The indulgent Indian dessert Phirni flavored with Thandai powder- a perfect Holi treat. Make this for your Holi party or any other festival and special occasion.
Thandai phirni is fairly simple to make and the result is so worth every minute of your effort! This recipe includes making Thandai masala at home. But, if you have store-bought thandai masala on hand, you can use it directly.
There are a few signature Indian sweets of mine and Phirni is one of those. Interestingly, it was the first Indian sweet I learned. On almost all special occasions, I end up making either this or Badam Halwa.
We like indulgent sweets and phirni is definitely one of them. Last year, this idea of Thandai Phirni popped up in my mind, but sadly, it took a year to make it into reality and share it with you all! Well, better late than never. 🙂
Honestly, I had no idea what Thandai was until 2018! Being a south Indian, my association with Holi (an Indian festival of colors) is only the most fun part- playing with colors and colored water. Right from when I was a kid until my college days, I have celebrated Holi almost every year and have had the most fun ever. Apart from this, there is no ritual, tradition, or food that I associate with the festival.
Fast forward to 2018, when I started following a lot of food pages on Instagram, I learned about Thandai. I was quite intrigued seeing so many people make it. Luckily, in 2019, I tried the Thandai drink at a restaurant in Bangalore. I loved the different flavors in it and especially the kick of heat from the pepper in a sweet drink that you get at the back of your throat.
So, I wanted to bring in these Thandai flavors in Phirni, making it a perfect sweet to try for Holi.
What is Thandai
Thandai is a cold drink that is prepared with milk, sugar, and a powder made from almonds, cashews, melon seeds, cardamom, fennel seeds, black peppercorns, saffron, dried rose petals, poppy seeds.
These ingredients are known to have a cooling effect on the body, and hence the drink is traditionally made during Holi, a summer festival. A tall glass of chilled Thandai is absolutely refreshing during scorching Indian summers.
What is Phirni
Phirni might not be a very commonly known sweet, especially in the south of India. To give you an idea, Phirni is an Indian dessert in which coarsely ground Basmati rice is cooked well in full-fat milk so that it forms a creamy texture and is sweetened with sugar. Saffron and rose water are also added flavor.
In simple words, we make the basic Phirni but with a twist by mixing in the freshly prepared Thandai powder.
This is actually a two-in-one recipe!
The list of ingredients might seem daunting, but trust me, the recipe is quite simple.
To make the Thandai powder at home, you will need:
Cashews and Almonds, you can additionally add Pistachios as well. They form the rich base of the powder. Make sure the nuts haven’t turned rancid.
Melon seeds are also known as Magaz or Char Magaz in Hindi. Along with cashews and almonds, these add volume to the powder, and also make any dish creamy and rich.
You will need whole cardamom pods.
Pure saffron strands for the amazing flavor, color, and taste.
Fennel seeds, whole black peppercorns for that spice kick. Ever used these two in desserts? But, thandai is incomplete without these and so is this phirni. Do not worry, they will not make the dessert spicy.
Poppy seeds– also for the cooling effect on the body. You can skip these if they are not available at your place or you are allergic to them.
Dried rose petals and/or rose water– dried rose petals are a must in Thandai powder. However, as we are making phirni here, you can skip dried rose petals if you don’t have them, and can directly use rose water in the milk mixture. I used both though.
Basmati Rice– I would highly recommend using Basmati rice only for phirni. In case this is not available, you can use any other variety of rice.
Whole milk- I suggest you use whole milk (full-fat milk) for the rich and creamy texture of the phirni. Low-fat milk typically does not make phirni creamy enough, however, it is not a total no in this case as we are using thandai powder that adds a good amount of creaminess.
Sugar- I used refined granulated sugar. You can use powdered jaggery instead if you like. But the taste and the color of the phirni will be different.
How to make Thandai Phirni: Step-by-Step with Pictures
Note: 1 cup = 250 ml
Thandai Masala/Powder Recipe
Into a small mixer jar, add in 10 whole cardamom pods, 1 tsp whole black peppercorns, and 1 tbsp fennel seeds. Blend everything well to form a fine powder.
To the same mixer jar, add in 1/4 cup cashews, 1/4 cup almonds, 1 tbsp poppy seeds (skip if unavailable), 2 tbsp melon seeds, 2 tbsp dry rose petals (can be replaced by rose water later). You may also add a pinch of saffron strands for the powder or later while making the phirni.
Blend all the ingredients well to form a fine powder. Stop at the stage where the oil from the nuts is starting to release and the mixture is turning sticky. A little sticky mixture is also fine since we would be mixing it in phirni anyway.
Thandai Phirni Recipe
Rinse and soak 1/4 cup Basmati Rice in water for at least 15 minutes.
Once it has soaked well, discard the water, transfer the rice to the mixer jar. Pulse it to make a coarse paste. If required, you can add a few drops of water. But remember, the texture of the rice has to be coarse and grainy.
Heat 1 liter whole (full-fat) milk in a big thick bottom pot. Let the milk come to a good boil.
In a small bowl, take a big pinch (little more than a tsp) of saffron, add 3 tbsp of hot milk and let it sit for some time.
Now to the pot with milk, transfer the ground rice, and mix it well quickly. A point to remember here is that, as you add the rice to the hot milk, it can form lumps. You have to mix it very quickly removing lumps if any.
If you want to avoid this, a quick tip is to add some hot milk to the ground rice, mix well and then add it to the pot of milk. In case you still get small lumps, mash it with a back of a spoon.
Add in the saffron milk and mix it well. On low-medium heat, let the milk and rice mixture boil well such that the cream layer is collected on top. Mix in the cream back to the milk and let it boil for a good 20 minutes. The mixture will start thickening as you can notice in the third image below.
At this stage mix in some water to the prepared Thandai powder, make a thin paste and transfer this to the pot of milk making sure it is on low heat. Immediately, also add in 3/4 cup sugar and mix everything well. You can do it with the help of a whisk.
The reason why we want to mix water with the Thandai powder is that the powder can form lumps when added directly, especially if it turned a little sticky while blending. So, just to be sure, we will mix it with water.
Let the phirni be on low heat for 5 more minutes. It gets much thicker now with the addition of the Thandai powder.
Lastly, mix in 2 tsp rose water. Although I had used dried rose petals in the powder, the rose flavor was missing completely amidst all the other ingredients. You can skip rose water or add more if you had not used dried rose petals in the powder.
Take the pot of phirni off the heat and do not cook further. It should be of thick but pouring consistency. Remember, it will turn much thicker on cooling.
If you have small earthen pots, transfer the phirni into those and set them in the refrigerator. Serve only when it is chilled. It tastes best then.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does thandai phirni taste like?
The moment you eat a spoonful of phirni, you get the stong flavors of cardamom, almond, cashews, saffron and some mild flavor of the fennel seeds. Lastly, you feel the heat from the pepper at the back of your throat. The texture will be creamy and melt-in-mouth. I found it so much fun with different flavors beautifully blended.
Can I make a vegan version of this?
Yes, but I have not tried it with plant-based milk. But, I think almond milk will work well for this.
How long can I store the Phirni?
It has to be refrigerated at all times. It stays good up to 3 days upon refrigeration.
How to make kesar Phirni without thandai powder?
If you want to skip the thandai part in this, it is definitely possible. You just have to skip making the thandai powder in the phirni and follow the other steps described to make the phirni. It will then be Kesar phirni.
Does jaggery work in place of sugar?
Yes, it does. The color and the taste of the phirni would be different though.
My phirni turned out too thick, how can I fix it?
It will turn out thick if you cooked it for too long. In that case, boil some milk separately and mix it into the phirni. Do not boil the mixture, but just heat for 2 minutes or so for the milk to mix well. You might have to add a little more sugar also in that case.
Tips and Notes
1. When I made my first batch of the phirni, I used half the quantity of the thandai powder. However, the taste of thandai was very subtle. So, I made my next batch with all of the powder. The point here is that you can adjust the quantity of the powder as per your taste- if you like it really subtle, add less. The thandai powder can be stored anyway and mixed with milk and served as a drink.
2. The quantities of pepper and fennel are perfect in this as per my taste. I could feel the heat from the pepper at the back of my throat and at the same time was not too intense. Same with fennel seeds. However, you can add more if you like.
3. You can alter the number of almonds and cashews- add more of one and less of the other if you like. In total 1/2 cup should be good. Of course, the taste can alter if you used a lot more almonds or cashews.
4. If you are planning on storing the thandai masala separately, you can use saffron to make the powder itself.
Note: 1 cup = 250 ml
To make Thandai Powder
- 10 numbers whole cardamom
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 tbsp fennel seeds
- 1/4 cup almonds
- 1/4 cup cashews
- 2 tbsp melon seeds - also known as Magaz/ Char Magaz
- 1 tbsp poppy seeds - skip if unavailable
- 2 tbsp dried rose petals - skip if unavailable
To make Thandai Phirni
- a big pinch (roughly a tsp) saffron strands
- 1/4 cup Basmati Rice
- 1 liter whole milk - full fat
- 3/4 cup sugar - can add less or more as per your taste
- 2 tsp rose water (essence)
Making the Thandai Powder
- Into a small mixer jar, add in 10 whole cardamom pods, 1 tsp whole black peppercorns, and 1 tbsp fennel seeds. Blend everything well to form a fine powder.
- Into the ground spices, add in 1/4 cup cashews, 1/4 cup almonds, 1 tbsp poppy seeds (if using), 2 tbsp melon seeds, 2 tbsp dry rose petals (if using). Blend all the ingredients well to form a fine powder. Stop at the stage where the oil from the nuts is starting to release and the mixture is turning sticky. A little sticky mixture is also fine since we would be mixing it in phirni anyway.
Making the Thandai Phirni
- Rinse and soak 1/4 cup Basmati rice in water for at least 15 minutes.
- Once it has soaked well, discard the water, transfer the rice to the mixer jar. Pulse it to make a coarse paste. If required, you can add a few drops of water. But remember, the texture of the rice has to be coarse and grainy.
- Heat 1liter full-fat milk in a big thick bottom pot. Let the milk come to a good boil.
- In a small bowl, take a big pinch (little more than a tsp) of saffron strands, add 3 tbsp of hot milk and let it sit for some time.
- Add some hot milk to the ground rice, mix well and then add this mixture to the pot with milk, and mix well quickly. This helps to avoid the formation of rice lumps. Keep the heat on low at this stage. In case small lumps are still formed, mash them with a back of a spoon.
- Add in the saffron milk and mix it well. On low-medium heat, let the milk and rice mixture boil well such that the cream layer is collected on top. Mix in the cream back to the milk and let it boil for a good 20 minutes. The mixture will start thickening as the rice cooks.
- At this stage mix in a few tablespoons of water to the prepared Thandai powder, make a thin paste and transfer this to the pot of milk making sure it is on low heat.
- Immediately, also add in 3/4 cup sugar and mix everything well. You can do it with the help of a whisk. Let the phirni be on low heat for 5 more minutes. It gets much thicker now with the addition of the Thandai powder.
- Lastly, mix in 2 tsp of rose water. You can add more if you had not used dried rose petals in the powder.
- Take the pot of phirni off the heat and do not cook further. It should be of thick but pouring consistency. Remember, it will turn much thicker on cooling.
- If you have small earthen pots, transfer the phirni into those and let them set in the refrigerator for an hour. Serve it chilled.
I hope you give this recipe a try and enjoy it as much as I enjoyed preparing it and writing it down for you all. 🙂
If you have any questions about the recipe, kindly post them below under comments.
I would love to see your recipe recreations. 🙂