Cashew burfi (बर्फ़ी) is a sweet Indian dessert made with cashews, ghee, and sugar. They are traditionally eaten during holiday, especially Divali, the Hindi festival of lights (actually meaning “row of lights”). Divali is celebrated the world over Amaavasya, the 15th night of the fortnight of the month of Kaartik in October/November.
Part of the reason must be due to the fact that you need a lot of people around to stir. We made these yesterday in celebration of another holiday. Everyone pitched in with the stirring (and eating). In stores, burfi’s commonly come with a piece of silver foil at the top. Ours our naked and better for it. They have a wonderfully rich and nutty flavor, and are incredibly smooth like fudge.
Note: With our large Christmas batch these took about 45 minutes in total to make and they produce enough burfi to fill a entire cookie sheet 1/4 inch thick. If you made a half batch of this recipe (which is normal), it would take you 25-30 minutes.
About the grinder: Also for this recipe you will need an appliance that can cut up cashews into a smooth, fine powder without extracting any of the oil. The machine must have a strong enough motor to withstand the shells of nuts and also a sharp enough blade that it cuts into the nuts instead of squishing them. The Sumeet brand is very common in India, and makes a model much suited for this purpose that my mother owns. Some food processors can also be used.
4 cups unsalted, unroasted cashews
4 cups granulated (we used raw organic cane sugar)
2 cups water
1/2 cup ghee
Pinch of saffron, soaked in a teaspoon of milk, or if allergic to milk, dissolve it in boiling water or powder it in your hands (optional)
Grease a cookie sheet and the bottom of a 1/2 (cup) measuring cup with ghee.
Grind the nuts in batches into the processor to produce a smooth, fine powder. If using a Sumeet grinder, fill it 1/3 way and grind on the “I” setting until you start to hear the stalling sound of the machine. Put the ground nuts into a bowl.
Set a heavy bottomed pot to medium low and add the water. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved, about 5 minutes. Dip a candy thermometer into the mixture and let sit. Cook the mixture until it reaches 215 degrees and when lifted produces a thin, sticky single string of candy, about 20 minutes with this volume. (For those candy makers, this is prior to softball). Don’t stir during this time. If you don’t have a candy thermometer (one that reaches greater than 215), continue to pull up the candy on your spoon every so often to check for the string.
Note: If you get to the point of softball (as can happen), you will need to alter the stirring process to compensate. You should remove from the heat prior once the mixture has thickened and comes away from the whisk, but prior to it fully coming away from the sides or it’ll be too stiff to work with.
Meanwhile, melt the ghee in a small pot or stainless steel measuring cup on medium. Once melted, turn off the heat.
Once the sugar mixture is producing a thin string when pulled, turn the heat down to between medium low and low and add in 1 tablespoon of the melted ghee. Stir in the cashews with a whisk until smooth. Stir in the saffron. Turn back up to medium low.
Note: While you’re stirring, the mixture will go through stages, starting as thick gravy and then go all the way to the texture of fudge (when it is done). The whole process of stirring with this volume is about 25 minutes, 10 minutes on the heat, 10 minutes off. If you have others near you, take turns stirring.
From here you will stir continuously. Once the mixture produces bubbles, begin to add in the ghee tablespoon by tablespoon as it thickens (every 5 minutes or so). The mixture will begin to pull away from the whisk as you stir, and make swirls in the pan. Once it starts to pull away from the sides, you can turn off the heat. You can switch to a metal spoon or spatula at this point and fold the mixture as you stir.
Continue to add the ghee bit by bit until the mixture is so thick you can’t stir, like fudge. It will have the consistency of dough coming off a dough hook when you pull it up with your spoon, and when you stir it, the swirl will retain its shape for a 15 seconds.
The process of placing the mixture onto the cookie sheet needs to be done quickly, before the burfi hardens. Spoon the mixture onto the cookie sheet. It should thick and cool enough it does not stick to your hands.
Flatten and spread with the measuring cup until it is an even 1/4 inch thick. It should fill the entire cookie sheet. Cut into diamonds. You want to do this before it cools so it doesn’t break and flake. Let cool completely out of the fridge. You can store in a can at room temperature separated by wax paper.