The main premise and method for making baasundi might sound innocently simple, but those who have seen how it gets made or tried making it would be well aware of the fallacy. Instructions could just read something like reduce milk till it thickens, add sugar to taste, some cardamom, saffron, nutmeg (the classic kesar-elaichi-jaiphal trio) for flavor, and chopped nuts for garnishing, and while that is not at all difficult to achieve, it could become quite a trying experience.
For me, the reason to make some basundi recently was most ho-hum - the expiration date on a jug of whole milk was drawing close. Well, I think the printed date is the sell-by date and not the use-by date, but I am usually done with the milk in the jug by whichever date is printed on it, and have never had to test it out. If it is not used up in tea, cereal and other things, then I make paneer (rarely), some kind of kheer (sometimes), or set it to make yogurt (mostly).
This time, I had enough milk leftover to make basundi, and it had been a long time since I made it. This year for me, if anything, has been about minimizing the number of ingredients and maximizing flavors, and this fits right into that theme too. I started by heating the milk in a stainless steel saucepan, and when it came to a boil, I reduced the heat until the milk was at a constant simmer. Since I was doing other things around the house, I managed to stir it a little every ten to fifteen minutes, and kept doing this for about two hours, until the milk had thickened up considerably, and turned to a lovely light beige color. The result was more than satisfactory.
Basundi, Thickened Milk
Yields about 1 cup
This has so few ingredients that the taste of each one of them comes through, including the sugar. I like the taste of Indian sugar in this. Do use it if you have it.
Charoli is the more commonly used nut in Maharashtrian basundi.
The traditional way of using the nutmeg is by creating a nutmeg paste by rubbing the nutmeg in circular movements with a little water, on a round stone board. Here I have used freshly grated nutmeg.
4 cups whole milk
4-6 Tablespoons sugar
1 green cardamom pod
5-6 strands of saffron
a dash of grated nutmeg
chopped nuts like pistachios, almonds, or charoli, optional
Bring the milk to a boil, then reduce the heat until it simmers and thickens up considerably, at least to a fourth of its original volume. This could take around two hours, depending on the heat source, size and thickness of pan, and amount of milk. Stir occasionally to make sure the milk does not scorch.
Add sugar to taste, starting with a smaller amount first. Peel the cardamom pod and powder the seeds with a mortar and pestle. Add the powder, grated nutmeg, and strands of crumbled saffron, and finally, chopped nuts. Basundi can be served warm, at room temperature or cold, depending on the type of meal and personal preferences.
The picture below shows the resulting thickness of the basundi I made. After being chilled in the fridge it thickened up further.
Now, can a dessert like this be bettered or outdone? Well yes it can, by pairing it with a fabulous Alphonso mango. A long time ago I had read of a mithai store in Benares which served a seasonal sweet made of rabdi, saffron, and ripe mangoes, mixed together and served topped with chopped almonds, pistachios and a silver leaf. Even though I had never tasted anything like that, the description sounded nothing short of divine and was etched in my mind very firmly. So, here I was, with near-rabdi in the fridge, and a pretty good mango on hand, and the only thing I could think of was combining the two. I had for some reason set really high expectations for it, and was worried that the actual result might fall short of that, but it didn't. It was truly as amazing as I had imagined it to be.
In the first batch I pureed the mango in a food processor, but the end result got a little close to milk shake, so the next time I used a fork to mash up the mangoes, and that was definitely better in terms of texture. I used the flesh of one small mango for 1/2 cup of cold rabdi, then topped it with a tiny edible silver leaf and chopped pistachios.
Mango rabdi, dolled up in petite glasses, sashays down the red carpet for Meeta's Monthy Mingle.