Sunday, July 26, 2015

More Eid: Recreating Falooda

কাস্টার্ড ফালুদা 

Custard Falooda 

Custard falooda, now part of my dessert repertoire! 

I had to think twice before trying falooda for the first time. Someone had brought some home in a plastic container, and the folks were eagerly trying to make me sample a spoonful. I was probably around 10, and had never before encountered noodles floating in milk before. The dish's additional components of bright green jelly and slimy tapioca pearls just freaked me out - here was seemingly a dessert from outer space. In truth, however, falooda is apparently an import of faloodeh from Persia and has mutated into numerous variations in Bangladesh. While toppings can vary (nuts, fruit, jelly etc.), the common theme in almost every version I've had is a sweet rose-milk base, vermicelli and vanilla ice cream. Then last winter I visited Star Kebab, where they served me a very rich version based on custard. I was intrigued - they omitted ice cream to avoid being overpowering, but brought in crushed ice to preserve the cold dessert factor.

I decided to recreate the dish as accurately as possible, partly just to see if I could but also because I thought it would be something special to make around Eid. The custard recipe below is my mom's - in the past cream was difficult to procure in Bangladesh, and leaving the egg white in instead helps thicken the sauce. I also loathe to throw food away, so there's also that. Another thing that surprised me about England was how sugar-free all the custard is, and the extra sweetness is courtesy of the style of custard I grew up with. Bear in mind in this recipe the custard will be providing the majority of the sugar, rather than being an accompaniment for cake or pie. My favourite custard also smells nothing like egg, hence the generous lashings of (weak) vanilla essence and some nutmeg. I limited the rosewater to the jelly, mostly because I thought rose-flavoured custard would be just a little too overwhelming. I was quite happy with the result, although in the future I'll probably skip the jelly and the pearls and just go with fruits, nuts and noodles to keep my life simple. 

Ingredients (for the custard):
  • 500.00 ml of whole milk
  • 1.00 egg
  • 65.00 g caster sugar
  • 3.00 teaspoons of vanilla essence
  • Nutmeg, one pinch

Ingredients (for the jelly)
  • 2.00 g agar agar powder
  • 2.00 tablespoons of sugar
  • 2.00 teaspoons of red food colouring
  • 1.00 teaspoon of vanilla essence
  • 2.00 teaspoons of rose water

Ingredients (for the other toppings) 
  • 50.00 g cooked rice noodles
  • 1.00 banana, approximately 100.00 g
  • 20.00 large tapioca pearls
  • Pistacchio, to taste

Method (for the custard, makes about 300.00 g):
  • Heat the milk on a medium-low heat in a heavy bottomed pan
  • While the milk is heating, beat the egg and the sugar together
  • Once the milk begins to just simmer, take off the heat and pour in the egg-sugar mixture, stirring vigorously all the while to avoid forming clumps
  • Return the pan to the stove, and stir gently until the custard thickens to your desired consistency
  • The usual advice is to keep heating until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of your spoon, which I found took about 30 minutes (make sure that the custard never comes to boil though)
  • Once the sauce is thickened to your desired consistency, add the vanilla essence (I used 4 teaspoons of some really old, cheap variety!) and a pinch of nutmeg
  • Stir to mix in, take off the heat and leave to cool

Method (for the toppings, makes 2 glasses):
  • For both the agar agar and tapioca pearls, I'd advise following the instructions (if any) that come with the ingredient, although the below is how I prepared mine
  • In a saucepan, soak 2.00 g of agar agar in 400 ml of water for 15 minutes
  • Once soaked, bring the agar and water mixture to vigorous boil and add the sugar, stirring to mix everything in
  • Once the sugar and agar have dissolved, take off the heat and mix in the vanilla essence and rose water
  • Take off the stove and leave to cool completely, and the solution should harden into a red jelly 
  • On high heat, bring two cups of water to boil in a smaller saucepan
  • Add the tapioca pearls, reducing the heat to medium and letting simmer for 5 minutes
  • Take off the stove and set aside for incorporation into the falooda later
  • Slice the banana and separate into two equal portions
  • Chop the noodles up into small pieces - the idea is to have short strands that can easily be scooped out in a spoon

Method (to assemble and serve)
  • In a glass, line the bottom with some of the red jelly
  • Take the custard and mix in the chopped noodles 
  • Add a quarter of the mix to each glass
  • Add most of the the bananas and tapioca pearls, reserving a few for garnish
  • Pour over the remaining custard and noodle mix and add the remaining banana, tapioca pearls and some jelly
  • Crush the pistachio, and sprinkle over each glass to complete the garnish
  • Serve chilled, and with some crush ice on the side to mix in if desired

Additional Info:
I opted for thin cooked rice noodles as they were available at my local supermarket and had a similar texture to the more common vermicelli. I would say most unseasoned noodles work well enough in falooda, but perhaps stay away from thick spaghetti and pasta. The jelly amounts above are for much more than is needed for the two portions of falooda, but I couldn't measure a smaller unit of agar agar powder! Experiment with toppings: there's no need to invest in the more esoteric ingredients of agar agar and tapioca pearls, just fruits and nuts are okay. 

Experiment with the custard flavours, trying other spices like cinnamon or even infusing it with rose water. And by all means omit the custard altogether, substituting it with the more traditional rose-milk. Just thicken some whole milk on a low heat to your desired consistency, adding sugar and rosewater to taste (or if rosewater isn't your thing, again experiment with the flavours). 

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