Photo by Faryal Diwan
Photo by Faryal Diwan

Before corporate ice-cream pushcarts dominated the summer streets, there were old-school kulfi-walas. In fact, for generations, summers were officially marked by the trilling bicycle bells and naarays of the kulfi-wala. “When I was a young girl, I’d rush to the balcony shouting down to the kulfi-wala to stop. Then my brothers would bring back a haul of the kulfis,” my grandmother tells me.

While kulfis are still popular — Ice Berg’s crunch kulfi is the go-to dessert at most shaadis in Karachi — the kulfi cart has disappeared from the streets. “People are more drawn to company names and ice cream brands now, which are considered more hygienic and better,” says Ayesha, a home cook. “Plus, the kulfi from the cart wasn’t as creamy or of high quality as the ones you’d get at shops such as Ice Berg and Rajoo. They were watered down versions of the creamy kulfi.”

While often described as the Eastern version of ice cream, kulfi is in a league of its own — as anyone who has had the genuine, old-school dessert can attest. Creamier and denser than ice cream, kulfi isn’t churned or whipped and it is considered in a category of its own, distinct from its confectionery cousin.

Created in Mughal kitchens in the 16th century, kulfi is first mentioned in the Aaieen-i-Akbari, part of the Akbarnama and written during Emperor Akbar’s reign by his court historian, Abul Fazl. While this particular volume documents the administrative details of Akbar’s court, it also includes descriptions of food prepared in the royal kitchen.

Wow guests this Eid with this classic, summery treat

Even though the first recorded mention of kulfi is during the Mughal era, the dessert probably has its roots in Persian dessert. The word kulfi is derived from ‘qulfe’ — the Persian word for the cone-shaped moulds kulfi is frozen in — which were used as early as the 13th century to freeze sherbet, using Himalayan ice.

Kulfi is also similar to falooda and sorbet, which were made as far back as 2,500 years ago in the cooler regions of Iran and Samarkand. Mughal imperial cooks were probably influenced by such Persian desserts and added their own twists and interpretations to it.

Instead of freezing kulfi in snow or ice, royal cooks used the Arab technique of using saltpetre to freeze a mixture of condensed milk, saffron and pistachio, and creating, in the process, the kulfi we know and love today.

Kulfi

These indulgent and creamy kulfis are a great summer treat or a welcome addition to the Eid table. I’ve made three flavours here: the traditional pistachio, almond and rose.

Feel free to play around with the basic recipe more: add pine nuts or walnuts for a rich, nutty flavour or blend in chopped strawberries or mangoes for a fruity twist on the traditional. These can be made a week or more in advance.

Recipe (Makes 24)

600 ml milk
600 ml malai/cream
1 ½ tablespoons ground cardamom (optional)
300 ml condensed milk
30g pistachio nuts
30g almond nuts
Rose syrup/Rooh Afza/Jam-e-Shirin to taste

Method

Pour the milk in a saucepan. Slowly bring it to a boil. Set aside to cool until it is lukewarm. Fold the malai, stirring well. Bring it to a boil slowly over low heat and let it cook for a few minutes. Please note that if you heat the malai up too quickly, it’ll curdle.

Add the condensed milk and the cardamom (if choosing to do so) and then continue to cook over low heat until it comes to a boil. Take off heat.

Separate the mixture into three separate bowls. Finely crush pistachios and the almonds separately in a mortar pestle. Set it aside. In one bowl, fold in the crushed almonds; in the second, add the crushed pistachio; and in a third, stir in the rose syrup.

Mix well and then set aside to cool.

Divide and pour the mixtures into 24 moulds. Seal the moulds with the lids and wrap elastic bands around them to ensure the lid stays secure. Place the moulds in the kulfi stand. Freeze overnight.

When ready to serve, dip the moulds in hot water for two seconds. Rotate the moulds in between your hands for a few seconds, then flip them upside down to slide the kulfi out. Sprinkle with chopped almonds and pistachios before serving.

Published in Dawn, EOS, April 7th, 2024

Editorial

Ominous demands
Updated 18 May, 2024

Ominous demands

The federal government needs to boost its revenues to reduce future borrowing and pay back its existing debt.
Property leaks
18 May, 2024

Property leaks

THE leaked Dubai property data reported on by media organisations around the world earlier this week seems to have...
Heat warnings
18 May, 2024

Heat warnings

STARTING next week, the country must brace for brutal heatwaves. The NDMA warns of severe conditions with...
Dangerous law
Updated 17 May, 2024

Dangerous law

It must remember that the same law can be weaponised against it one day, just as Peca was when the PTI took power.
Uncalled for pressure
17 May, 2024

Uncalled for pressure

THE recent press conferences by Senators Faisal Vawda and Talal Chaudhry, where they demanded evidence from judges...
KP tussle
17 May, 2024

KP tussle

THE growing war of words between KP Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur and Governor Faisal Karim Kundi is affecting...