I grew up in Delhi, where it was common for the temperature to soar to 46˚C during the summers. In Delhi, I often used to enjoy kulfi, a popular street food, sold by people known as kulfiwallahs. They used long and slender kulfi moulds, called kulhars, and filled these up with a sweetened, thickened and semi-condensed milk mixture with nuts (such as almonds, cashewnuts, pistachios, etc.). After filling up these moulds, they tighten the lid and place these in a big earthen pot (called matka) placed on his bicycle or something like a hand-pulled cart (called thela). These earthen pots were widely used in India (and still used) to cool drinking water when refrigerators were not so common in a common man’s home. So these kulfiwallahs would put filled kulfi moulds into these earthen pots filled with crushed ice mixed with salt. They also used to cover the pot with a wet rag or cloth all over in order to keep it cool and insulated from the heat outside. While serving, they would simply remove each lid, tap the mould a little to loosen the kulfi, insert a long stick into it and serve the dessert!
Although the shortcut to making any kulfi would be to use evaporated and condensed milk, mixed with nut paste, the real process of making an authentic and lip-smacking kulfi is far different. Evaporated and condensed milk are homogeneous, whereas Indian ice creams require the texture of the milk to be heterogeneous. In simple words, in traditional kulfis, milk and sugar mixture is evaporated on a slow fire till the amount reduces to half and considerable amount of solidified milk is generated in the process. So if you add single or double cream available in tetra packs these days, the fun element in this authentic dessert is gone. Have you ever noticed that when we boil milk and keep the milk for cooling thereafter, a film of cream develops, resembling the texture of a thin paper? We need this texture in this kulfi. So store-bought cream is definitely a shortcut, but trust me, homemade cream is unbeatable! Another good tip is not to use almond powder ever for this: we need tiny almond pieces in our mouth while we savour the ice cream. So the best thing would be to soak almonds overnight and coarse-grind the nuts in the morning, discarding the water completely.
This ice cream is not only great on your taste buds, but also to your olfactory nerve. Rose water adds a different dimension to this dessert! Saffron adds colour and a unique, subtle and royal flavour to this Indian ice cream. No need to add any kind of artificial colourant, please. If you are using good-quality saffron strands, that should suffice. You can, however, add a few drops of almond essence, although this is optional.
Making homemade khoya or khoya kheer
An essential element in making Indian desserts is khoya or khoa. This is a very expensive ingredient if you are buying from the sweet shops and they often add adulterants such as refined flour to harden the khoya and give it more density. Homemade khoya is ridiculously easy to make, but it is definitely a test of patience for you. Just pour 1 litre of milk on a flat bottomed non-stick pan and stir it continuously for 3–4 hours on a medium to low flame, scraping the solids obtained during the process and mixing the solids back to the milk. Finally, a stage would come when there is no liquid left in the pan and what you get is a solid, off-white mass: the khoya. You can cool it and keep it in an air-tight container in the deep freeze for months and use it as required. Apart from making authentic Indian desserts, you can use it to give your curry a royal and creamy touch!
Kesar badam kulfi (Indian milk ice cream with saffron and almonds)
[Adding khoya is a factor that determines the final taste in this kulfi and according to me is an extremely important step. But don’t worry if you are running short of time. A quick fix is to replace this with the coarse powder or paste of two slightly toasted white bread slices and 4 tbsp of milk powder. But incorporate this to the milk slowly at the end, after switching off the gas. Dried bay leaf (tej patta) is available in Indian/Pakistani stores.]
- Milk: 1 l
- Almonds (soaked overnight and coarsely ground the next morning, discarding the water): 15
- Saffron strands: ½ tsp
- Green cardamom seed powder: ¼ tsp
- Dried bay leaf: 1
- Khoya (recipe above): 3 tbsp
- Rosewater: 2 tsp
- Almond essence (optional): 5 drops
- Sugar: 6 tbsp (or according to taste)
Over a medium flame, heat the milk with sugar, bay leaf and the powdered cardamom seeds in a non-stick pan. Make sure that you stir the milk after every 2 min and keep on scraping the sides of the pan, containing solidified milk, during the whole process. Mix the solidified milk obtained from scraping, back into the milk, till the amount of the milk reduces to almost half.
Add the almond paste now and mix properly. Continue to stir for 10 min over low flame. Add the saffron strands.
After 5 min, add the khoyaand switch off the flame. Mix the khoyawell into the milk. Add the rosewater and the almond essence at this stage.
Cool the mixture to room temperature. The milk should look yellow at this stage and have a thick consistency (but thinner than condensed milk).
Pour the mixture carefully into kulfi moulds or kulharsand screw the lid. Deep-freeze for 30 min. To remove the kulfi from the mould, drop the moulds into warm water for a few seconds or simply hold them under running tap water for a little longer. Then tap it a little to take out the kulfi.
If you don’t have this traditional mould, simply pour this into an airtight tiffin box and refrigerate in the deep freeze till the kulfi is set. Cut into squares and serve.
Kulfi is slightly chewy in texture. It does not need an ice cream maker and needs no churning in between.
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