The Inside-Mango kulfi- Cardamom- Mango kulfi served inside a mango-The special Indian Ice-Cream
Kulfis are so much fun- a breath of relief n joy in the hot summer evenings, full of flavors from fruits, nuts, flowers, saffron- they are a delight who gathers small crowd in the family tables with high anticipation. Kids love it and perhaps adults like it even more. In different parts of India different flavors of kulfi would be preferred and also would be spelled slightly differently such as “Khulfi” or “Qulfi” or “Koolfee”. Unlike ice-cream which is whipped Kulfis are not whipped and therefore they have a denser n solid texture being frozen, it takes a longer time to melt because of the same reason.
Kulfis being more solid n dense in texture you have to bite into a kulfi rather than licking as it starts melting in your mouth. Full-cream milk is simmered for a long time as the milk thickens, developing a distinct flavor and becomes more creamy. They are known as The Indian Ice-cream in other parts of the world. The traditional flavors of kulfi used to be Pistachio, Malai(cream), Rose, Cardamom, Saffron, in these time a huge variety of flavors have appeared, some of them being Mango, Paan(betel leaf), Thandai( a drink made with almonds, milk), orange, apple, strawberry, peanut.
When I was a kid, the Kulfiwallas used to visit our streets with their collection, the kulfis frozen in the kulfi molds inside an earthenware vessel called “Matka” which is filled with a mixture of ice n salt inside which the kulfis get frozen. It was a moment of temptation n anticipation when a kid would convince his parent after much effort those days to buy him a kulfi. In the modern changing times the Kulfiwallas have reduced in number, now-days some of them carry a box of thermocole full of ice and kulfis. But that doesn't mean that their kulfis are inferior neither the popularity of traditional kulfi has reduced nor is the technique of traditional kulfi making lost. In fact it is very much alive. What is most notable however is the difference in texture between the kulfis made in the traditional way and those made at home feels like.
At home we tend to freeze them in refrigerator and in the traditional method the kulfis are frozen inside a earthen terracotta mold and then they are placed inside a Matka/Kulhar which is full of ice n salt, the kulfis rendered by this slow freezing develops a smooth saturated creamy mouth feel and not a slightly crunchy texture in the refrigerator kulfis because of the presence of water crystal in them. Also notable is the flavor in the traditional kulfis which carry the essence n subtle flavor of the terracotta pots in which they are frozen and it is such a desirable flavor that is lost in metal kulfi molds.
The birth of kulfi began perhaps during the time-period when the Mughals ruled a big part of modern day India-16th to 18th century. The love affair of the Mughals with food is renowned and truly they were food-fanatics. Numerous recipes were invented in the Mughal kitchen which was never sort of money or supplies of food items from across the vast land on Hindustan-now India- and from around the world. During their time ice from the hills of Himachal Pradesh was shipped down the Yamuna to Delhi and it is during that time perhaps that kulfi was invented in the Mughal kitchen. However there is a Persian precedent for this desert and the name also has its source from the Persian word for ‘Lock’. Given that fact that the Mughals were very fond of the Persians, there is huge influence of the Persians on them, it is no wonder if the origins of the kulfi had its hand stretched to the Persian culinary traditions.
Now traditionally as aforementioned, milk was thickened by slowly simmering it for a long period of time, stirring from time to time to keep the milk from sticking to the bottom of the vessel where it might burn and done so until it’s volume has reduced to half or one-third. The resulting milk is high in lactose, fat, protein density and it has developed a distinct taste due to the process of caramelization of lactose and sugar during the time of cooking. This thickened milk is flavored and poured into special earthenware moulds, namely kulhars with their mouth sealed or into conical molds, they are then submerged into a mixture of ice and salt , these whole ice n salt mixture resides inside another earthen vessel named as ‘Matka’ which is shaken gently till the kulfi freezes. The Matka provides insulation from the external heat and slows down the process of ice melting. The traditional earthenware pots impart a distinct n lovely flavor to the kulfis and they will be known as ‘Matka Kulfi’. Those days a pot full of kulfi-Baraf ki Handi was a very special gift to send someone.
At the restaurants and the road-side Kulfiwallas often serve kulfi with ‘Faluda’ and a rose/strawberry sugar syrup, faluda are rice noodles which add a different texture to the kulfi being served, the additional sugar syrup provided another layer of flavor, many people however prefer their kulfis without the faluda.
Modern day kulfis are often made quickly making use of condensed milk/milk powder/mawa-dried solid milk/white bread/corn flour/evaporated milk which thickens the milk quickly thus arriving at the same texture at which the kulfis are frozen. The process of freezing using the mixture of salt n ice was introduced in India perhaps by Akbar as told by Abul fazl who was his vizier/political adviser.
Now it is time to give the recipe for my inside-the-mango kulfis.