It’s almost that time of the year, when the relentless sun and soaring temperatures make me reach out to an age-old, close to heart recipe. Long before we were spoilt by the plethora of ice cream choices in our freezer, a lot of us can remember looking forward to hearing the kulfiwallah (kulfi seller on a rolling street cart) screech out in the scorching summer afternoons.

My earliest memories of this frozen milky delicacy date back to our luxurious summer vacations at my grandma’s place. Our cousins from all over the country would converge as soon as school let out. Fun, lots of food and unending frolic would ensue. Amidst giddying rounds of childhood games such as hop scotch, hide  and seek, the hollering of the kulfiwallah on the streets would make us run to our parents begging for some (in fact any!) money. Moved by our incessant requests, our uncle would then invite the kulfiwallah to roll the cart into our courtyard as we literally drooled. Be it the fragrant, matki (earthen pot) filled with a mixture of ice and salt or the leaf that doubled up as the serving plate, all of it was so unique that I still remain captivated by it. This toothsome, luxurious frozen dessert holds a very special place in my heart. To this date, I could gladly give up all other ice creams as long as I could have kulfi. Such is my loyalty!

For the uninitiated: kulfi stands apart from its numerous counterparts for its absolute velvety richness. I would say that it’s more like a gelato than an ice cream just for its sheer luxuriance. I have tried my hand at making kulfi many-a-times, but I have always wondered about the chewy texture of the store-bought ones. Mine never quite turned out like the one from the matki until I got this teeny-weeny secret.

The last time I tried my hand at it, it was the same quick simple recipe but only with the slight glitch of being icy at the same time. The kulfi of my memories was supposed to feel very creamy as it melted in the mouth. So, ice was definitely NOT welcome. Hoping to achieve the perfect consistency, I started experimenting with some sort of a thickener into the milk base. Then, came the idea of adding some rice powder, a little at a time. When I was almost done with my saffron and almond kulfi, I thought “Why not add in almond powder too to intensify the flavor along with thickening the mixture?” Finally at the nth trial of the recipe with a several pounds heavier me, I had nailed it! It was creamy and smooth as well as toothsome. I couldn’t be any happier to have finally found the kulfi recipe for keeps.

Here’s the no fuss-creamy-perfectly chewy and yes a winner-of-a-recipe for my beloved kulfi. No need to watch over the milk or fret over the consistency. Get it, mix it, cool it and let the magic begin!

Jagruti Vedamati is a post-doctoral student at Stanford University.

Kesar Badam Kulfi—Saffron & Almond Kulfi

Creamy and perfectly chewy with melt-in-the-mouth texture, this typical Indian summer dessert is heightened with the richness of saffron, crunchiness of almonds and the earthiness of cardamom powder. A quick, easy and sure-fire way to earn brownie points from loved ones. Most importantly, guaranteed intense creaminess and no more icy crystals!

Ingredients (Servings: 10)
12 oz (1 can) evaporated milk
2 cups whipping cream
1 cup condensed milk
¼ teaspoon cardamom powder (optional)
½  cup slivered almonds
¼ cup warm milk
¼ cup milk at room temperature
½ teaspoon saffron strands
2 tablespoons rice flour
2 tablespoons almond powder
sliced almonds and saffron for garnish

1.  Soak the saffron strands in ¼ cup warm milk and keep aside.

2. Heat the evaporated milk in a pan (preferably non-stick) over medium heat until it comes to a soft boil and add the cream, condensed milk, saffron soaked in milk and cardamom powder.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk in ground rice and almond powder with ¼ cup milk at room temperature to make a smooth paste and add it to the heated milk mixture.

4. Whisk the milk mixture properly to ensure a smooth consistency. Heat it over medium-low flame for 7-8 minutes until it thickens to the consistency of heavy cream. At this point, taste the mixture and adjust to desired sweetness. If you like the consistency, then take it off the stove and let it cool.

5. Pour the mixture into popsicle molds/ containers and put it in the freezer till frozen.

Helpful Hints:
• Traditional recipe: If you plan to go the usual route, instead of heavy cream and evaporated milk, use 4 cups of whole milk and reduce it to 2 cups over low flame and consistent stirring. Then proceed with the rest of the recipe as stated.

• For almond and rice powder: mix in two tablespoons each of slivered almonds and basmati rice into a spice grinder to get a fine powder. If using whole almonds, soak the almonds to remove skin and make a paste.

• I used one can of condensed milk since it seemed just right and anything more would take away from the richness. But if you like your kulfi sweeter, don’t shy away from adding more condensed milk.

• Ice prevention tip—wrap the edges of the kulfi mold tightly with plastic wrap to seal it completely. This helps prevent any ice formation during freezing.

• I wish I had earthern pots for kulfi. They just add a different level of earthiness to this delicacy, which is absolutely beyond compare.

Some of the other variations that can easily be substituted for saffron and almonds are

1. Spices: green or white cardamom (ground or pods for infusing the milk and removed before freezing), saffron, vanilla

2. Lavender flowers: for infusing the hot milk

3. Rose water: a few drops added before freezing, or for sprinkling on as a garnish before serving

4. Nuts: pistachios (chopped or ground), cashews (chopped or ground). All nuts that are used are usually unsalted, untoasted, or blanched.

5. Fruits: mango, lychee, banana, pineapple, apricots. Fruits are often pureed and stirred in before freezing or dried and chopped fine and stirred in before freezing, depending on the texture wanted.

6. Coconut: coconut milk is used, and also desiccated coconut

7. Lemon: use the lemon zest and add along with the pureed fruits.

Well-equipped with this comforting recipe, I now have the confidence and the desire to take on the scorching heat. Here’s to sincerely hoping the sun to be a little gentler with us and yes, while licking that kulfi bar, make sure to avoid any distraction as it has a magical way of dripping past the elbow!

First published in June 2015