Firni is a recipe that has found its way into our cuisine from Persia and the Middle East, and into the ancient kitchens of the Muslim emperors of India. A perfect dessert for the royal dining table, though made with seemingly simple ingredients, this was a dessert served cold, adorned with expensive spice such as saffron, rose water and topped with nuts and silver leaf, it has been a traditional dessert of festivity and celebration in our part of the world ever since.
In my recipe for firni, I replace the need for slow cooking the milk down to thicken, with condensed milk and this also adds the sweetness without using additional sugar. The addition saffron is just a substitution, and is my way of celebrating my memories and firni's regal heritage. —Sumayya Usmani
10 small bowls
sweetened condensed milk
freshly ground green cardamom
each of crushed pistachios and edible rose petals for garnish
Start by soaking the basmati rice in the water for an hour. Strain and reserve all the water except for just 1 tablespoon, then grind the rice with this remaining water in a electric spice grinder until you have a fine paste.
In a saucepan, heat the milk and the condensed milk so that the liquid is warm but not boiling (about 5 to 6 minutes).
Add the rice paste and mix it with a whisk so as to ensure that no lumps remain. If it starts to thicken too much, add the reserved soaking liquid.
Cook on a very low heat, stirring it all the time, until the milk forms a custard-like consistency. [Editor's note: We transferred the liquid to a wide saucepan; the mixture took between 20 and 30 minutes to thicken.] Now add the ground cardamom, rosewater, and saffron.
Cool the firing completely, stirring frequently as it cools. You can place the firni over a bowl of ice water to aid the cooling (or you can eat it warm).
Set the firni is glass or terra-cotta bowls and refrigerate, covered. Garnish with crushed pistachios and edible rose petals.
Sumayya is a food writer and cookery teacher who grew up in Pakistan, but has now found home in Glasgow. Sumayya is passionate about sharing the flavours of her homeland with a view to highlight Pakistani cuisine as a distinct one. The author or two cookbooks: Summers Under The Tamarind Tree (Frances Lincoln) and Mountain Berries and Desert Spice (Frances Lincoln, out April 2017), her writing reminisces about food and memories growing up in Pakistan. She writes for many publications, appears on television, and co-presents BBC Kitchen Cafe weekly, on BBC Radio Scotland.