When we lived in Central California, we often weekend-tripped to San Francisco to visit friends. We had a standard list of must-do’s: cable car rides, City Lights Books, dim sum, Burma Superstar restaurant, the California Academy of Sciences, etc…. And a visit to Bombay Ice Cream.
A tiny, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it storefront was where I fell in love with an ice cream suffused with the sharp, earthy scent of cardamom and the intoxicating sweetness of rose petals. This wasn’t your everyday, run-of-the-mill ice cream. It was kulfi. Some argue that kulfi shouldn’t be called “ice cream” because it’s thicker and denser than the Western ice cream ideal. But I suppose the word “kulfi” doesn’t elicit the same wide-eyed excitement from everyone, so Indian ice cream it is!
Anyway, in addition to traditional kulfi sold on a stick, the assortment of flavors in the case ranged from the mundane – rocky road, cookies and cream, chocolate – to the more arcane – jasmine tea, saffron-rose, date-almond and chiku (or sapodilla, a tropical fruit)! I always hesitated when deciding flavors: Should I stick to the tried and true or pick something new? In the end, I usually resorted to multiple scoops and settled on my all-time favorite, cardamom-rose petal, and a new flavor or two. I’d leave with a smile on my face and happiness in my belly.
I just learned that Bombay Ice Cream closed down and in homage, I decided to try making kulfi at home.
I pulled all the Indian cookbooks I owned and came across two recipes. In her seminal cookbook, "Indian Cooking," Madhur Jaffrey writes that kulfi was never made at home when she was growing up in India. Instead, it was made in enormous earthernware vats by kulfi-wallahs (master kulfi makers) and served at wedding banquets. Indian wedding banquets can run into the hundreds if not thousands of people. Her recipe involved simmering milk until reduced to a third of its original amount, and stirring the custard every 15 minutes to break up the crystals while it froze.
I was about to say “forget it” when Monica Bhide’s recipe came to the rescue. With only four ingredients (including fruit, too) and easy prep (just stir!), Monica’s kulfi was the clear winner.
Monica’s kulfi recipe is different (read: much simpler!) from the more traditional kulfi recipes I’ve seen. No boiling down of milk, no freezer ins and outs, no thickeners. And for younger, more sensitive palates, the simple flavor – there are no spices and nuts like cardamom, saffron and pistachios – may be a plus. But do add some if you’d like.
Over the past few months, I’ve been amassing a collection of recycled yogurt cups with every intention of making popsicles. The time had now come. So instead of freezing the kulfi in one big container I decided to make pops.
When I bit into a kulfi pop one scorching summer’s day, it was rich, creamy, and sweet, and everything I was hoping for.
Piña colada kulfi pops
Adapted from "Modern Spice: Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen" by Monica Bhide
Makes: 12 (4-ounce) pops
Time: 10 minutes, plus freezing time
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1-1/2 cups Cool Whip or whipped cream
1-1/2 cups crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk (not lite)
12 (4-ounce) yogurt cups
1. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Stir together until smooth and creamy and the lumps disappear.
2. Pour mixture into yogurt cups, Dixie cups or popsicle molds until 3/4 full.
3. If using molds that don’t have a built-in stick, freeze for 45 minutes and insert popsicle sticks into the center, about 1/3- to 3/4-way deep and freeze until set, at least 6 hours to overnight.
4. To unmold, run under warm water and gently squeeze pop out of the mold.
Notes: Monica used guava pulp in her original recipe. But feel free to experiment with mango, peach, or your choice of fruit pulp. You can buy frozen fruit and purée in your blender.
Editor's note: The original headline on this piece honored July 15 as National Ice Cream Day, the original day declared by Ronald Reagan in 1984. That day has now evolved to the third Sunday in June. National Ice Cream Day will be celebrated on July 20, 2014.