Ice-cream is underrated. I’m not really sure why, and I admit I do it too. Maybe because of its simplicity? Or maybe because we’ve all probably eaten some shop bought ones that promised something on the box but didn’t deliver? I do know though that I’d never say no to a good homemade one. I’ve been trying to have a go myself, and after a couple of curdling disasters I’ve managed to make one that doesn’t taste half bad.
Then I remembered how much I love the Indian ‘ice-cream’ kulfi. Even simpler than regular ice-cream, there’s no underrating this guy! I guess technically it’s not an ice cream – other than the cream already present in the milk, no additional cream is added – but it’s close enough. Whole milk is reduced for hours to allow the cream to gradually separate. This cream is called the malai. The milk continues reducing until it’s thickened and taken on a caramel like flavour, and is then frozen unchurned in moulds. In Indian restaurants, it’s often frozen in cylindrical blocks and served in slices that have been cut up into smaller pieces for convenience. It freezes to a super dense, rock hard consistency!
In Mumbai, my favourite place for kulfi has to be the New Kulfi Centre near Chowpatty Beach. Despite its name, the place has been going since 1960 and still doesn’t seem to be losing its appeal. More a stall than a shop, the kulfi is weighed out on old school scales, served to you on a plastic plate with a special spoon, and eaten standing up amongst the throng of other customers.
These days kulfi is often made with cream, condensed and/or evaporated milk as it’s a lot faster. As tasty as that might be, it doesn’t have the caramel flavour of the reduced milk; for me, that’s not the real deal.
The recipe I’ve given is for a very basic malai kulfi, flavoured with only a little cardamom and saffron. But you can add whatever you wish – nuts, fruit purées and rose water are all very common. I won’t lie, it is time consuming, but I can guarantee that it definitely is worth the wait.
Malai Kulfi (makes 4 individual portions)
1 litre whole milk
60g golden caster sugar
4 green cardamom pods
Pinch of saffron
Put the milk in the widest pan you have. Place on a medium heat, bring to the boil being careful not to burn the milk, and then reduce to a simmer. Continue simmering gently, stirring and scraping the sides of the pan down every now and then until the milk has reduced by about a half. Mine took around an hour, but this will depend on the size of your pan. The milk will look a little lumpy due to the malai – this is normal.
While you’re waiting for the milk to reduce, remove the seeds from the cardamom pods and grind to a fine powder in a pestle and mortar.
When the milk has reached the halfway point, add the ground cardamom, sugar and saffron, and continue simmering, stirring and scraping until you have approximately a third to a quarter of your original milk volume. This took me another 45 minutes or so, and I was left with 300ml of reduced milk – it should have the consistency of a very watery porridge. If you reduced the milk (minus the other ingredients) further you’d be left with something called mawa, which could then be used to make mithai (Indian sweets).
Allow the porridgy reduced milk to cool, and put in the fridge for about an hour. It will thicken significantly in this time and you will end up with something called rabri which is a dessert in itself!
Once cool, stir briefly and then pour into kulfi or ice lolly moulds, or alternatively into a tupperware. Tap the moulds gently to release any air bubbles. Allow to freeze overnight.
Remove from the freezer and allow to stand for a couple of minutes or so before attempting to remove from the moulds. I find using a small palette knife helps. Eat before it melts!