Kulfi or "Qulfi", as the word of Persian origin is pronounced, means "covered up". You may wonder what that has to do with what is essentially the South Asian version of ice cream. The meaning makes sense when we learn of how Kulfi was traditionally frozen when it was first created in (what we think) was the 16th century. In fact, street vendors all over Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Burma (Myanmar) and even parts of the Middle East still freeze it this way as it is often sold on rolling carts without the use of a freezer.
The dessert may have been around before the 16th Century but the first records of it appear in 'Akbarnama" and "Ain-i-Akbari" , records maintained by the court historian Abul Fazl, during Akbar's reign in the Mughal Empire. Desserts made with condensed milk were favored during that time and Kulfi evolved when the thickened milk and sugar concoction was poured in a metal cone, covered and frozen in a slurry of salt and ice. It is believed that ice may have been transported from the Himalayan region to warmer climates and used to freeze the delightful treats.
Unlike ice cream, which has an airy, whipped texture, Kulfi is made by slow cooking milk, sugar and at times cream , with added flavorings such as saffron, rose water, nuts and cardamom. As the mixture heats and thickens, it must be constantly stirred to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning. As the mixture thickens to half of the original quantity, caramelization occurs and the unique taste of kulfi is thus created.
The thickened mixture is placed in a metal cone, or a mold made of earthen clay called a "matka". These are usually sealed with muslin cloth and tied with string to prevent crystalization, hence the name "covered up". The molds are then placed in a bigger "Matka" and packed tightly with an Ice and Salt mixture, at times being shaken vigorously to help churn the frozen treats and quicken the freezing process.
Street Vendors today often sell the Kulfi on a stick, making it the perfect summertime treat in what is a very hot part of the world. Of course, with all the modernization of the past few centuries, it is now very easy to make Kulfi at home in a freezer, with three to four simple ingredients in a very short amount of time. Many people still prefer to use the authentic method and cook their milk down to a thicker consistency, sometimes adding bread crumbs or other thickening agents to yield better and quicker results. I personally prefer a creamier, less grainy texture and the ease of the following recipe makes it the perfect summer dessert to serve when company is over; cool, refreshing and can be made ahead of time.
Whereas traditional Kulfi was just milk, sugar, nuts and cardamom or saffron, today one can find the most unusual flavors, with the addition of fresh fruit purees or a drizzle of flavored sauces. One of the most extravagant delights ever to have been created with Kulfi is Falooda, where the cone of Kulfi is placed in a plate or cup and topped with vermicelli noodles soaked in rose flavored milk, sometimes with the addition of basil seeds, nuts and even Jello! Today I'm presenting my personal favorite, Mango Kulfi, and hope you try it and enjoy it as much as my family and friends do.
This recipe is for about 20 people as I made it for some company. You can halve the recipe or make it in this quantity and freeze for when the craving strikes. Trust me, it won't last long in your freezer!
- 2 Pints Heavy Whipping Cream
2. 2 Cans (14 oz each) Condensed Milk
3. 2 Cans (30 Oz each) Mango Pulp
4. 10 pods Cardamom
5. 1 Cup Chopped Salted Pistachios
- Crush the Cardamom in a Mortar and Pestle if you have one, remove the husk and throw away, retaining the crushed seeds to add to your mixture. If you don't have a mortar and pestle then remove the seeds from the pod and crush them in your grinder. I don't recommend using cardamom powder as crushing fresh cardamom releases its essential oils, making for a more aromatic Kulfi.
2. Mix the heavy Whipping Cream, Condensed Milk and mango Pulp, stirring till you have a uniform mixture with no streaks in it (as pictured below)
3. Add The crushed Cardamom at the end.
4. Fold in the pistachios till well mixed. We use salted Pistachios as the salt helps enhance all the other flavors, you won't really taste it as it's a very small quantity.
5. When your mixture looks like the picture below, cover with an airtight lid and place in the freezer (I use an airtight Tupperware container, but make sure the lid seals well or else you will have icy bits in your Kulfi).
6. After about 2 hours, remove the Kulfi from the freezer and mix well once again. At this point you will notice that the outside edges are semi frozen but that the center is still liquid. Mixing at this point helps the mixture reach a more uniform consistency and temperature. It also prevents the nuts from settling to the bottom as the mixture is now in a semi solid state so the nuts get remixed and spread more evenly, thus insuring that you get some in every bite. Repeat this process once more after 2 hours, this second mixing will take care of any ice crystals that may have formed. After this, your Kulfi should set into a smooth creamy mixture.
7. Due to the Density of the mixture you need to take the kulfi and leave it in the fridge for 1 hour or at room temperature for 20 minutes before you will be able to easily cut it into squares. If the center is still too frozen you can run your knife under hot water for about 30 seconds to help it slide right in. Place squares in serving dish, garnish with freshly chopped pistachios and serve.