While I’m neither Indian nor Hindu, I revel in celebrating Diwali, the festival of lights which marks the fiscal new year in the exotic subcontinent of India. One of my dearest friends knows how much I love her culture and indulges me with beautiful tunics, diyas (little clay oil lamps), bindis (pretty mark worn between the brows by Indian ladies) and sweet treats, the most memorable of which has been Bombay Ice Halwa, a paper-thin candy made with clarified butter, sugar, rose water, topped with almonds, pistachios and rose petals. The bright, sunny color and subtle floral flavor come from the precious saffron incorporated into the mixture. It’s a most unusual confection, especially for us in the West. So, if you’re looking for something especially impressive this holiday season, Ice Halwa will do the trick and with a touch of romance.
The Secret is Out!
The first time I had Ice Halwa, I was so impressed by just how thin and delicate it was, but thought, for certain, it would be absolutely impossible to recreate at home. Surely, they must have used a centuries-old technique that only a few have mastered or perhaps some very special machinery to get it so perfect. What I found out, however, is that anyone can make it at home, just with a bit of patience. Really, the hardest part is the constant stirring to ensure the bottom doesn’t burn. After that, the sweet mixture is poured onto a piece of parchment paper, topped with another sheet of parchment and rolled thin.
Bombay Ice Halwa
Prep: 5 mins
Cook: 30 mins
Dry: 5 days
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp saffron
1/4 cup + 1 Tb clarified butter (ghee)
1/4 cup semolina or corn starch
1 tsp cardamom powder
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp rose water
edible rose petals
Tape 2 long sheets of parchment paper onto a clean surface. Cut 2 more sheets the same length and set nearby.
Use a small mortar and pestle to crush the saffron threads with a teaspoon of sugar.
Pour milk, sugar, saffron powder, butter, semolina/cornstarch into a large pan.
Cook on medium-high, whisking constantly to prevent the bottom from burning.
The mixture will thicken and eventually come away from walls of the pan, forming a doughy ball.
Be patient, as this will take 20 mins. If your arm gets tired, use a hand mixer or call for help.
Remove from heat and incorporate the last tablespoon of ghee and rose water.
Divide dough into 1/2 and drop each onto a parchment sheet.
Place another sheet or parchment over the dough and use your hand or a rolling pinto flatten the dough to 1/8 inch thickness.
Peel the top sheet gently away.
Sprinkle pistachios, almond slices and rose petals evenly over the halwa, cover with the parchment sheet again and press gently into the dough.
Remove the top sheets and let the halwa air-dry 5 days.
To accelerate the drying process, chill in the fridge 4 hours.
Use scissors to cut into pretty little squares.
Serve with tea or coffee.
Did you know that pajamas were invented in India? We have much to thank our Near Eastern cousins for, especially Ice Halwa, a delightfully unusual treat. Now that you know how easy it is to make, be creative and try some different flavors. Homemade candy always makes a lovely hostess gift for those holidays outings and is sure to impress your own guests at home at your next festive get-together, especially one so beautifully thin and fragrantly delicious!