Churchkhela (Georgian: ჩურჩხელა) is a traditional candlestick-like sweet (yep, some people- like my grandmother- actually mistook them for candles!) made by dipping a long string of nuts in grape jelly and hanging it to dry. And now’s the season for making it!
If you can get out into Kakheti (the biggest wine region) to give some DIY Churchkhela a go, definitely do! If not, you can read about it here as you chew on a city-bought Churchkhela of your choice!
First sort out your nuts! Thread 25 shelled and de-skinned nuts (halved walnuts or whole hazelnuts- 2-3 minutes in a hot pan will do the de-skinning trick) onto a thin piece of string. Knot the ends. Leave the nuts to dry in the sun to prevent mold. NOTE- Locals often hang the “nut stings” on a broom handle to make transporting easier.
When they’re sun-dried, get your grape jelly (tatara) going!
NOTE- this is for ONE coat of tatara, but you will need TWO coats, a few days apart. Add 300g flour and 3 tbs sugar to a bowl. Gradually add up to 500 g of badagi (boiled grape juice) and mix with a wooden spoon.
Once the flour, sugar and badagi are mixed with a spoon, use an electric blender to ensure that the mixture is absolutely smooth. Add 2 L of badagi to a deep cast iron pot and gradually add the flour-sugar-badagi mix.
Heat on a high temperature. The trick here, and a real testament to the devotion of many a Georgian housewife, is the non-stop vigorously stirring. Bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and continue to stir for 8-10 minutes so it thickens enough not to drip off your spoon.
Now for the double dunking!
Grab the top end of the thread and lay the nuts into the pot of tatara. Keeping hold of the thread, push the nuts deep into the jelly with the wooden spoon. Then pull them out and hang them on your broomstick to dry.
Leave them to dry in the sun for 3 days (until no longer sticky), then repeat the tatara-making-and-nut-dipping process, this time using a total of 2 L of badagi.
Sun dry again for 3 days.
Eat, store (3 months is the maximum ideal) or give away as gifts!
ANOTHER NOTE- when stored, Churchkhelas become covered in white powdery sugar- this is NORMAL and tasty!