[dropcap]I [/dropcap]f you love toffee eclairs and enjoy the flavour of caramelized sugar, you will love this Malai Halwa. I first ate it at my grandparents place in Bhopal.
Cooking & Learning – A Lifelong Process
My grandmother has always been a food connoisseur. While there is a stereotype about grandmothers being the keepers of culinary secrets and traditions, when one zooms in and spends time with the person in question, there is so much that is based on personal taste. These personal preferences permeate each person’s process in the kitchen and ultimately influence not just the outcome but also the eating habits of the entire household. So while I do not like to romanticize the role of women in the kitchen – men could just as easily have been the keepers of our home cooking secrets – I think their contribution is extremely important and worth recognizing. My grandmother genuinely enjoys food and flavour. If my memory serves me right, then the Malai Halwa became a part of her repertoire much later in life when she had it at her nephew’s house, cooked by his wife of course. Not one to let go of an opportunity to learn something new, she got the recipe and instructions and recreated it in her kitchen. The rest as they say is history!
Last spring while visiting my grandmother I requested a repeat and tried my hand at making it. I still don’t have her magic touch, but have reached pretty close and with practice hope to hit all the high notes.
Here’s how to make Malai Halwa with Sooji
Heavy Cream 1 cup,
Sooji (Semolina) 1/2 cup,
Whole Milk ~ 1/2 cup and as needed,
Sugar 1/4 cup and more as per taste,
Cardamom Pods 3-4.
For the Garnish:
Almond slivers – 1/4 cup or 5-6 crushed almonds,
Sultanas (kishmish) – 1/4 cup.
One large kadhai or a deep pot.
A saucepan for making the sugar syrup.
Mortar and pestle for crushing almonds, if necessary.
Measure all the ingredients and keep them ready.
Clean and soak sultanas in water until needed.
If you have store-bought almond slivers, measure and keep them handy. Instead, if you have whole almonds there are two ways to use them. Soak and peel then slice to use without the peel. Or, roughly chop or crush whole almonds. I prefer crushing them using a mortar and pestle to get a chunky ground garnish to top off the halwa before serving. (This time though, as you can see, I didn’t use any garnish!)
Then, put the kadhai on high heat and let it warm up for a few minutes – about 2.
Next, pour in the cream next followed by sooji i.e. semolina and whole cardamom pods, and reduce the heat to medium. I prefer using whole cardamom because it can be removed easily once the halwa is ready without any loss of flavour. Typical halwa recipes use ghee, like an atta halwa or even a sooji halwa. And if you’ve been reading carefully, you might ask what is the difference between this halwa with sooji and the other one.
It’s all about the Malai i.e. cream in Hindi.
So here is a little secret – ghee is a product of cream that has been cooked until all the fat separates. In Indian homes, including mine, prior to the current trend of buying pasteurized milk from stores it would and often still is sourced directly from the dairy farm. This is whole, unprocessed milk and in order to consume it people pasteurize it on their own by boiling milk. During this process cream rises to the surface and as the milk cools forms a thick layer. So at home this is the cream i.e. malai we use for making ghee or for cooking this halwa.
Back to the Malai Halwa – Cooking the Cream and Sooji
Keep stirring the cream and sooji mix. The mix will be very thick. Cook it on medium heat and bring the cream to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer. Add milk at this point and cook while continuing to stir. The idea is to cook this mix on low heat until the cream and milk turn into ghee and semolina is fragrant. If you turn the heat up, the dairy – cream and milk – will burn and stick to the bottom.
Once you see some fat separating on the side, an indication that ghee is forming, add sugar and mix well. At this point check for consistency of the sooji. The fine granules should feel fluffy and soft on the tongue. If there is still a granular feel, it needs more moisture. Add more milk and continue to cook.
Since the sooji is cooked at an even temperature with constant stirring it remains light in colour. If you prefer a halwa with a deeper colour, cook it longer and at a higher temperature. But never stop stirring!
If you start doing this every week your arms will become well-defined, just kidding! 😆
Now, drain the sultanas and then garnish your Malai Halwa with almonds and sultanas before serving. This is entirely optional.
Keeping Food Memories Alive
Halwa is ready to dig in, warm and right off the stove. If done right you should taste a caramel flavour and feel a creamy, melt in the mouth texture with each spoonful. Each time I cook Malai Halwa it takes me back to the childhood trip to my grandparents place when I first tasted it and learnt how my grandmother chanced upon the recipe for this wonderful dessert.
- Heavy Cream 1 cup,
- Sooji (Semolina) 1/2 cup,
- Whole Milk ~ 1/2 cup and as needed,
- Sugar 1/4 cup and more as per taste,
- Cardamom Pods 3-4.
- Almond slivers – 1/4 cup or 5-6 crushed almonds,
- Sultanas (kishmish) – 1/4 cup.
- Measure all the ingredients and keep them ready.
- Clean and soak sultanas in water until needed.
- If you have store bought almond slivers, measure and keep them handy.
- If you have whole almonds either soak and peel then slice or, roughly chop whole almonds.
- Put a kadhai on high heat and let it warm up for a few minutes – about 2.
- Next, pour in the cream and sooji i.e. semolina with whole cardamom pods.
- Reduce the heat to medium.
- Keep stirring the cream and sooji mix.
- Cook it on medium heat and bring the cream to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer.
- Add milk at this point and cook while continuing to stir.
- Once you see fat separating to the side, add sugar.
- Check for texture by tasting a spoonful. Add more milk if the sooji is still granular. (It should be fluffy and soft).
- The Halwa should be dense, creamy mix.
- Remove cardamom pods and serve warm.
- The idea is to cook sooji with cream and milk on low heat until the cream and milk turn into ghee and sooji is fragrant. If you turn the heat up, the dairy – cream and milk – will burn and stick to the bottom.
- Since the sooji is cooked at an even temperature with constant stirring it remains light in colour. If you prefer a halwa with a deeper colour, cook it longer on higher heat but with constant attention and stirring.