Summers in South Asia are famously hot, but the delicious frozen desserts that a billion people enjoy are not yet as well known in North America. Kulfi is the most popular of them all. Making a traditional kulfi requires long hours at the stove, but my recipe is as easy as whipping cream, and requires no ice cream maker. It is deliciously creamy and ready quickly on a hot summer day.
Kulfi dates back to the Mughal Empire in North India, where it was possible because of snow brought from the Himalaya and enjoyed only by aristocracy.
More recently, kulfi became a popular street treat. In India you may find the kulfiwallas, a slowly disappearing but beloved breed of vendor, selling a street food version of kulfi from small carts, on bicycles, or from roadside stands. Their business is threatened by the increasing availability of ice cream and shifting tastes, but they are a fondly familiar part of life. I remember kulfiwallas at summer weddings, hired just to make the special dessert.
Traditional methods call for slow cooking and reducing whole milk for hours, filling metal cones or small terracotta pots called kulhads, then placing those molds in a large clay pot called a matka. To this day, matkas are widely used to keep water cold in Indian homes. A matka holding kulfi molds is filled with ice and salt to lower the freezing point, like in an old-fashioned ice cream maker. Hence, that version is called matka kulfi.
The street version of kulfi is usually served on a stick, like a popsicle. Otherwise you may see it topped with ground nuts or served with fruit. Because it is denser than ice cream, kulfi melts more slowly, making it easier to slice and serve.
Mango Almond Kulfi Recipe
This recipe can be modified to use any other fruit pulp, and scales up easily.
Yield: 8 servings
8 oz fresh, ripe mango pulp (about one large mango that is not too stringy, or strain the pulp)
8 oz cold heavy cream
7 oz sweetened condensed milk
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract (or 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom for a more traditional flavor)
4 tablespoons freshly ground almonds
2 tablespoons freshly chopped pistachios, to serve
a handful of fresh berries, to serve
1. Peel, cube, and then purée a ripe mango into smooth pulp.
2. Whip the heavy cream in a large bowl to get soft peaks.
3. In a separate bowl, mix mango pulp, condensed milk, vanilla, almonds.
4. Fold the whipped cream gently into the mango mixture, as to not deflate the air from the cream.
5. Once combined, spoon the kulfi mixture evenly into your molds. Small metal bowls, popsicle molds, paper cups, or a metal loaf pan — any of these will work.
6. Make sure the molds are covered tightly. Foil works very well for that.
7. Freeze 4–6 hours; metal molds will freeze quickly.
8. Unmold the kulfi onto a serving dish and enjoy right away with fresh berries, fresh fruit sauce and/or chopped nuts.