This is a recipe I learned to make this from a very dear friend of mine. Once upon a time on a Friday evening, my friend F walked in with a big bowl of dessert; so aromatic and enticing that I immediately uncovered to see what this orange yellow cream speckled with green & white nuts could be. She smiled & said “It’s Phirni, and the hue comes from the color of saffron“.
The dessert was the star of our meal that day. We waited impatiently and finally when we scooped our share, we were stunned beyond words. The creamy goodness was gently infused with the flavors of saffron and cardamom. I will always be obliged to my friend for introducing Phirni/Firni to our repertoire of Indian dessert.
Phirni is a kind of Rice Pudding, made with coarsely ground rice. It is similar to what we call “kheer” or “payasam” in India, but unlike Kheer/Payasam, it does not use whole grains of rice. It is more more of a “north Indian” dessert, flavored with lots of saffron, cardamom and rose and adorned with a lot of nuts and often some dry fruits too. The consistency of this pudding varies from thick,- where one has to really scoop out with a spoon, to creamy- where the dessert will gently coat a spoon.
Traditionally in India, Phirni is served chilled in earthenware/clay cups called Matkas. Other than just making it look pretty, the clay pot also absorbs some of the liquid giving it a thicker consistency. It tastes better when the flavors are allowed to mature for 6-7 hours or even for a day. Some versions of Firni are baked in the cups after they are cooked, then chilled & served. I do not bake the Firni. We like our Firni just thick enough to gently coat a spoon. So this version is the lighter one where the milk is not allowed to thicken as much, nor is it baked or served in the matkas.
This dish probably would have been an influence of the Mughal invasions to India. Along with them came the rich fragrant food and thereafter mingled & planted their roots the Indian cuisine to form a part of it. Similar kind of rice puddings, with little variations are also a part of Turkish, Lebanese, Greece, Afghan, African & many other European & Mediterranean cuisines.
Below are the different kinds & names of Rice Puddings around the world…. (info taken from WIKI):
- Kheer (Nepali/Indian/Pakistani) with slow-boiled milk
- Payasam (South Indian) with slow-boiled milk, sugar/jaggery and lots of nuts
- Firni (Tajik) and (Pakistani/North Indian) with broken rice, cardamom and pistachio served cold.
- Moghlie (Arab) with anise and ginger
- Riz bi haleeb (Eastern) or ruz bil-laban (Egyptian), (lit. “rice-in-milk”) (Arab) with rosewater and occasionally mastic
- Shola-e-zard (Iranian) and (Tajik) with saffron
- Shir-berinj (Tajik) and (Iranian) Rice pudding
- Arroz Doce or Arroz de Leite (Portuguese) with rice, sugar, milk, cinnamon and lemon
- Budino di Riso (Italian) with milk, eggs, raisins and orange peel
- Arroz con leche (Spanish) with milk, sugar, cinnamon and lemon
- Сутлијаш (Macedonian) – Лапа – typical rice pudding with black poppy seeds
- Milchreis (German) with cinnamon or cherries
- Mlečni riž (Slovene)
- Mliečna ryža (Slovak)
- Mляко с ориз (Bulgarian) with milk and cinnamon
- Orez cu lapte (Romanian) with milk and cinnamon
- Rijstebrij (Dutch) or Rijstpap (Flemish)
- Rizogalo or Ryzogalo (ρυζόγαλο ‘rice milk’, Greek) with milk and cinnamon.
- Riža na mlijeku (Croatian)
- Sutlijaš (Bosnian/Serbian)
- Sytlijash (Albanian)
- Sultjash (Albanian) Dialect
- Tameloriz (Albanian/Kosovar)
- Sütlaç (Turkish < sütlaş < sütlü aş ‘rice with milk’), served either hot or cold; often browned in a salamander broiler and garnished with cinnamon. May be sweetened with sugar or pekmez or not.
- Teurgoule (Normandy)
- Oriz na vareniku (Montenegrin)
- Tejberizs (Hungarian) with milk, cinnamon or cocoa powder
- Сутляш or Мляко с ориз (Bulgarian)
- Sutlijas (Bosnian)
- Молочная рисовая каша (Russian)
- Молочна рисова каша (Ukrainian), also can appear as “кутя” for Christmas (served with dried fruits and nuts)
- Arroz con leche (Latin American) with cinnamon and condensed milk
- Arroz con dulce/Arroz con coco (Puerto Rican) with coconut milk, sugar and cinnamon
- Arroz-doce (Brazilian) with milk, sugar and cinnamon
Now here is Phirni, the very Indian way….
Phirni: Ground Rice Pudding with Saffron and Nuts
Ingredients: (serves 10-12)
- 1 cup (8 oz) raw basmati rice
- 3/4 gallon whole milk
- 1 quart/approximately 950 ml Half and Half or Heavy Whipping Cream (or part half and half and part heavy cream): you may use all whole whole milk and in that case, adjust amount and simmer to reduce the milk until it is less than half the you have the desired consistency
- 1/2- 3/4 cup slivered almonds (or as much or as little as you want)
- 7-8 small green cardamoms (seeds only)
- 1.5 cup sugar or to taste
- a very generous pinch of very good quality saffron, very lightly toasted in a dry skillet
- unsalted almonds and pistachios and rose petals for garnish – optional
- 1-2 teaspoon rose water
Wash the rich thoroughly & soak in water for about 2 hours. The grains will get longer & white. Drain the water & spread all the rice in a thin layer on a paper towel. Set aside till completely dry to touch. The best way would be to leave it overnight.
Soak the almonds in the water overnight. Peel the almonds. Slice them fine. Set the sliced almonds aside.
Peel the cardamoms & take out the seeds.
Take the dry rice, & the cardamom seeds & dry grind till the rice becomes a powder. It should NOT be as fine as sugar. It should be like coarse rawa/semolina. Keep aside.
Take 1/2 cup of warm milk, and add the saffron to it. Allow it to soak for about 10 minutes.
Take a thick bottomed pan. Combine all the milk (including the saffron milk) & half & half/heavy cream and simmer at low heat till it reduces a little bit in amount (the amount of reduction will depend on how thick you want the pudding. For a thicker and creamier pudding, you will need more reduction. We like our Phirni to be a bit runny and not as thick as it can be scooped out with a spoon; however that is the right kind of consistency for a traditional Phirni/Firni).
Add the sliced almonds. Now its time to add the dry rice powder. This has to be done in little batches.
Take a tablespoon of rice powder & slowly add it to the boiling milk, while stirring vigorously to prevent the powder from forming lumps. It should all blend it smooth with no lumps at all.
Continue the same process till all the rice powder is added to the milk.
Boil the milk with everything in it while frequently stirring it, till it starts getting thick & the rice is all cooked. Once cooked the rice grains will look like small cooked semolina/rawa.
Add the sugar & boil some more. If you want the Firni/Phirni thicker, keep simmering while stirring frequently, till it reaches the desired consistency.
Switch off the heat, & add the Rose water.
Top it with more saffron strands if you want. Chill for at least 4-5 hrs (overnight is better) before serving it. If you let it settle down at least overnight, it will have that light yellow-orange tinge of the saffron. Letting it mature also enhances the flavor.
Before serving garnish with organic rose petals, pistachios and more nuts you would want.
Related Posts (other Indian Desserts):
- Anjeer/Fig Halwa
- Badam Katli/Almond Fudge
- Besan ki Burfi – A Chickpea Fudge?
- Churma and Churma ke Laddoo
- Gajar ka Halwa (Carrot Halwa)
- Gujia: Pastry filled with Coconut, Dry Fruits & Nuts
- Indian Lime Cookies
- Kesar Pista Kulfi with Falooda (Saffron, Pistachio Ice Cream Served with Rose Infused Vermicilli)
- Kheer – Indian Rice Pudding with Nuts and Saffron
- Narkel Naru (Gurer Naru): Indian Coconut Confection with Jaggery
- Patishapta – Crêpes with Sweet Coconut Cardamom Filling
- Ricotta Fudge with Dried Fruits, Nuts and Chocolate
- Rose Flavored Ice Cream with Rose Petals
- Sabudana Kheer: Tapioca Pudding with Saffron and Nuts
- Semolina and Almond Halwa
- Seviyan ki Kheer: Indian Vermicelli Pudding
- Sweet Peanut Brittle Bar