In a heavy bottom pan gently roast the coconut on medium heat for 2 minutes. Add grated jaggery, saffron, nutmeg, and cardamom and cook on low heat for another 2 minutes. Mix well and keep aside. This filling can be made a couple of days in advance and refrigerated until ready to be used.
In a medium pot, bring water to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon of ghee and salt. Turn the heat to low and add the rice flour. Mix it well with a spoon. Cook covered for 2-3 minutes on low heat. Turn the heat off and take out the dough in a mixing bowl. Allow it to cool down a little.
Knead the rice dough using 1 teaspoon of ghee and 2 to 4 tablespoons of warm water for 5 minutes or until the dough is soft and moist. Make 13 lemon-sized balls with the dough and keep them aside.
Coat inside of the modak mold with a layer of ghee. Close the mold and spread the rice dough inside the mold and start shaping it around gently with your fingers. Some of the dough will also come outside of the mold which will be used to seal the modak. Gently put about 1-2 teaspoon of stuffing inside the mold. Seal the bottom with the extra dough that is outside of the mold. Gently open the mold and put the modak in a steaming rack. Repeat and make the remaining modak.
Heat 1 cup of water in a steamer pot. Once all the modak are ready, put the steaming rack inside the steamer pot (I steam 7 to 8 modaks at a time) and cook covered for 10 minutes on low to medium heat. Turn the heat off, let the modak cool for 5 minutes. Gently remove them from the steaming rack onto a platter. Enjoy!
Steaming Modak in the Instant Pot
Add 1 cup of water to the Instant Pot insert. Place the trivet. Gently place the steamer basket with modak in the Instant Pot. Close Instant Pot lid with pressure valve to sealing.
Pressure Cook on low pressure mode for 6 minutes followed by Natural Pressure Release. Open the Instant Pot, allow the modak to cool for 5 mins. Take out on a serving platter.
Apply a generous amount of ghee to the mold before making each modak. This will make sure that the modak do not stick to the mold.
Rinse and dry the modak mold halfway through to make sure the modak does not stick to the mold.
My steamer basket fits 8 modak without sticking to each other. Make sure there is a little room between the modak so they do not stick to each other after cooking.
Tips to make soft covering/shell
Use fine rice flour. Recently I found "Sohum" brand rice flour in Indian grocery stores in NJ that works really well. If you are using other rice flours (Swad, Deep, or Laxmi foods) made sure to sift the flour with a flour sifter or a fine-mesh strainer.
Add enough water when steaming the dough, 1:1 water to flour ratio
Allow the steamed dough to cool down
At first, the dough may seem a little dry and coarse. Knead it well with a couple of tablespoons of warm water and a little bit of ghee. This will make the dough perfectly soft and pliable for making modak shells.
Take your time to assemble the modak, the dough does not have to be hot, simply keep it covered under a moist paper towel
Tips for making perfect modak filling
If using frozen pre-shredded coconut, dry roast the coconut on medium heat for 5 minutes. This will allow the excess moisture to evaporate and the filling will not release water when the modak are steamed.
I would recommend grating the jaggery or break into very small pieces. There should be no lumps of jaggery in the filling.
Cook the filling for 5 to 7 minutes on low-medium heat or until the mixture starts to look dry. This will prevent the jaggery syrup from oozing out of the modak while steaming.