I have eaten Payesh, the quintessential Bengali rice pudding or Kheer as they like to call it in Hindi since I was a child. Every birthday, till the age of 21 when I left my parents’ home. Some that I have eaten (not cooked by my Dida or Mum), have been overcooked, a wee thick, almost to the extent of being a lump of milk and rice, and some others which need no mention here.
Payesh is a traditional Bengali dessert made of rice (Basmati or Gobindo Bhog) and milk, slow cooked with aromatic cardamoms and bay leaf and generous amounts of chopped nuts (cashews or almonds) and raisins. This dessert ought to be made with precision and timing…and patience! And if you don’t get it exact, the imbalance in consistency and sweetness will be very obvious.
This recipe makes enough to fill eight-10 dessert bowls, five if all of your guests have a sweet-tooth!
Ingredients for the Payesh:
1 liter milk (use the full cream milk you get in India)
4-5 tablespoon whipping/ heavy cream (because the milk that we usually get here is 1-2% skimmed, works well for a smooth, creamy taste to the payesh)
2 tablespoons rice which has been washed and drained
4 tablespoons sugar
2-3 bay leaves
Handful of almonds, soaked in water overnight, peeled and cut into slivers
3-4 green cardamoms, crushed coarsely
1 tablespoon raisins
Few strands of saffron
In a thick-bottom saucepan, heat the milk and the heavy cream till almost boiling. Reduce the heat to low, add the bay leaf and keep boiling. Add the crushed cardamoms and boil for a few minutes more on very low heat. Add the grains of rice and cook on the simmered heat.
I did not remember to soak the almonds overnight, so I quickly soaked them in hot water which was easy for me to peel off their brown skin. You can chop them or make slivers of them and add to the milk along with the raisins. The milk would have been boiling for about 30-40 minutes and hence reduced in consistency. Watch the milk change color from a chalk white to a very nice, silky ivory color.
After about 40-50 minutes of slow cooking, a liter of milk would reduce to about one-fourth, giving you that semi-thick consistency of the payesh. Make sure you are stirring continuously. Add the sugar at this stage and cook for a few more minutes till the sugar dissolves with the milk.
Garnish with a few strands of saffron. Allow the payesh to cool to room temperature, then keep it in the fridge (covered of course).
Serve in small silver bowls (if you have it) after an Indian meal. Traditional and low on sweetness, that’s how I like my Payesh.