Firni (or phirni) is a traditional North Indian dessert with Kashmiri origins. In a sense, it is similar to a pudding or custard but does not contain any eggs. Firni has a wonderful smooth and velvety texture. This lovely dessert is very easy to make and can be made well in advance which makes it just perfect for entertaining.
This recipe uses rice flour, which is now available in most large grocery stores; otherwise your local Indian or Asian grocery store will surely carry it. The rose water or orange blossom essence used in this recipe can also be easily found in most Indian or Middle Eastern grocery stores.
PINEAPPLE FIRNI (Indian Rice Custard with Pineapple)
¼ cup rice flour
4½ cups milk (you can use 2% milk)
½ cup sugar, to taste
1 cup fresh pineapple, pureed (you can use canned pineapple, just drain well)
pinch of saffron threads
a few drops rose water or orange blossom water (optional)
2 tbsp unsalted pistachio pieces for garnish
Lightly toast the pistachios in a dry skillet over medium heat. Remove and set aside until needed.
In a small cup, combine the rice flour with about ½ cup of milk. Mix well and set aside until needed. Remember to stir the mixture once again just before use.
In a medium size saucepan over medium low heat, add the remaining milk and let it come to a gentle boil. Add the sugar, stir well to combine and again bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and add the rice flour and milk mixture. Stir briskly with a whisk to prevent any lumps from forming. Raise the heat to medium low, keep stirring and add the pineapple puree. Let the firni cook for about 10-15 minutes until the mixture has thickened and is smooth. Remove from the heat and add the rose water (or orange blossom water) and saffron.
Mix well and carefully pour into individual dessert dishes. I like to serve mine in modern martini glasses just for fun. Let cool and then transfer to the refrigerator. Let the firni chill for at least 2-3 hours before serving. Don’t forget to garnish with the toasted pistachio pieces just before serving.
There are so many delicious variations to this dish! Instead of pineapple, try making this dish using fresh mango, guava, passion fruit or peach puree. I have even made firni using green apples (I recommend removing the peel before you puree the apple). For a great shortcut, you can always add applesauce.
Try using almonds, cashews or a combination of your favorite nuts. You could add raisins, sultanas or even dried dates, figs, cherries, cranberries or apricots to this dish. Just reconstitute any dried fruit in a little warm water for 10-15 minutes, drain well and add during the cooking process. For larger ingredients (such as dried dates, figs or apricots), I suggest chopping them into smaller pieces before soaking.
You could add a pinch of cardamom or a little freshly grated nutmeg to this dish as well.
You could also saute the fruit in a little butter or ghee until it's caramelized, then let the fruit cool slightly before you puree it.
For an even more dramatic presentation, add a little silver or gold foil leaf on top just before serving. Sprinkle a few pomegranate seeds over the top for a gorgeous burst of color.