Gajar ka Halwa

Posted by on Jan 12, 2019 | 0 comments

This traditional South Asian dessert comes in many forms. Most versions require cooking carrots in milk until they become mushy. This one is my favorite—it has a chewier texture and is sweet but not cloying, with very little added sugar. (You could omit the sugar altogether for a less-sweet version of the dessert.) The intensely concentrated carrot flavor is far more complex than you might expect from the simplicity of the ingredients list. When made with home-made mawa (milk solids, also called khoya), it is a time-intensive enterprise that is worth the effort.

Gajar ka halwa - Indian carrot pudding

Ingredients (for 4):

For the mawa:
2 cups whole milk

For the halwa:
1/4 cup butter
1 lb carrots, shredded (about 4 cups)
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup mawa
Ground cardamom
Finely chopped almonds (optional)

Instructions:

You can prepare the mawa ahead of time or, if you feel comfortable watching both pots carefully, you can make it while the carrots are cooking.

Mawa or khoya, milk solids made from reducing milk for 1-2 hours
Mawa—milk solids, also called khoya—is the secret behind many rich Indian desserts and candies

For the mawa: bring 2 cups whole milk to a boil, stirring, and then immediately reduce the heat to a simmer. Let it cook down, stirring regularly to prevent the bottom from burning. It should reduce by about 1/2 over the course of about 20 minutes, at which point you will need to begin monitoring it very carefully to ensure that it does not burn on the bottom. Continue cooking over medium-low heat and stirring for about another 20 minutes, until the milk has thickened to a paste. Turn down the heat to finish cooking, about 5-10 minutes, until the paste has become as thick as peanut butter. This is your mawa. It should have a slightly sweet caramel flavor and a slightly chewy texture. Turn off the heat and set it aside.

Two cups of milk should make slightly more than the 1/4 cup of mawa used in this recipe. It stores well in the freezer, and you might wish to double the quantity of milk so that you have extra to set aside for future use.

For the halwa: heat a large sauté pan over medium-low heat and add the butter. Once it has melted and thoroughly coated the bottom of the pan, add the carrots. The pan must be large enough to accommodate all the carrots in a fairly thin layer, to let the steam escape during cooking. Do not use a cast iron skillet, which will cause the carrots to caramelize too quickly.

One pound of shredded carrots—about 4 cups—before cooking

Pan-roast the shredded carrots until they are fairly dry and slightly caramelized, with very little moisture left. The whole process over medium-low heat should take about 1 hour, with regular but not constant stirring. Be careful not to let the carrots burn, and adjust the heat down and stir more frequently if they begin to take on a brown color unevenly. Add a little more butter during cooking if desired, but add no liquid at this stage.

Cooked carrots, pan-roasted for gajar ka halwa
The same shredded carrots after pan-roasting with butter for 1 hour

Once the carrots have picked up a little nut-brown color and most of the water has cooked out, add 1 cup milk, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1/4 cup of the mawa. Raise the heat to medium. Cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly, letting the milk absorb into the carrots and reduce until there is no liquid left at the bottom of the pan.

Serve warm, topped with a sprinkle of ground cardamom and some finely chopped almonds, if desired.

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