Barfi is a traditional Indian dessert which comes under the category of ‘mithai’ (Indian sweets). It’s traditionally enjoyed in small quantities to mark celebrations. It’s also makes a great addition to an afternoon tea menu. My dadima would serve barfi with masala chai when guests came over, along with samosas and pakoras (all recipes feature in dadima’s cookbook).
Barfi has an irresistibly sweet, creamy taste, and a texture like soft, fresh fudge. For me, barfi is heartwarming to make – I love how it fills my kitchen with a milky, lightly spiced aroma as the flavours release. That’s why I want to share this recipe with you on Valentine’s Day in the hope that you’ll treat your loved one to this. That is, unless you’re on one of these no-sugar kicks I’ve heard about – then I’m afraid this recipe isn’t for you. If you’re not averse to a little indulgence and opulence, then I’d recommend you give this classic a try.
There are many types of barfi, and the recipe I share below is from Bholi – one of the beautiful dadimas in my cookbook. Bholi always has a batch of barfi at the ready to greet her children and grandchildren when they visit. Bholi’s recipe is special in that she uses ghee and khoya in her recipe – just like her mother taught her – ingredients which are often omitted in most ‘modern’ recipes I’ve seen for barfi.
Bholi lovingly packs parcels of barfi for her family to take away, as she has such a generous heart when it comes to food. If you have dadima’s cookbook, you’ll notice from some of Bholi’s other recipes, that she likes to use crushed and soaked nuts in her cooking to add some creaminess. If you prefer not to use nuts, you can substitute them for desiccated coconut, dried fruits, raisins or currants.
One of the secrets to making barfi like Bholi, is to keep a close eye on your mixture so that it doesn’t burn. Keep the heat low to moderate. Bholi has a huge weakness for buying pots and pans, and always opts for her non-stick karahi for cooking barfi (this karahi has a very special story behind it). If you don’t have one, use a wide, heavy-based, non-stick pan. Barfi requires your full attention, and this recipe needs a lot of stirring. If you want to have a bit of fun like I did, mould your barfi into heart shapes using a mould, like the pictures shown here. This would make a perfect gift if wrapped beautifully! Just be sure to mould the barfi when the mixture is still warm. Alternatively, cut it into little square chunks. Bholi pours love into every dish that she cooks, and her cooking is always a mindful and creative art. I am looking forward to Bholi cooking some for my pre-wedding karahi (cooking) party.
Makes: about 20 little squares
- 3 tablespoons of ghee (dadima’s homemade ghee is available to purchase here)
- 500g dry milk powder
- 300-350g evaporated milk
- 5 tablespoons pistachios, crushed. Plus 1 tablespoon of whole pistachios, roughly chopped for garnish
- 14 almonds, soaked overnight in water, then peeled and crushed. Plus 4 almonds roughly chopped, for garnish
- 2 tablespoons of melon seeds (you can buy these in packets from Indian supermarkets)
- 200g white sugar, ground into small granules
- 2 big handfuls of grated khoya (Khoya is milk solids and you can buy a block of this from good Indian supermarkets. Alternatively, the recipe to make homemade khoya is in my cookbook).
Grind together the ingredients below to a smooth powder:
- Seeds of 2 brown cardamoms
- Seeds of 4 green cardamoms
- 1 tiny stick cinnamon
Prepare ahead: The almonds require soaking overnight. Grind the spice mixture in advance.
- Line a shallow tray with greaseproof paper (the tray I use is 4cm depth by 24cm width) and set aside.
- Start by making up the milk mixture. Add the milk powder to a mixing bowl and gradually add 300g of evaporated milk, mixing by hand as you do so. Combine until the mixture becomes soft and clumpy – you may need to add the remaining 50g of evaporated milk if to achieve this texture.
- Melt the ghee in a non-stick, wide, pan over a low heat.
- Add the crushed pistachios and almonds, coating them in ghee. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the melon seeds and cook for 2-3 minutes until softened.
- Add half a teaspoon of the ground spices. Stir constantly over a moderate heat.
- Add the milk mixture to the pan, stirring as you do so. At this stage it will be clumpy because it’s uncooked.
- Stir and cook this mixture until it comes together and you see bubbles of ghee forming around it. Use the back of your spoon to mash out the lumps and get it to an even consistency.
- Add the sugar gradually, stirring constantly to remove any lumps. Taste the mixture for sweetness and spices. Add more of the spice mix to taste (I always do).
- Add the grated khoya and stir into the mixture until it comes together and slides easily around the pan. Switch off the heat to ensure that it doesn’t burn.
- Transfer the barfi mixture into your lined tray, smoothing it out and pushing it right into the corners, as you would a cake.
- Garnish with the sliced almonds and pistachios
- At this stage, I sometimes use a mould if I want to make my barfi look a bit fancy – a heart shape, for example, as shown here. Leave the barfi to cool for at least 2 hours before removing the mould. If you want to serve the barfi as squares (the traditional way), leave the barfi to cool for 2 hours before cutting into small, dainty squares. Then share and enjoy!
A few throwback photos of when I learnt this recipe from Bholi during my cookbook research.