Diwali is this Thursday. Like Christmas, this is a pretty big deal in my parents’ household. We all go round for dinner where my mum cooks up a huge vegetarian feast (meat is not supposed to be eaten) after which no one can move!
For dessert (or sometimes in addition to!) we have Indian sweets bought from the City Sweet Centre in Forest Gate. I remember when I was little, they had a tiny shop on the Romford Road. They have since progressed to larger premises a little further up the street. The food is as amazing as ever. They are known mostly for their Indian sweets, but also do savoury snacks including their famous (to East London Indians) special chaat. Yum!
I have tried Indian sweets from many other places over the years, but in my and my family’s opinion nothing beats the City Sweet Centre. The huge queues snaking through the shop, out of the door and along the street prove others feel the same way.
Indian sweets are not the healthiest of foods, and I know many people who find them too sweet. We only have them twice a year – Diwali and Raksha Bandhan – so are a treat when we do have them.
This year I’ve had a go at making barfi, one of the many Indian sweets available. They come in various different flavours such as pistachio, coconut, chocolate and mango. A simple plain one with a few chopped nuts sprinkled on top is one of my favourites so this is one I have attempted. I also added some finely ground pistachios to half of the mix to make some nuttier ones. I made mine using milk that I condensed myself. This can take two hours or more. For less stress, they can also be made with ready condensed milk.
Of course mine don’t taste like the ones from City Sweet, but they’re not too bad. In fact, they’re quite good.
Barfi (makes 16)
2 litres whole milk, plus 4 tbsp extra
50g caster sugar (use more or less according to your taste)
Handful of roughly chopped pistachios
40g finely ground pistachios (if making the pistachio version)
A little butter for greasing
Place the 2 litres of milk in a large heavy based pan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer stirring every now and then.
When the milk has significantly reduced and is looking like wet scrambled eggs, reduce the heat to very low, and stir continuously scraping the milk off the bottom and sides of the pan.
Eventually, as the milk continues to reduce, it will start to stick together and be of a doughy consistency. Turn off the heat at this point and shape into a ball. This reduced milk is called ‘mawa’.
As I mentioned, this whole process can take 2 hours or more.
Allow the mawa to cool. This will allow it to thicken further.
Once cool, crumble the ball of reduced milk into small pieces about 1cm in size – smaller is better. Place in a non stick frying pan and heat for on a medium heat for a couple of minutes to allow it to soften.
Add the sugar and 3 tbsp of milk and stir continuously so that they are well combined. Keep stirring until the mixture begins to stick together – it should be a sticky dough like consistency. Don’t worry if it’s not smooth. Take it off the heat.
At this point I removed half of the mixture (you can use it all if you don’t want to make the pistachio version) and spread it out in a rough square or rectangle on a plate greased with a little butter. It should be approximately 1½cm in height. Sprinkle over some chopped pistachios and very gently press them down.
Put the pan back on the heat and add the pistachios and 1 tbsp of milk to the remaining mixture. Stir until combined. Spread out onto another greased plate, and sprinkle with more chopped pistachios.
Allow to cool, and then cut each slab of mixture into 8 (16 if you make plain only). The barfi are now ready to eat! Store any leftovers (not in my house!) in an airtight container.