I use just my heating vent but dont know how your house is built.


DotThoughts said...

altoid: could be the rava..should try doing it in the blender instead of food processor

gauri: @pour it out of the grinder it should fall in folds (as with some cake batter) into the vessel. - this is a great tip! plus the rice flour. totally got to do that. thanks! how do i find out if the flour is made from non-glutinous rice?

raysh: come here soon and you can't complain, ok :)

mamma mia, eve's lungs: are in my corner too!

binary footprints: pls to ship some nicely risen batter to me ;-)

silent one: oh you! and that WET grinder :P

preethi:poha! wow. should try that! and no, i didn't hear you say anything about baking powder ;-)

boo: hahaha. that's BG opinion. i LOVE, LOVE them!

munchkin, samskruti: thanks!

PG: my mom told me that too! I forgot abt it. next time!

dipali: yeah.. me too!

M: thanks soo much for the tip about the duration to leave the oven on.. awesome!

munimma: so that was it.. it stuck because it was overfermented.. thanks!

gnd: shoo! gnd. you are tamil only for namesake! :)

anon: thanks!

latika: thanks! you know me and my griddles too well :P

calvin fan! yay another VA-er. hello :) we keep pur hosue very cold.. so the vents are useless! i don't make that much batter to buy a wet grinder.. although i must say i am tempted :) and yeah.. guess like i need to ditch the idli rava. and fleece.. why didn't i think of that??? A lil idli batter-cozy :)

Anonymous said...

A tip my m-i-l gave me, put the batter in a big steel tiffin so it can be tightly shut and leave a small stainless spoon in it. Somehow the spoon aids the fermentation process,don't ask how

Anonymous said...

soak idli rava for half an hour before grinding. grind rava little fine.heat the girdle very hot. if the girdle is coroded at the sides buy a new one.

latikadhumale said...

soak rava for half an hour and grind little fine. let the girdle get very hot. if gridle is corcded at the sides buy a new one.

Mama - Mia said...

i ofcos dont have anything sensible to add! except i had an awesome laugh reading this!! :p

right now i live in blr and its so much easier to pop into a darshini and have yumm idli and dosa!

and have suffered mom's "marble idlis" long enough to not bother with them!

anywayz we arent big fans of it!! :p

yet again, thanks for the laughs!



choxbox said...

this post is fun and the comments funner. lots of tips have been given so won't add more.

there are only two things that i can make which the husband cannot - fluffy phulkas and idli batter that has risen well!

Anjana said...


i was searching about egg allergies and i happen to check your blog. My nine month old has been diagnosed with dairy, egg, soy, wheat allergies.

dosa and idlys are a lifesaver these days as i also need to eliminate these allergens from my food as i am nursing him.

i live in connecticut and i am able to make dosas and idlys at home. i use different batters for dosa and idly. i use rice flour for making dosa. soak 1 cup urad dal and 1 tsp methi seeds for 3-4 hours. Grind it well and mix it with 3 cups of rice flour. use warm water while grinding and mixing. warm your oven for 5 mts and switch on the oven light. i usually warm in the lowest temperature possible. keep your dosa batter in the oven for like 11-12 hours. i usually do it around 6-6.30 pm and next day morning 6.30, it"ll be ready. i have been doing this for almost 6 years now and can make crispy dosas and soft uthappams. let me know if you have any questions.

pumpkins mom said...

hey dottie, I make the batter with rice flour - 3/4th cup of whole urad dal for 3 cups of rice flour and a few methi seeds. You can use this for idli, dosa and after a couple of days when the batter gets kind of a sour smell for making uthappams. For fermenting I usually place the bowl with the batter on top of my dishwasher at night when I switch on the dishwasher or near the stove when I'm cooking. Hope this helps!

SM said...

Hi there,

My 2 paisa worth ......u mention that batter was kept in fridge - in my experience, dosa batter (and even idli batter) must be at least room temperature (if not warmer) - even when well fermented. so maybe u could try keeping it out of the fridge for say about an hour before using it?

Just Like That said...

LOL! The comments section is awesome! Thanks, Dottie and Ladies.:-D

mummyjaan said...

This is another one of your bookmark-able posts, Dottie. Thanks!!

Neha said...

I use a 2 - 1 ratio of Idli Rice to Urad. Don't overwash the urad..just lightly once and leave open with a few methi seeds on top. Grind Rice and the urad separately and take care to use the urad water..throw out the soaked rice water if you have to.

I don't mix..just pour rice first and then urad on top. Leave in small area with space heater on low..generates enough heat for 80 degrees. Batter will rise and rise and rise...:) Don't add salt before hand...and make sure your container is only 1/4 full. I made some Fri even..sat the top popped off my container and the batter came out and 2 days in fridge and once again the top has popped off.

also when you soak do not use filtered water but just tap water.

let me know if this works for you....


Neha said...

also use a blender to grind if u don't have a wet grinder...I think VitaMix works the best..but even oster/sumeet is fine.

Anonymous said...

If your mom had told you everything. Then i would cross check the process.

check 1: Do you wash the urad daal very very very thoroughly? ( it is not supposed to be ).

check 2: And the water used for washing. Does it have chemicals like chlorine that can possibly kill the naturally occurring yeast in urad dal.

Orchid said...

Sooo glad I came across your blog...had a good laugh - both my hubby and I were rolling in laughter! Thankyou so much! You write so well! Will have to look at your other blogs.

I am in the same predicament as you but the difference is it is quite warm here yet my batter is not rising. Have made dosas so many times before with great results, not sure why it is so moody......

Take care

Unknown said...

What if the fenugreek seeds are added more to the batter?! How it can be corrected?!