Saturday, October 29, 2016

Shahi Tukda / Saffron & Cardamom Indian Bread Pudding

This time of the year is truly magical, a season I really look forward to. Who can remain immune to the charm of the earthen lamps, the twinkling lights, colorful sky lanterns and the flowers, not to mention the virtual shower of sweets and snacks all over social media! The slight nip in the air promises Christmas bells around the corner, I can almost smell the warm spices and the candied peel. I am to shoot during the next week for my YouTube channel, need to get ready for the Christmas shoot soon after. With so much to be done, there is eagerness & anticipation, the rest of the challenges notwithstanding, life looks good!  

Diwali is a festival I love, the excitement has long since shifted away from fireworks and the kind. It is now more about just having family around, the customary potluck with old friends and soaking in the festive milieu. Priorities and perspective changes as we grow older, hopefully wiser too! When it comes to cooking for festivals, I have never been the kind to slog in the kitchen for hours. It is always simple fare, not much by way of deep-fried snacks ( deep-frying never excites me), but a sweet dish is a must for all of us. 

Shahi Tukda or Saffron & Cardamom Indian Bread Pudding is just my kind of dessert. The combination of the crisp bread slices with the chilled rabri and nuts is something I adore. The bread is normally deep-fried, but it is way too rich for our palates, so I prefer shallow frying. The rabri can easily be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator the previous day. The bread can be shallow fried just before serving time, so it is slightly warm and really crisp. Here is my version of Shahi Tukda, do tweak it to your taste. 

Shahi Tukda /Saffron & Cardamom Indian Bread Pudding 
(to make 6-8 servings)

For the rabri / milk pudding

What you need : You will need a wide, thick bottomed kadhai / deep pan, big enough to allow stirring without the milk spilling out. A good strong ladle or a flat slotted skimmer to help break the layer of cream on the top of the milk effectively. A small clean plate near the stove to keep the ladle on when not in use. Be sure everything you use is really clean, free of any acidic substances as it may cause the milk to split. A small cup to soak the saffron in.

Ingredients: (Makes about 1 liter of rabri, depending on how thick you want it)

Whole milk (at least 4.5% fat) : 3 liters / 12 cups
Sugar - 6 - 8 tablespoons
Saffron strands - a generous pinch or two
Cardamom powder - 1/2 teaspoon
Sliced pistachios and or sliced toasted almonds - 1/3 cup
Extra chilled milk and powdered sugar to adjust the consistency if needed on chilling.
  • Bring the milk in the pan to a boil, reduce the heat to low.. 
  • Reserve 2 tablespoons of hot milk from the pan, soak the saffron in it, cover and let infuse.
  • Simmer the milk on low, checking every 8 -10 minutes. 
  • Using the ladle or skimmer, scrape the cream at the sides as and when it forms, back into the milk. 
  • Break the layer of cream on top with continuous, stirring motions on the surface of the milk. Its important to break the layer of cream which will keep forming on the top too. Or you will end up with long bits of dry-ish cream in the milk. (Some people do prefer it that way).
  • Avoid scraping the bottom as you may get unappealing brown bits here and there. Continue doing this every 8-10 minutes or so, while you keep a constant watch on the milk. Do not let the milk boil over or form too thick a layer of cream on top. Do not leave the milk unattended for more than 10 minutes.
  • What we want to do is let the milk reduce, while scraping back every bit of cream into the simmering milk. What you do want is very thick pudding, full of bits of soft cream (not smooth like condensed milk, not grainy like mava / khoya). It will have lots of  soft cream bits, but will still be homogenous.
  • The milk will become very thick and reduce to almost a third. You can reduce more or less as you prefer. This takes about 2.5 hours. Do remember, the pudding will thicken further on cooling.
  • The time will vary depending on the quantity you are making, the pan and the heat given, so go by what you see in the pan.
  • Five minutes before you turn off the heat, add 6 tablespoons sugar and the saffron infused milk. This may alter the consistency slightly, but the basundi will thicken again as it cools. 
  • Once you take it off the heat, cool, add the cardamom powder and the sliced pistachios. Taste. Add some powdered sugar if needed.
  • Chill thoroughly. If the pudding is very thick on chilling, add some chilled milk little by little to adjust the consistency.
Please note : Use whole milk with at least 4.5% fat for best results. Low fat milk will neither give the consistency needed nor enough yield. You could use a touch of rose water if you wish.

For the bread slices
Bread, preferably white milk bread - 6-8 slices, crust trimmed
Ghee - 2-3 tablespoons or as needed
Toasted, slivered nuts like almonds & pistachios for garnish - 1/4 cup

For the simple syrup

Water - 1/2 cup
Sugar - 1/3 cup (or to taste)
Saffron strands - a few

Heat together the water, sugar and saffron till the sugar melts and the syrup is slightly thick.

Method : Toast the bread slices on a on-stick tawa using the ghee as needed. We need the slices golden and crisp. Cut them diagonally, brush the slices lightly with the sugar syrup. Place 2 pieces on each serving plate. Pour generous portions of the rabri over the bread. Garnish with the nuts and serve immediately. You can also let it sit for a while if you like the bread soft. 

Wish you a very happy Diwali and a wonderful year ahead!

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