That was the call of the Kulfiwala. Every summer night he would roam the backstreets of the Fort, Mumbai that went silent after all the commercial activities closed and the locals would find their peace and go down for a walk and the boys and men gathered to chat at the street corners.
We as kids would go running to window and call out to the Kulfiwala, "Bhaiya upar aana" calling him up to our third floor home. There would be much excitement as he would climb the stairs and we would keep the change ready. He would put down the huge basket which nestled the large urn or matka on to the floor. The urn would be filled with salt and ice to keep the kulfi frozen. It would then be covered with a red cloth which he ensure was always wet to retain the chill. Barely would he have settled the basket down and each one of us would demand our own flavours, Malai, Kesar pista, Pista. These were the basic 3 flavors he carried. The Malai kulfi tasted the best. Simple with no artificialness. Then he'd pick out one kulfi mould cone and rub it between his palms to loosen the set kulfi inside and pop it out on a leaf, cutting it up into bite sized pieces. There was never a time when we did not lick up the last bits of kulfi from the leaf!
The Gulkand kulfi is a more sophisticated version that I had never tasted on the streets but in a fancy restaraunt. Any kulfi is pure joy but Gulkand kulfi is romance of the flavors of boiled down milk and rose petals. It transports you into the era of the Mughals. They who brought to India the Persian influences, the use of rose in cooking and what better way than in a Indian cool treat.
You will find many recipes of Kulfi across the internet and in books that include corn flour as a thickner or other modern adaptation of a quick fix recipe using condensed milk from a can. However I choose to go the traditional way. Making Kulfi is a love affair you cannot rush thru it. It is just not the same, it has to be done slowly and over time. I prefer to do it over two days savoring every stage of the making as much as letting the sublime flavors melt in the mouth with every morsel.
A great Gulkand kulfi need two things, full fat milk and good quality rose petal jam that gives the name "Gulkand".
First let me explain to you what is Gulkand after all. When the roses are blooming, the best are picked, cleaned and petals are separated. Then in a glass jar the petals are layered with sugar and suncooked. The suncooking pales the bright red color of rose petals but the sweet smell is encapsulated by the sugar and you get a lovely jam. You can make your own jam at home with this method if you have access to organically grown roses. Gulkand boasts of wonderful ayurvedic properties and it's best know for its cooling effect on the human body. It is either consumed as is in spoonfuls or had mixed in the daily glass of milk in the summer months.
Stay away from anything that is bright red on dark pink colored and labeled as Gulkand. It would without doubt have artificial food color. A good Gulkand in kulfi lends a creamy shade to the kulfi. I succumbed to the pressure of making it colored to give it a rosy look as the name suggest the use of roses so I used a little bit rose syrup, yes the pink colored liquid from a good brand but I could have avoided it easily.
Are you ready to enjoy the wonderous art of making Kulfi with me?
3 litres Full fat Milk
100 gms Gulkand
25 ml Kalverts rose syrup (skip this if you do not want the rose tinge)
100 gms sugar
10 cardamom pods
Pour milk in a large thick bottom vessel. Boil it and reduce the quantity to about half the amount. It takes about 1 hour on the smallest burner and on simmer. Ensure you are stirring intermittenly and the milk is not charring at the bottom. If it does there is nothing that can be fixed as it will smell burnt and affect the taste too. So stay close.
Once the milk is reduced add the sugar. Now remove some milk into a different pot and mix the gulkand and Kalvert syrup into it. The pic below shows the steps and the difference in colors at every stage. Pour back the Gulkand mix into the reduced milk pot. Let it simmer for 10 mins. Peel the cardamom pods and separate the seeds. Add the seeds to the thickened milk and give a stir to distribute evenly.
Put off the gas and allow it to cool completely. I generally do this at night after I finish cooking and in a clean work area so there is no chance of any other flavors or smells affecting the purity of milk. Never do it parallely with other activity else its easy to spoil milk.
In clean kulfi moulds fill to 3/4 capacity the cooled thickened milk, sugar and gulkand mix. I filled 6 kulfi moulds and the rest I put in 2 plastic containers. Chill for a 24hrs in the deep freezer. You can check in 2hrs if set completely and you are in a hurry to serve it.
Each kulfi mould can be rubbed between the palm to warm up and then demoulded into a serving dish. It can be cut up into bitsized pieces or left whole.
To demould the kulfi from the pastic contains just dip them in warm water and invert on to a plate. Them slice up into roundels. Serve a slice on a nice plate.
So you see Kulfi making takes time but it has just 4-5 ingredients that make this cool treat a lasting memory.