Score one for my right arm
If I was asked what my favourite Christmas sweet is, I would probably say milk cream. It's fudge-like consistency and nutty flavour is always a winner with me. And of course, my mother makes it best (I'm sure all my friends would agree the same about their own moms) and spends hours making batch after batch because it disappears fairly quickly in our home. It's a permanent fixture on most families' Christmas sweet making menu in Bombay. Back home as a sign of goodwill we exchange plates of sweets on the morning of the 25th and you can be guaranteed there will be little shells (hence it's also called shell cream) or flower-shaped milk cream among the loot.
Now just like I think my mother is a milk cream making expert, my father believes his mother, who was known for her cooking and baking skills, made it better than anyone. According to him, the end product should only have a light hint of a creamy hue. In fact, he says my grandmother's milk cream almost had a tinge of pink to it. I know, I know you're thinking, 'What???'. But my Aunt Rosemary also attests to my grandmother's expertise. She recalls a time when her family was gifted a large tin of milk powder, which didn't have the most pleasant taste. They sent it off to my grandmother and she managed to turn it into the best tasting milk cream they had ever eaten up until that point - pink hue and all.
Rich and creamy
So now with my personal love for the sweet and these legendary stories, I decided it's time I learnt to make the sweet myself, of course, with modifications to fit Sean's diet. It is tedious - there's no mistake about that. I remember standing on a stool when younger and giving my mother a break from stirring around the milk so she could take a phone call or get something else done. She also told me when she was growing up, many mothers and grandmothers would keep their sweet making for the night. That meant children were asleep and no one would be ringing the doorbell so they wouldn't be disturbed. While it does take a lot of patience and a monotonous amount of repetitive movement the end product is worth it.
My mother said it would take me about an hour with just a single litre of milk but it turned into two, which had me panicking because I thought it was flopping. Thank God for the Internet, I had her on Skype with me in the kitchen and I managed to show her what the reduction was looking like. She suspects that since the 2 per cent milk that has a higher water content, it takes longer to reduce. However, when it did start getting thick and fudge-like I couldn't have been more excited and Sean and I were stealing bits out of the casserole. The final product wasn't as light as my mother's and didn't have a pink hue like my nana's, but it tasted like home, and that's all that mattered to me.
Brenda's Milk Cream
1 litre milk (I used 2 per cent but my mother recommends sticking to whole milk)
100g light agave syrup (or equivalent amount of sugar)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Knob of butter
100g almond meal (or ground cashew nuts)
Bring the milk to a full boil. It should pretty much bubble and rise up. Drop the temperature to the lowest and keep stirring until it is reduced by half. This could take anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour. [Note: When the milk boils it leaves a boundary on the sides of the dish,which I used a a guide to indicate when the milk had reduced enough.]
Then add the agave, vanilla extract and butter. The volume will increase again so one again keep stirring continuously until reduced further. This shouldn't take more than 20 minutes. Now add the nuts. Keep cooking it until the mixture thickens and starts pulling away from the sides. Take a little bit out and roll it into a ball between your fingers. It should form easily and shouldn't be too sticky. If it does, take it off the heat and remove the mixture to a plate. If not, keep it going for a little longer. Alternatively, shut off the heat, remove the dish from the stove top and allow it it air dry. Give it a stir now and again.
Once the mixture isn't sticky and forms a smooth ball when rolled between your fingers it is ready to be molded. If like me you don't have a mold, just roll it out with an oiled rolling pin and cut it into small squares or diamonds.