Clare Kelly

Anjum Anand's Indian-inspired desserts

Clare Kelly

Sticky saffron dumplings
India has a whole genre of sweet desserts which were once made in the home, but are now mostly made by specialized halvaies – Indian pâtissiers. Gulab jamun are one of India’s favourites: little syrupy doughnuts made from thickened milk instead of flour and soaked in sugar syrup rather than stuffed with jam or sweetened in the batter. I use dry milk powder which I rehydrate, not the traditional thickened, solidified milk, as that takes too long and needs too much attention to make. There are only two tricks to getting these doughnuts right: the right consistency of dough (not too soft, not too hard); and frying them over a very low heat so they cook all the way to the centre, stirring the oil almost continuously so they brown evenly. I like them warm as they will be softer, and you can reheat them in their syrup, but you can equally eat them cold. Serve as they are, or with a little ice cream. Makes 18 (serves 1–2 per person)

For the dumplings
400ml (12⁄3 cups) whole milk powder (measure it in a measuring cup), plus more if needed
100g (1⁄2 cup) plain (all-purpose) flour
2⁄3 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp ghee, plus more to form the dumplings
5 tbsp plain yogurt
5 tbsp whole milk
vegetable oil, to deep-fry
sliced pistachios, to serve (optional)

For the syrup

450g (scant 2 cups) granulated sugar
650ml (22⁄3 cups) water
2 good pinches of saffron threads
1⁄2–1 tsp rose water, depending on strength


Mix together the dry ingredients for the dumplings. Spoon in the ghee, yogurt and milk. Mix well with your hands to bring the dough together; it will be moist. Set aside.

For the syrup, heat the sugar, water and saffron together in a saucepan, stirring to help the sugar dissolve. Once boiling, simmer for around 3–4 minutes, then turn off the heat. Add the rose water, using the smaller amount first and tasting until you have a strength you prefer.

Meanwhile, pour 8–10cm (3–4in) of oil into a medium-large karahi, wok or wide saucepan. Heat gently.

Divide the dough in half. Wet some kitchen paper and place on top of the dough you aren’t working with. Grease your palms well with ghee, take half the dough and form it into 9 small balls; I like to make them slightly oval rather than round, but you can shape them as you like. The surfaces should be smooth and crack-free. (If the dough is too soft to shape, add a little milk powder.) Repeat to make and shape the remaining dumplings.

To check if the oil is ready, put a tiny pinch of the dough into the oil. It should only sizzle very slightly. When it is ready, add the balls in batches so as not to crowd the pan, stirring the oil as you put them in. Cook over a gentle heat, stirring and turning them very often for even browning, they should take 15–17 minutes per batch to reach a lovely golden brown. Once done, take them out with a slotted spoon and place straight into the syrup. Repeat with the next batch.

Cover and leave to soak for 2 hours, or overnight, in the fridge. They should last 10 days or more. Serve as they are, or sprinkle them with sliced pistachios.


Chilled mango, coconut and “pearl” puddings
Like everyone, I have friends who prefer to avoid gluten and dairy and when they come round I need to have a special think about what to serve them. This is one of the desserts I will go to when mangoes are in season; easy, tasty and lovely after an Indian or spicy Asian meal. It is based on a popular Chinese dessert we see a lot in India – simply a light mango cream with lovely gelatinous tapioca pearls, mango and freshly grated coconut. This recipe proves again that, if you have good-quality, inherently tasty ingredients, you don’t need a lot more to make a fabulous dish. This is one of my summer favourites, really refreshing. It thickens overnight, so you may want to thin it with a bit of milk (and then taste for sweetness) before serving. You can also add some chia seeds. Serves 4–5


60g (21⁄4oz) large tapioca pearls, soaked for 20 minutes
2 large ripe Alphonso (ideally) mangoes
125ml (1⁄2 cup) coconut cream, or to taste
175ml–200ml (2⁄3–5⁄6 cup) whole chilled milk, plus more if needed
2–3 tbsp sugar, or to taste
5 tbsp grated fresh or frozen and defrosted coconut, chilled


Optional garnishes
crispy tapioca pearls (see below)
crystallised rose petals
flaked roasted almonds
fresh coconut shards
mango wedges

Soak the tapioca pearls for 20 minutes. Bring a large pot of water to the boil – you do need lots of water. Add the drained tapioca pearls, bring to the boil, cover and cook for 14 minutes. Take off the heat and leave to finish cooking for another 10 minutes, or until they are translucent, or almost so. You want to keep an eye on them as if they over-cooked, they become gluey. Pour straight into a sieve and place in a large bowl of cold water. Set aside

Slice the cheeks from the mangoes and scoop out the flesh, keeping all the juices as you work. Set 1 cheek aside. Put the rest into a blender with the juices. Remove the skin from the stones and try to get as much flesh and juice off it as you can; put this straight into the blender.

Add the coconut cream, the smaller amount of milk and the sugar. Blend until smooth. Add the rest of the milk if it is thick (you might even need more, it all depends on the juiciness of the fruit), until the texture is like double (heavy) cream. Add half the coconut. Taste and adjust the sugar to taste.

Add the cold pearls to the mango cream and chill until ready to eat. When you are ready to serve, chop the reserved mango into slivers. Pour the mango cream into small bowls, pile some of the mango in the middle, top with the remaining fresh coconut and crispy tapioca pearls, if you like, and serve chilled. Or, for a more graphic look, place the tapioca in the glasses, spoon over the mango cream, swirl in a little sweetened coconut cream and garnish with any of the options.


Crispy tapioca pearls

Soak an extra 1 tbsp of tapioca pearls, then dry on kitchen paper. Heat 1½ tbsp flavourless vegetable oil in a small pan, tilt the pan to collect the oil on 1 side and add the tapioca. Cover immediately with a lid as they will try and jump out. Cook for 1 minute or until crispy, drain and place on kitchen paper to blot off excess oil. Leave until ready to use (you can make this a day ahead). I leave these unsweetened, but you can candy them as well, in the same way as you would nuts.


Saffron yogurt phirni

Phirni is a Northern Indian dessert made from ground rice and milk, lightly avoured, typically set and chilled in little clay pots. The clay continues to absorb the liquid from the mixture, making the phirni even creamier. I have added yogurt to this recipe, which gives a subtle complexity that I feel really adds to the dish and helps to balance the sweetness of typical Indian desserts. Make these a day in advance. You can set them in pretty little glass bowls or a larger serving dish. When Indian mangoes are in season, I chop some and add them on top; the musky sweetness really works with this dessert. Serves 4–5

40g (around 2 rounded tbsp) basmati rice                                                                                                         
1 litre (4 cups) whole milk
4 tbsp sugar, or to taste
1⁄4 tsp ground cardamom
good pinch of saffron threads
2 tbsp thick, set plain yogurt, not too sour
chopped pistachios or almonds, to serve                                                                                                                                                                

Soak the basmati for 1 hour in plentiful water, then drain and dry it completely on kitchen paper. Set aside.

Pour 900ml (32⁄3 cups) of the milk into a wide, heavy-based saucepan. Add the saffron. Place over a medium heat, then reduce the heat and gently simmer until it has reduced to 600ml (21⁄2 cups). You will need to stir the milk often, scraping the base of the pan to make sure the milk doesn’t catch and burn. If the heat is too high, the milk will rise up in the pan and spill, so keep an eye on it.

Meanwhile, set aside 1 tsp of the dried rice and, using a spice grinder, grind the rest to a coarse powder. Set aside.

When the milk has reduced, add the ground rice to the reserved 100ml (1⁄3 cup) milk and stir well. Pour this straight into the reduced hot milk with the reserved whole rice, stirring so it does not form a clump. Keep cooking and stirring for 10 minutes or so over a medium heat.

Add the sugar, cardamom and saffron and keep stirring until the mixture has thickened, another 5–7 minutes. It will measure around 450–500ml (about 2 cups).

Cool, then stir in the yogurt. Adjust the sweetness to taste, bearing in mind that as it cools the sweetness will be less pronounced.

Pour into individual bowls or a large serving dish, cover with cling film (plastic wrap) and chill overnight in the fridge. Serve sprinkled with the nuts.


I Love India by Anjum Anand (Quadrille, £20) Photography © Martin Poole
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