Kulfi - how to get it right

15 March 2018


The Indian equivalent to ice cream, kulfi, is distinctive and delicious. If you’ve never tried it, then it’s definitely time you rectified that.

I remembered making it over a decade ago and feeling it hadn’t been very successful. But then my general approach to life is to assume that my past self was something of an idiot, and anything he failed to do my current self can easily accomplish. Probably only half of that is right. Certainly in this case, because I tried making it again, using the same recipe I used before, and ended up with equally disappointing results.

I’d used a recipe from Annie Bell’s ‘Gorgeous Desserts’ book. It has you simmering whole milk over a medium heat to reduce it by half. She says it should take 45 minutes, but it took longer than that. You then add some cornflour to it and simmer a little longer until it thickens, add sugar and rose water, sieve, cover with clingfilm and leave to chill for a couple of hours. Then you add powdered pistachios and pour the mixture into an ice cream maker. Churn until frozen.

The result was a deeply dissatisfying ice cream. It didn’t have enough fat content to really make a creamy texture, and it really just seemed like a milky frozen ice. Not great.

So I did some more research. After all, I’d had kulfi a few times in the distant decades when I lived in Bradford, and I remembered it being a lot more impressive than that. And lo and behold, I discovered two important areas where Annie had led me astray. 

One - you need to reduce the milk down not by half, but by two thirds. Once you get reduced down that far, you get a lovely caramel flavour developing in the base that makes a huge difference to the taste of the final product. And two - there’s no churning. It is maybe the Indian equivalent to ice cream, but it is not ice cream and it doesn’t have the same texture.

Well all right then. I decided I needed to have another go. I had no more pistachios but really wanted to get the base right and worry rather less about the flavourings. So I figured I could miss that bit out.

I used one and quarter litres of whole milk and put it into a heavy bottomed saucepan. Brought it to the boil and then reduced the heat for it to simmer. It can take several hours, so you do need to occasionally stir and scrape to keep it from getting too gungy. That said, you will end up with some solid cooked milk residue on the pan that will take a bit of soaking and effort to get off. Just do it. It’s worth it.

Once it’s reduced down to around 415 ml, stir in 75g demerara sugar and a pinch of salt and simmer for another 5 minutes or so, making sure that all the sugar has dissolved.

There are special kulfi moulds you can get, but I used dariole moulds instead. I greased them lightly with some butter and then poured the cooled milk mixture in and whacked them into the freezer. You should freeze them for at least 5 hours.

Take them out of the freezer a few minutes before serving. In spite of the greasing, I needed to dip them in some hot water to be able to get the out of the moulds, but that was fine.

The result could not be more different to the insipid earlier version. The texture was firm but creamy. The flavour was caramely and gorgeous. This was surely exactly what kulfi is meant to be. 

Now I have a mental note in mind to do this again and use some of those flavourings. Pistachio is the most common, but of course there are as many variations as there are flavours.