Phirni is a milky dessert, thickened with rice flour. Like many other cardamom and rose water scented desserts, this one also originated in Persia and Middle East. The region also has a very similar dessert, called Mahalabia, which is thickened with cornstarch instead of rice flour. The Mughals introduced this exotic dessert to the Indian subcontinent. Sweets made with milk already had a long history in India as the people of Punjab and Gangetic plain are said to be the descendants of the cattle herding Aryans. Sweets made with milk and dairy products were consumed on festive occasions and offered to gods and deities as ritual offerings for centuries.
Plain rice flour and milk Phirni makes a smooth, sweet and light dessert. Initially it was associated with good nutrition and easy digestion. It was first mentioned in the medicinal books of the Middle East rather than cook books. Now so many versions of this simple custard are created in different cuisine cultures. Add ground peanuts, almonds, cashews and coconut to it and the dish instantly transforms to a decadent and royal treat for your taste buds. I call it custard, not pudding, because it’s consistency is more like custard – smooth and pourable. Whereas kheer, another milk and rice dessert, made with whole rice grain has a more pudding like texture.
The aroma profile of this beautiful Rice custard recipe is mesmerising with cardamoms, saffron and rose water adding layers upon layers of subtle and ethereal fragrance which is remarkably gratifying. My family usually can’t wait till it gets chilled and finishes it up as soon as it is ready to eat.
Added advantage – it’s egg free and gluten free so almost everyone can enjoy!
7 tablespoons rice flour
1/4 cup peanuts
1/4 cup almonds, skins removed
1/2 cup cashews
3 tablespoons desiccated coconut
1 teaspoon green cardamom powder
1 tablespoon rosewater
A few threads saffron diluted in 2-3 tablespoons warm milk (optional)
Assorted nuts and raisins for garnishing
This Is What You Do:
Grind together, slivered almonds, cashews and peanuts till they are like fine powder.
Dilute desiccated coconut and powdered nuts in 1+1/2 cup milk. There shouldn’t be any lumps. A hand whisk does a good job with it.
Heat the remaining milk with cardamom powder and sugar till the sugar melts and milk is very hot.
Add the nuts and milk mixture to the pan. Keep stirring with a spoon or even better with the hand whisk so that the custard does not catch at the bottom or turn into lumps.
Cook on medium low heat 10-12 minutes or till the custard is of required consistency. I keep mine like pancake batter, neither too thick, nor too thin but pourable.
Stir in rose water and soaked saffron.
Pour hot custard into individual bowls or mini glasses or a serving dish.
Garnish with your favourite nuts and dried fruits. To glam things up you can also use rose petals for garnish but don’t forget to wash them thoroughly beforehand.
Serve warm or chilled.