We have this dessert in the our culture (the one of the Pakistanians if you are unfamiliar from where my family hails from ethnically) called “kulfi”. The Indians have it too. The best way I could describe is to call it ice cream although it’s denser than that and is usually cooked before it’s frozen.
It’s good stuff – when we make it at home, we usually flavor it with cardamom, dropping in whole pieces while the mixture cooks, taking them out before putting them in the popsicle molds. My mom also sometimes makes it with pistachio. I’m not really a fan of “pista kulfi” although for folks in the subcontinent, that’s a pretty standard flavor.
After learning how to make kulfi my mom’s way, I got it in my head that I wanted to make coffee kulfi. This is hardly revolutionary as you can find recipes for all kinds of kulfi, including coffee flavored, on the interweb. Last time I was in Pakistan, I even had “toffee kulfi”. It just goes to show that there are a ton of different flavors of kulfi out there in the world.
I don’t know how many people I mentioned that I wanted to make coffee kulfi to before I even figured out how I was going to go about making it in the first place.
A lot of the recipes out there call for using instant coffee, which makes sense. It’ll dissolve right into the cream or milk and should give the kulfi the color and flavor it needs to have. I totally respect that. I’m not one of those people who looks down on instant coffee because as a desi person, instant Nescafe coffee in hot milk was the first version of coffee I even knew. Also, my go-to drink at one of my favorite halal restaurants here in the Bay is their Indian Style Cold Blended Coffee and I know they make that with Nescafe.
However, I wanted to make the kulfi with coffee beans from one of the cafes that I go to, the kind that specialize in Third Wave Coffee. In fact, I had my heart set on making Blue Bottle Coffee Kulfi. I just had to figure out which of their beans to even use.
The problem was that every time I seemed to go their cafe headquarters in Oakland, there was a long line of people and I really didn’t want to take up too much time to ask any of the baristas for advice about which beans would best work. I could probably have read all of the descriptions for all of the coffee blends they had and properly deduce it on my own, but I wanted an expert’s advice.
Finally, one day I went to Blue Bottle with nary a soul waiting in line after my coffee buddy and me.
“I have a question for you,” I asked the girl behind the counter.
“We love those!” she said*. She was being completely sincere and so I launched into my scenario.
“So, okay, in my culture, we have this dessert, called kulfi, which is kinda like ice cream and it’s made with half and half and whipping cream and usually we flavor it with cardamom but I wanted to make it with coffee so I was wondering what kind of coffee would you recommend I use to make it strong enough to flavor the cream and stuff?” This is an approximate version of what I said. I was feeling strangely nervous and I’m pretty sure I used hand gestures while I talked too. I’m not sure why I had to but I think I did.
The girl thought about it, looking at the bags of coffee that graced the shelf. She said she would use an espresso bean and after she thought about it some more, she gave her recommendation: their Hayes Valley Espresso blend.
First of all, it didn’t even occur to me to use an espresso blend as opposed to a brewed coffee blend. It made perfect sense though since it has a stronger flavor and would be able to leave its mark in a kulfi concoction (“Kulfi Konkoction” if you will. You won’t? Okay, never mind).
She said the natural chocolate flavor of this blend would most likely work best. Here’s a bit of information about this particular espresso from the website:
This is probably our darkest espresso,: lower-toned, minimal brightness, plenty of chocolate – with an engaging complexity as a straight shot.
I knew what beans I was going to use! High fives all around!
Well, actually, it was still too soon to be celebrating as I still had one question that I grappled with:
Should I cook the kulfi with whole coffee beans and take them out in the end like we do for the cardamom, or should I grind the beans and mix that in with the kulfi, knowing full well it wouldn’t completely dissolve?
I mulled this over for quite a while, getting input from a lot of people. I finally decided to cook it using whole coffee beans, with my mom close by in case there were any issues.
When it was done, I put it popsicle molds and stuck it in the freezer.
In a few hours, I tried some, nervously taking my first bite.
I’m pretty sure I had one of my patented stupid grins on my face. Oh, this would do. This would do just fine.
Family members liked it. “Don’t change a thing,” my uncle said. That was a huge compliment as my uncle’s opinion was one that I was most curious about.
But hold up, would this really be the best way to make coffee kulfi? I mean, this was my first time making it ever. How could I possibly know that this was the best it could ever be?
So, I ended up making coffee kulfi again soon after. This time, grinding the same type of beans as finely as I could with my burr grinder right before I dropped it in the already cooking mixture. I figured as long as people didn’t mind bits of coffee in their kulfi it would be all good. I honestly didn’t think that would be too much of an issue because I had seen plenty of coffee ice creams with coffee bean remnants in them.
Folks, this one turned out different. Better different though. Where the coffee taste was subtle the first time around, it’s presence was now felt much more. This made sense since the coffee wasn’t taken out.
Once again I solicited opinions. I knew I liked it better but I wasn’t sure what everyone else would think.
My uncle said that the two versions were pretty different and good in there own way but that ultimately, for the one who likes coffee, the second batch was the way to go. That was the batch that he preferred too. The coffee pieces were not bothersome and although the coffee flavor was stronger in the second version, his point was that if someone didn’t like coffee, they shouldn’t even be having coffee kulfi in the first place. True!
So, my friends, I have decided that future versions of coffee kulfi that I make will be with ground coffee. I may test out different beans for the sake of experimentation, but the Hayes Valley Espresso Blend worked out quite well.
I present to you… Blue Bottle Coffee Kulfi:
You know it!
*Sometimes, coffee places like these get a bad rap about having snooty baristas who think they are better than everyone. I’ll be honest, I find that rarely to be the case. Mostly everyone I’ve come across at either this cafe or many other cafe/roasteries in the Bay Area have been really nice and always super helpful if I have a question. Of course, everyone does have a bad day now and then so please don’t take anything personally if someone ever does come across as standoffish. And, dude? Don’t be that person, the one who orders a “tall” at one of these kinds of establishments.