Weekend Project: Experimenting with Indian Ice Cream

There's nothing vanilla about them.

Baraat Ice Cream
Baraat Ice Cream | Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist
Baraat Ice Cream | Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist

Take an ice cream from one culture to another, and while its form remains unchanged, its flavors will give you a peek into what is important for that particular cuisine. From a matcha soft serve on the streets of Tokyo, Kyoto, and all of their supermarkets, to LA’s charcoal ice cream that is on every food influencer’s Instagram—ice cream is a perfect representation of what ingredient or flavor the region deems important. The same can be said for India, where indigenous flavors like cardamom, malai (clotted cream), filtered coffee, mango, and jamun are literally the cream of the crop.

Ice cream was first developed in China and then introduced to the western world via Italy and popularized by the French. In India, it only meant one thing: the great Indian kulfi: a cone-shaped popsicle made of thickened milk and sweetened with sugar that was introduced by the Mughal Empire in the 16th century, a culture that had a deep liking for all things icy.  “Surprise! They’re now selling kulfi at Costco!” says Ruth Li, founder of Baraat Ice Cream, an American dessert brand named after an Indian wedding procession.

Li started her label after her own wedding in India. “All of the flavors are inspired by people you will spot at these ‘baraats’,” she says. And so on her menu, you’ll find hints of ingredients like garam masala (spice mix), chai, jalebi, and ras malai among other desi ideas.

Last month, a picture of a pint printed with the words Madam Vice President went viral on Instagram. Created by Brooklyn-based ice creamery Malai, it put a spotlight on the newly-appointed MVP with a flavor dedicated to Kamala Harris. “The event was so powerful for me. It was the first time that someone who looked like me was in the limelight, so I wanted to create a flavor that not only honored her, but also the joy that I experienced,” says Pooja Bavishi, founder, Malai. Highlighting Harris’ east and western roots, Bavishi used coconut and mango as base, and folded in jaggery-candied lotus seeds because the word ‘kamala’ in Sanskrit means lotus.

And it’s not just Malai, Indian ice creams like Junoon’s kulfi pops made of mango, paan leaf, rose petal, and saffron-cardamom, or ginger ice cream at Ghee Miami have been savored for a long time. Houston-based Pondicheri Cafe plays with a variety of spices to make their frozen desserts. “I love the contrast of something sweet like cinnamon and cardamom paired with black pepper or chili or herbs. We also use moringa, saffron, cloves, mace, nutmeg, and even turmeric to make ice creams,” says chef Anita Jaisinghani who cannot wait to introduce a chikoo flavor, and personally has a soft spot for kulfis.

Besides restaurants, independent new ice creameries are experimenting with Indian flavors. On Brooklyn Pints’ seasonal menu, there’s chai latte, cardamom-orange, and ginger-honey scoops. From becoming a quick supermarket buy to the emergence of new ice cream shops, Indian ice cream is really the only scoop you need to know about this season.

Kesar kulfi slice

Sanjana Modha-Patel, of Sanjana Feasts shares the recipe for a classic smooth Indian saffron ice cream stuffed between flaky puff pastry sheets.

Ingredients:

  • 400 ml whole milk
  • 200 ml single cream
  • 1 Tbsp cornflour (dissolved in 2 Tbsp milk)
  • 3/4 grams sugar
  • 10-12 saffron strands
  • 4 cardamom pods (skins discarded and seeds grounded)
  • 2 puff pastry sheets (about 450 grams)

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F and line a 23cm square pan with aluminum foil, so that the foil comes up over the sides at each end. This will allow you to lift out the slices easily once the ice cream is frozen.

2. Place the pastry sheet onto a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper, prick the surface of the dough all over with a fork. 

3. Now, place another sheet of baking paper on top of this pastry so the entire surface is covered.

4. Put another baking tray of the same size or slightly smaller directly on top of the baking paper-covered dough (this is just like blind baking a pie). Now repeat pricking with the second piece of dough.

5. You will now have two trays on top of each other. Bake the pastries for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown and set aside to cool.

6. To make the ice cream, in a large saucepan, whisk together milk, cream, sugar, saffron and cardamom. Bring this mixture to a gentle boil and then switch off the heat.

7. Whisk in the cornflour slurry and stir well. Allow this ice cream base to cool to room temperature.

8. Once the pastry has cooled, place 1 pastry sheet, cooked-side up, in the bottom of the pre-lined tin. You may need to trim it slightly to fit. Pour the kulfi mixture over the top. Top with the second sheet of pastry. Wrap loosely in cling film and freeze for 24 hours.

To serve: Remove the tray from the freezer and stand for 10 minutes. Remove the cling film and carefully lift the slab from the tin. Use a hot, sharp knife to cut into bars. Decorate with pistachio slivers and serve cold.

Sonal Ved is a Thrillist contributor. She is the content director for Tastemade India and India Food Network, a cookbook author, and the food editor at Vogue India.