I thought I would break up all the healthy posts with a truly indulgent treat, and this is one of my childhood favourites. We call it Falooda, although that's the name also used for a more commonly known beverage dessert from India made with tapioca, rose syrup and vermicelli.
Falooda in my house is like an Indian version of panna cotta. But with the texture of a light jelly, sweet and aromatic with rose and pistachios. It's indescribably good - light but indulgent, sweet but more-ish, wobbly in all the best ways. And for me it comes with added nostalgia and childlike glee. And as with most Indian desserts it's basis is one of sugar, condensed and evaporated milk. This is one of my lifelong, all-time most favourite sweet things to eat, not least because the person that has always made it for me is my grandma. And noone else's is a patch on hers. Until now! (Bold statement, I know - she hasn't even tried it yet!)
With an aversion to tinned dairy products I decided it was time to tart up this family favourite and give it a bit of an upgrade. First step, make my own evaporated milk!
About as easy as it sounds.. slowly reduce milk by simmering it and stirring it regularly to stop it catching or forming a skin. For this recipe I reduced 750g milk to 400g and it took about an hour and a half, with a lot of whisking, stirring and turning up and down of the heat to keep it ticking over nicely. You will smell the difference once you've got the final product - it will have that characteristic sweet milk smell.
This recipe uses china grass which is a noodly looking form of agar agar - a vegetarian setting agent made from seaweed. You can get the grass from an Asian shop otherwise agar agar is more widely available as flakes or powder.
You simply soak the strands in cold water for about 20-30 mins, then dissolve in a pan over the heat by simmering and stirring. This mixture gets added to the final mix before being boiled (which is required for it to set). It will set at room temperature but this dessert definitely needs to be served chilled!
After that it's a case of: mix it all together, wait patiently, stuff face.
Recipe (serves 6-8)
1.25kg full-fat fresh raw milk (we use the lovely stuff from Hook & Son)
5g china grass (or other form of agar agar)
120-150g unrefined caster / cane sugar
1-1 1/2 tsp rose water (use proper rose water, not rose syrup)
Natural pink or red food colouring (optional - we use TruColor)
6-8 individual glass dessert bowls, or one large one!
Toasted, chopped pistachios and almonds
1. First evaporate the milk. Place 750g of the milk in a saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for around an hour to an hour and a half. Make sure you stir and whisk it regularly to stop it forming a skin or over-boiling. Reduce to a weight of 400g.
2. Meanwhile prepare the china grass. Break the strands up into a small bowl and add the water. Leave to soak for 20-30 mins. Transfer to a small pan, and bring to the boil, stirring regularly. Continue until the strands have dissolved, then set aside. You will need to stir this regularly otherwise the china grass will sink to the bottom and stick.
3. Once the evaporated milk is ready, place in a pan with 120g sugar, 1 tsp rose water, the remaining 500g milk and a touch of food colouring if you so desire. Traditionally it's served flamingo pink but I've gone for more of a 'poached salmon' tone. Heat slowly and stir to dissolve the sugar. Once steaming, add the china grass mixture, mix well and bring to the boil. Keep mixing to make sure the setting agent is well combined and fully dissolved. Bring to the boil and simmer for a couple more minutes. Taste and add more sugar / rose to your liking. When chilled both the sweetness and rose flavour will be slightly subdued, so make sure these are a little stronger than you want in the final product.
4. Strain through a sieve into a jug (this will catch any undissolved strands) and allow the mix to cool just slightly before pouring into your one or many dessert dishes. Allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate to firm up and cool properly (a few hours).
5. Toast some whole pistachios and almonds at 150C for 10 minutes, then chop into slivers once cooled. To serve, simply sprinkle the nuts on top of the chilled Falooda and enjoy!