Thursday, February 4, 2016

Gajar Halwa (Glazed Carrot Fudge)

I'm lead to believe that Indian sweets are an acquired taste for the average American. For me, I found that I liked most of the ones that I have sampled pretty much the moment the first bite passed my lips, but others (including my husband) don't care much for them. I'm not sure if it is the fact that they tend to contain unusual spices or if they are either too sweet or not sweet enough, or if it's the use of milk in a variety of forms that is off-putting, but I've rarely found an American who knows what galub jamun is, let alone likes it. I mention that sweet because it is my personal favorite among Indian treats, though I also really like sohan papdi.

I chose this recipe not only because it was a fairly exotic option, but one that I have not had the occasion to try before at an Indian restaurant. I was also interested in it because it uses a lot of carrot and I bought one of those industrial-sized bags of organic carrots at Costco some time back and they're starting to get a bit shaggy as they age and start to sprout.

The Times recipe for Gajar Halwa subtitles it as "carrot fudge" so I expected that it would come out as something solid that you can eat with your fingers. I should have known better based on the ingredients. This is something which is fairly mushy when finished and has very little structure, even after being fully cooled. I was able to sort of take a wedge out of the pan, but it fell apart a bit one edge and eating it without a fork was out of the question:

I followed the recipe exactly as given (including using a little food coloring), but it lacked certain details which may have impacted my results. For one thing, it says, "grated carrot," but it doesn't say how finely grated it should be. Because this is a dessert and I didn't think enormous shards of carrot seemed appropriate, I finely grated mine using the smaller side of a box grater. I also peeled my carrots first because of their age and I wanted the sometimes bitter outer layer removed. I weighed the amount of carrot so I used almost exactly one lb.

This is actually an extremely labor-intensive dish despite being made in the microwave. From start to finish, it took a little over 90 minutes due to the effort of grating and peeling the carrots as well as monitoring the microwave and stirring the mixture at careful intervals. I am pleased to say that it progressed well and as expected through the stages as described in the recipe. It does seem that the half and half is reduced to unsweetened condensed milk quite easily throughout the process.

In retrospect, I think coarser grating may have added more structure to the result. It's hard to know for sure because the Times has no picture on the recipe's page, but after I completed mine, I checked and saw various presentations. Often, this seemed to be served in a bowl or in a free-form fashion, but occasionally it was also served as little slices.

The "mold" was also not especially specific other than saying we should use a buttered bowl. Since I didn't have any bowls of the right size, I used a round cake pan which I liberally painted with cooking spray rather than opting to use butter. This may have been a mistake since I could not un-mold it no matter what I did. I patted the edges in and tried to loosen it from the bottom, but it stuck pretty well and I gave up and cut out a slice with a plastic knife. My best guess is that suction with the wet carrot mixture held it fast to the slick bottom. I also wasn't sure from the instructions if I was supposed to press it into the mold and then un-mold it while it was still hot or wait for it to cool. I let mine cool for about an hour before trying (and failing) to get it out.

In terms of taste, this is actually pretty awesome. The various flavors come together especially well and the cardamom is a beautiful component. If I were to make this again, besides coarsely grating the carrots, I'd reduce the number of raisins as they sometimes dominate. I think it could also do with about double the amount of pistachios (from two tablespoons to a quarter cup).

I'd say this is a unique dessert option that would be a great addition to an Indian meal provided that your guests like the component parts. It's not especially sweet and uses very little sugar as it gets sweetness from the carrots and raisins, too. I hope to make this again, but I have to say that, while this tasted wonderful, I was disappointed in the texture.

Update: After letting this sit for an entire day, I found it was a bit more cohesive than it was initially, but is not exactly great as a finger food even though it is less crumbly than it was in the first 8 hours. After two days, it actually held together quite well (and after three, even more). I also think that, should I make this again, I might want to use chopped cashews instead of almonds as I think their flavor might be a better complement. I kept it in the refrigerator throughout the time that I ate it (which took about a week).

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