Food: Let’s Make Kulfi!

Kulfi. Sometimes known as Indian ice cream, this delicious dessert is one of my favorites. Thicker and creamier than ice cream or gelatto, it also often has flavors that are unusual in western supermarkets. It’s also supposed to be less complicated to make. And did I mention that it is vegetarian? (Not Vegan though, sorry!)

When I visit my state capitol, I almost always get a meal at a certain Indian place called “Passage to India.” I also, lactose intolerant or not, always finish my meal with a dish of Kulfi. On my last trip, I decided I should learn how to make the stuff at some point. And then Pistachio’s unrightful fall in the Ice Cream Bracket happened, and suddenly I knew: I had to learn to make Kulfi now and share it with all of you, out of both love and mourning.

I’ll be making a couple of types – Mango, a more traditional cardamom, and a cardamom-pistachio flavor. They are all sourced from different places around the web and have different approaches. Let the kulfi begin!


On a fancy glass plate, two mounds of yellow-ish mango kulfi are set. One has been cut in half.
I had an epic time getting these out of the mold. However, they are worth it, and the amount I put in an individual mug was divine just being eaten from it like a heathen.

For this one, I’ll be using a recipe from Padma’s Recipes. Padma’s is written by a woman from Bangalore, Karnataka, India, living with her family in Illinois, USA. She covers a number of recipes from all over the world, including a large number from various regions of the Indian sub-continent. Her mango kulfi recipealso looks like it is the simplest and most heat-friendly variation on my list.


  • 2 cups Pulped Mango
  • 1 can Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 1 can Evaporated Milk
  • 1 pint Heavy Whipping Cream
  • A few Pistachios, chopped

While Padma calls for a blender, I don’t have one. So I’m going to be doing the blending by hand, which will likely take a lot longer to get frothy. I’m also pulping the mango by hand, which is another addition in time.

All the ingrediants are combined and blended into a “frothy” consistency. It is then put into molds – I used cup cake tins – covered tightly, then frozen. Padma calls for four hours in the freezer. I was skeptical because the other recipes I read called for 7-24 hours. But when I checked on it at the 4 hour point, it was decidedly frozen! That makes this one the quickest finished recipes and the recipe with the shortest prep time.

A note on getting them out: I broke the plastic utensil I tried to use for extraction, and ended up doing the trick for  stubborn cupcakes of cutting them out of the mold. I think this worked mainly due to the shallow nature of the cupcake tins, though. On the other hand, this recipe is well suited, if you froze it in individual serving-sized containers, to just being eaten directly out of the dish it was frozen in. If I were to serve this at a party or event, I’d prepare them that way instead, as it was a very satisfying experience to scoop it out of my overflow mug.

This ended up being the thickest and creamiest. And it tasted like mango, not like mangoes stuck in milk. (Or like the artificial mango flavor you get in the supermarket – yuck!) Between how incredibly simple this was, the amazing texture, and the taste, this one will certainly be happening on a regular basis at my house. I think this one lends itself especially well to ingredients that wouldn’t taste right if they were exposed to heat, or to ones that are especially juice based.


Two mounds of a light colored kulfi with spices in it sit on a plate.
Because I declined the saffron, none of my stuff turned out yellow. But I do like t way the spices settled on the top!

For the plain cardamom flavor, I’m using the Malai Kulfi recipe from the Tarla Dalal site.

Tarla Dalal is a famous cookbook writer originally from Pune, India who first hosted classes in her (then) Bombay home, wrote cook books bringing cooking techniques across post-British India, and eventually hosted TV cooking shows. In 2007, she was awarded the Padma Shri – the 4th highest civilian award given by the government of India. American cooks might look to Julia Childs as a turning point in the ease of diversified cooking. Tarla did something similar for the many regional cuisines in the Indian sub-continent, and eventually in the Indian-diaspora communities around the world.

Tarla is in her 70s now, and her website is a joint venture with one of her sons. About 75% of the recipes are available for free, all in English, along with a monthly cooking magazine. She continues to host a cooking show which is broadcast in much of the sub-continent as well as in regions of the US and UK, answers questions for her website, and maintains a cooking blog with videos of the dishes from her shows.

Not wanting to waste condensed milk, I doubled her recipe.


  • 5 cups milk (I used whole milk, but I’ve seen notes that 2% also works)
  • 1 cup condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup powdered milk
  • 1 tsp Cardamom powder

Put all the ingredients except the  cardamom in a wide bottomed sauce pan, and bring to a boil. Next you should turn the burner down just a little while stirring in the cardamom.  The use of the condensed and the powdered milk vastly reduces the cook time – the purpose is to reduce the milk into a thick, frothy texture.

Simmer for 20-25 minutes. It is incredibly important that you are stirring almost the whole time. I know that this is a pain, but burnt milk tastes horrible, ruins your entire batch, and can be incredibly hard to get off your pan. (Just in case, here’s an eHow on getting rid of stuck on burnt milk.) I put on a lecture on iTunes and set a kitchen timer and that seemed to work well. I don’t know if I had it simmering the whole time, though, but this is should only impact the texture when it is done.

After it is done, take it off the heat to let it cool for a moment. Pouring scalding milk on your hands is never fun, as any barista can attest. Then you pour it into your molds. Again, I used cup cake tins and ramekins. Once it is poured, and you’ve cleaned up the spills that you’ve made on the edges, stick it in the freezer overnight or until completely solid.

Tarla recommends letting it sit out for 5 minutes, then sticking something such as a spoon or a knife into the center to pull it out. My first attempt involved sticking a plastic fork in around the edges, and that worked. However, I hadn’t let it freeze long enough, and so my serving melted pretty fast.

The next attempt after the 24 hour mark frozen pretty quickly as well, but not quite as fast. This time I used a knife instead of a fork. The texture was a little bit watery, which kind of confirmed my suspicion that I hadn’t had the heat up high enough when I was heating this batch. I used the same process but at a higher heat for watermelon (see below) and didn’t have the same problem. The taste was delicious, though.

Cardamom and Pistachio

A giant, sherbet container sized mound of greenish pistachio kulfi with spiced darker top sits on a plate with some decorative pistachios, unshelled, nest up against it.
I think this looks like a cake. But it’s just pistachio Kulfi, out from the sherbet container I froze it in. Delicious, delicious pistachio.

Ah, yes, the long awaited Pistachio. The recipe for this one actually comes from a Vegetarian cooking website called Archana’s Kitchen. Archana Doshi is from Bangalore, India, and is a former engineer who became a stay-at-home mom before taking on a cooking site and a catering business. She is one of the Google Women Entrepreneurs On the Web, and her story was the basis of one of the early Google Chrome commercials for Google India. (It is a super cute commercial, and the parts that aren’t in English are subtitled.)

I am modifying it slightly, but you can see the original recipe for Kesar Pista Kulfi at the Archana’s Kitchen site. Of all the recipes for Kulfi in this article, this is the most time intensive, my hand mango pulping aside.


  • 3 litres/ 12.5 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1 cup Pistachio, ground

If your pistachios aren’t ground (or finely slivered if you are strictly following Archana’s recipe), then now is the time to do so. It’s tempting to say that you’ll do it while the large amounts of milk are boiling or simmering, but as with the last recipe, you will need to keep stirring the milk at that time. Since the Pistachios and the cardamom will be entering the milk at the same time, I pre-mixed them as dry ingredients ahead of times as well.

Let me tell you, the time it takes to reduce that much milk into 1/3rd is obscene, as is the fact that it needs to be stirred almost constantly. I made a contraption to help, but what I really needed was one of those automatic stirrers or something. Maybe one of those prototype self stirring pots?

In any case, after 3.5 hours of stirring, I added the sugar, then the pistachio and cardamom and stirred that up too. After it cooled a little, it went into a sherbet container and a mug. I have some concerns about getting them out, but I’m running low on smaller containers for things. They were covered and popped into the freezer over night.

Getting it out wasn’t as bad as I had worried. I stuck a knife around the edges, and ran a little warm water over the bottom, and it popped right out.

Texture wise, it is ok. I think that maybe having the pistachios a little bit finer ground would have been useful. The taste is, of course, wonderful. Mmmm, pistachio. But I think that it would have been good in a recipe that didn’t take so long to reduce, too. It’s good, but not 4 hours of stirring by hand as the milk cooks down good.

BONUS: Watermelon

Okay, I lied when I said I’d only make 3. I’m normally an instinct cooker – if I’m in my groove, I don’t need a recipe unless I’ve never attempted anything like it before. Call it my savant skill if you have to, I just know what goes well together – so long as my lack of coordination doesn’t mean accidentally adding more than I intended, or my lack of a sense of time doesn’t make for burned foods.

That said, I wanted to play with my cooking like this. Since what I have left in my fridge is watermelons and veggies, the flavor choice will be watermelon. Since I have a half cup of condensed milk left, I’m going to guesstimate based on the cardamom recipe above. Ready? Let’s play!


  • 1/2 cup condensed milk
  • 1/3 cup powdered milk
  • 2 1/2 cups milk (whole)
  • One half a personal-sized watermelon, cubed
  • A pinch of cardamom

Combine the condensed, powdered, and regular milk in a wide bottomed sauce pan. Stir thoroughly, and then bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Lessen the heat to a simmer, and add a pinch of cardamom. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring constantly for the reasons I’ve outlined above. Remove from heat and let cool.

I had been given a whole watermelon for my housewarming party, after I had already gotten a personal-sized watermelon. So the personal watermelon needed to be used rather desperately. I put half the personal watermelon in a pot, cubed, and then I used a potato masher to crush the cubes. I wanted there to still be some chunks – I like me some chunks of fruit in my stuff – but not large chunks, and I needed a lot of watermelon juice. (The second half of the personal watermelon has been set aside for cocktail experiments for later. As for he full watermelon, keep an eye out for watermelon-cucumber curry-ish dish in the near future!)

After the watermelon was thoroughly crushed into pulpy, juice-y deliciousness, I stirred in the heated milk mixture thoroughly.  Once stirred, I transferred the mixture into a bread pan, covered it, and put it into the freezer to set over night.

Have you ever tried to get something out of a frozen metal pan? The only solution is to run the bottom under hot water until the substance inside lets go of the edges. After that, it was easy to cut off chunks for a serving.

Texture wise, it was great. Not as creamy as the mango, but still sufficiently creamy so that I wasn’t going “this is a bit watery” as I ate it. Flavor wise, it was deliciously light. It reminded me just a little of rose water – light and sweet but not sickly so. The first bite was a little strange, mainly because I wasn’t sure what it would taste like and so had no idea what to expect. But after that, it was divine.

So, my taste adventurers, what do you think? Will you try making Kulfi? What flavors do you think would be amazing?  Don’t hold back, I love bizarre flavors! Is there something you’d do differently? How much lactaid do you think I went through for this process?

And, perhaps most importantly, what else should I try making? I know I heard some fans of Gulab Jamun earlier. . .

By Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone

Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone.

Advocate, Writer, Geek.
Multiply Disabled, Queer, and proudly Autistic.
Primary Obsession: Institutions, History of Care of people with MH/DDs
Also obsessed with: Social Justice, Cats, Victorian Romanticism, and Doctor Who.

15 replies on “Food: Let’s Make Kulfi!”

That is kind of bizarre. Maybe team edit can come in and fix it up? Also there was supposed to be a picture of the watermelon kulfi as well. I had pictures of the steps but it got kind of crowded with those. I think I’ll make a comment thread here for some of the step by step pictures. In particular, I had this awesome Mcguyvered set up for stirring.

@selena @coco @pileofmonkeys Thoughts about how to deal with the missing headers?

Yes, absolutely! Some people actually own food pulpers- you take the seed or core out, and you press the fruit’s center into a spinning point which will both juice and pulp. To get pulp, though, some might require that you lift the catch tray for pulp.

I just chop the meat of the fruit into little chunks and mash the crap out of them. A bit like making mashed potatoes, really, except usually stickier.

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