Kulfi: From A Mughlai Court Favourite To A National Sensation

Kulfi is a popular chilled dessert across the subcontinent. Since time immemorial we know of kulfi as this decadent frozen dessert which can be found at every Indian restaurant and occasions such as weddings. Made with reduced full fat milk, flavoured with either cardamom or saffron, kulfi is a must-have in summers but ask any kulfi lover and he’ll tell you how it is an all-season dessert! While it is similar to ice cream in appearance but is denser and creamier than that. It is traditionally served on a stick but can also be eaten from a plate or out of a cup. And did you know that even the name kulfi has an interesting legend around it?

As per legend, a mixture of dense evaporated milk was already prevalent in the 16th century, but it was the Mughals who came up with a way to flavour this milk with pistachios and saffron, packed it into metal cones and froze it in ice, and that is how kulfi was born. Even the word kulfi comes from the Persian word qulfi meaning “covered cup”. Interesting, isn’t it? So now we know that Mughals didn’t just invent the rich and royal curries and kebabs but even delicious sweet treats such as kulfi!

This delightful dessert is prepared by cooking sweetened or flavoured milk slowly, while stirring constantly, so the milk does not stick to the bottom. It is cooked until it is thickened and reduces by half. It also helps give kulfi a distinct flavour by caramelizing the sugar. The thickened milk is then poured into moulds and frozen in ice. Nowadays people simply put it in the freezer, but in earlier times it was frozen in a vessel filled with salt and ice. The vessel was well insulated, protecting the kulfi from outside heat and thus slowing the melting time of the ice.

Now with the usage of heavy cream, sweet condensed milk and evaporated milk, the process has become way quicker. People make it at home with readymade mixes and plastic moulds but one can still find those traditional street side vendors or ‘kulfiwalas’ who keep the kulfis frozen in moulds submerged in a salt and ice mixture in their carts. That experience of eating out of fresh metal cones in sultry summer heat is an experience that we hardly have today, but was a complete bliss! 

You may find metal cones in the market online, and if you wish to make fresh kulfis at home with your own addition of nuts, rose, saffron or such refreshing flavourings, we’ve got a perfect recipe right here. 

Find the full recipe of kulfi here. Try it at home with your own spin of flavours and share your experience with us.