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Phirni (firni) is a delectable Indian dessert made with rice flour. Traditioanlly, phirni is made with rose water or orange blossom water, saffron and cardamom. Most recipes for phirni also include ground pistachios or almonds, and have raisins or currants mixed into it. It’s a wonderful way to end a traditional Indian dinner.
Fair warning: this is not traditional phirni. It doesn’t have the traditional spices or flavors in it, but it does share the creamy, sweet texture and richness of the Indian dessert. If you really love those flavors, you can easily substitute cardamom seeds for the allspice, and rose syrup for the vanilla extract. This is tailored for my family’s tastes — they’re not terribly adventurous.
There’s a story behind the recipe, of course, as there is behind nearly all of my recipes. A few days ago, a favorite coffee blogger posted about how to keep a burr coffee grinder clean. His method uses a fairly common technique to remove coffee oils and flavors from burrs — tossing a handful of rice into the hopper and running it through the machine. He noted that you just throw the ground rice away — unless you can think of another way to use it. That’s the kind of challenge I can’t resist. So of course — I tossed a handful of rice into the hopper of my coffee grinder and ran it through the machine on the fine setting.
What came out was a mixture of ground coffee remnants and rice ground to about the texture of fine corn meal. Needless to say, the rice flour wasn’t usable as it was — and it took a little doing to separate the coffee grounds from the rice flour — but take my word that it’s doable. You, however, don’t have to go to all that trouble — just use rice flour bought at the supermarket.
Reserve 1/2 cup milk to mix with the rice flour later. In the bowl, mix milk, half & half and ground coffee. Stir it together well and let it sit for at least 30 minutes to allow the coffee to infuse.
Line a mesh strainer with a a double thickness of cheesecloth or a fine cloth.
Strain the milk mixture through the strainer into the saucepan. Stir in the sugar over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Add the vanilla and a pinch of salt.
Tie the spices in a small square of cheesecloth to make them easier to retrieve. Drop the cheesecloth into the mix.
Heat the milk/coffee mixture over low heat, stirring occasionally, until it is just below boiling. Continue stirring over low heat for five minutes. Remove the spices from the mixture.
Mix the reserved milk with the rice flour in a small bowl or cup, stirring it well.
Slowly add the rice flour mixture to the coffee milk mixture, stirring continuously to avoid lumps forming.
Continue stirring over low heat until the mixture thickens to pudding consistency.
In a small saucepan, stir the espresso and sugar together over low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture is syrupy.
Spoon a small amount of the coffee syrup into the bottom of each dessert glass.
Ladle the thickened pudding into the dessert glasses, allowing the coffee syrup to seep up along the sides.
Allow the pudding to cool to room temperature or slighly above, then refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours to chill.
Top each serving of coffee phirni with a dollop of whipped cream and dust with powdered cinnamon or cocoa, or garnish with chocolate-covered espresso beans.