Chef Floyd Cardoz’s stellar dessert is a tangible reminder of his legacy

Jim Webster

THE WASHINGTON POST – When I looked at the menu, the kulfi sounded interesting. I had never heard of it, and I was intrigued.

I wanted to try it, but there was another dessert that seemed like a slam-dunk, and I didn’t want to get this wrong.

So, after discussing it with the waiter, I ordered the other thing. I have no memory of what it was.

The waiter returned with two plates. He told me the chef wanted me to try the kulfi.

It was amazing. It wasn’t ice cream, but it wasn’t unlike ice cream. It wasn’t panna cotta or semifreddo, but it wasn’t unlike those, either. It was paired with juicy citrus segments in a light, floral syrup.

Vanilla Bean Kulfi With Citrus. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

That was in 2008, and the restaurant was Tabla in New York City.

Twelve years later, I still think about that dessert all the time. The creaminess against the acidity. The sweet against the sour. The luxury against the simplicity.

The scene replayed in my head when I heard that Chef Floyd Cardoz, who ran Tabla from the day it opened in 1998 until it closed in 2010, died on March 25, of complications from COVID-19. And then I looked for his recipe for kulfi.

We remember people through things they leave behind, whether it’s heirloom jewellery, a big bank account or a simple, pleasant memory. But when someone leaves behind a recipe, they’ve left something tangible, something we can use to remember them with action and intention. We can make the dish, and we don’t just feel like they are there; a part of them is there.

When I make recipes from my grandmothers, whether it’s dinner rolls or stuffed cabbages, I can feel them in the kitchen, guiding me.

Similarly, I’ve found myself drawn to cookbooks when we lose chefs I admire. When Julia Child died in 2004, I made my admittedly hack version of beef bourguignon.

For Judy Rodgers in 2013, I roasted a chicken and made espresso granita to remind me of my meal at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco. For Charlie Trotter that same year. . . well, for Charlie Trotter, I just reread one of his books and remembered having dinner at his restaurant in Chicago. That book intimidated me.

The one that hit me hardest was pastry chef Gina DePalma. I never met her, but I blogged about cooking some of her recipes, and she cheered me on through email and social media.

She gave me tips and advice, and she even shared a secret family recipe with me. We tried to meet up a few times when I would visit New York, but by then, she was pretty sick, and it never happened.

When she died in 2016, I was heartbroken. I started making her recipes left and right, and I would post photos on Twitter. I wasn’t alone.

There was a community of people who loved her, and for weeks, I was treated to photos in my feed featuring someone’s take on one of her recipes.

Several months later, we all did it again to mark what would have been her 50th birthday. I made her pine nut tart.

I made her hazelnut gelato. I made her polenta cookies, her sweet corn budino and her plum soup.

And I realised that each of these collections of ingredients and directions added up to more than a recipe. They are explicit instructions for edible memorials waiting to be built. They are a legacy that will feed us as long as we’re willing to put in the easy work of executing the well-laid plan.

I was at a restaurant recently, and kulfi was on the dessert menu. I ordered it, and it was nothing like I remembered from Tabla. The flavour was flat, and there were big lumps in it.

When I found Cardoz’s recipe for kulfi, I was staying at home in an effort to avoid the very disease that took his life. But I looked at the recipe, and almost everything I needed to make the dish was in my refrigerator. So I mixed the cream, milk and vanilla, and I cooked it over low heat to reduce it. I stirred it often, just like he told me there on the page. I noticed that if I walked away for a minute, when I returned, big lumps of coagulated dairy had formed at the edges. And I felt like I knew where everything went wrong for the restaurant where I had it recently.

Floyd Cardoz said to stir it often. This is what happens if you don’t.

I whisked the lumps out, then I stirred more often, and it was silky smooth. I ate it and remembered the first kulfi I had ever tried – and the chef who wanted me to try it.

VANILLA BEAN KULFI WITH CITRUS

Six servings

Kulfi is often described as Indian ice cream, but it isn’t churned. Instead, cream and milk are reduced and infused with vanilla, then frozen. This version, paired with citrus in a syrup scented with rose water, was among the most popular desserts at Tabla, the former restaurant of Chef Floyd Cardoz.

The fruit can be changed to match the season.

Rose water is the only ingredient that might not be readily available. It adds a toe-curling, floral elegance to the dish, but if you don’t have it, you can skip it.

Make Ahead: The kulfi needs to freeze for 24 hours. The citrus should steep for about one hour before serving.

Storage Notes: The kulfi can be frozen for up to two weeks.

Where to Buy: Rose water is available at Indian and Asian groceries, and some well-stocked supermarkets. It might be on a health and beauty aisle.

Ingredients

FOR THE KULFI

Two- and three-quarters cups heavy cream

One cup milk, preferably whole

One vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise

1/3 cup granulated sugar

Fine sea salt

FOR THE CITRUS

1/3 cup water

1/3 cup granulated sugar

One vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise

One-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

Three or four pieces of citrus, from any combination of oranges, grapefruit, tangerines or blood oranges, cut into supremes and juice reserved

Half teaspoon rose water

For the kulfi: Pour the cream and milk in a wide, heavy-bottomed pan.

Use a knife to scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod, then drop the seeds and pod in the cream.

Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring very often, until the mixture has reduced to about one-and-a-quarter cups, about 50 minutes.

The cream will get very thick. Coat the back of a spoon and run your finger through it; the trail should remain.

Fill a large bowl halfway with ice and water. Have a bowl that fits inside the larger bowl ready.

Add the sugar and a pinch of salt to the cream and stir until the sugar dissolves. Remove and discard the vanilla bean. Transfer the mixture to the smaller bowl and set that bowl in the ice bath in the larger bowl. Let the mixture cool, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Pour the mixture into four-ounce moulds, such as small paper cups. Freeze until solid, at least 24 hours.

For the citrus: In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the water and sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla bean and ginger. Cover and let steep for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and let the ginger syrup cool to room temperature. Strain out the solids and discard.

In a large bowl, combine the citrus segments and juices. Stir the rose water into the ginger syrup and pour that over the citrus. Gently toss the segments to combine. Let the mixture steep for at least one hour at room temperature, or up to four hours in the refrigerator. To serve, divide the citrus among shallow bowls, spooning some of the syrup over them. Unmold the kulfi – if you used paper cups, just tear them away – and set one on each plate among the citrus.

NOTE: To cut the citrus into supremes, slice off the bottom and the top. Stand the fruit on a cutting board with one of the cut sides down. Use a thin-bladed knife to cut the peel and the pith away from the fruit, top to bottom, exposing the flesh. Then, holding the fruit in your hand, cut the citrus segments away from the membrane. (The idea is to leave behind the membrane and white pith.) When the segments are removed, squeeze the juice out of the remaining membrane.

Nutrition

Calories: 458; Total Fat: 42g; Saturated Fat: 26g; Cholesterol: 155mg; Sodium: 95mg; Carbohydrates: 16g; Dietary Fibre: 0g; Sugars: 11g; Protein: 4g.