In this scene from THE HENNA ARTIST, Lakshmi, a woman who paints henna on the bodies of Jaipur’s wealthy women, is asked to meet with the Dowager Maharani for the first time. Malik, Lakshmi’s eight-year-old helper, has been told to wait outside the Maharani’s drawing room, but can’t resist sticking his head inside when the queen’s Alexandrine parakeet shouts “Namaste, Bonjour, Welcome!” Malik’s obvious enchantment with the bird (but not with the queen herself) charms the Maharani, and she asks Malik to name his favorite dessert. After a pause, he replies “rabri.” She orders the Palace Chef to make the dessert immediately, alarming Lakshmi, who knows how long it takes to make the recipe and how much vigilance it requires. But the Maharani assures her: she is punishing the Chef, who would rather cook for a king rather than a queen, and never prepares food the way she likes. The rabri scene is about power—who wields it and how, no matter how large or small the issue.
A popular North Indian dessert, with a few simple ingredients, rabri is creamy, rich, and wholesome. There are many variations of rabri: each chef adds their own ingredients to flavor the dessert. This is the recipe as I remember my mother making it.
Also see: Alka Joshi’s recipes for The Secret Keeper of Jaipur (Aloo Gobi Matar Subj and The Perfumist of Paris (Chole (Chickpea Curry )Print
Alka Joshi: The Palace Recipe for Royal Rabri from The Henna Artist
Alka Joshi’s family recipe for rabri, a sweet, thick milk dessert, that appears in her novel THE HENNA ARTIST.
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 4 hours 25 minutes
- Total Time: 8 hours
- Yield: 8 servings 1x
- 10 cups whole milk
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 6 saffron threads
- 1 cup sugar (or less, if you prefer)
- 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds, crushed (try a coffee grinder for this)
- 2 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted and sliced
- Raisins or other dried fruit (optional)
- Pistachio or other nuts (optional)
- 1 teaspoon rosewater or kewra essence (optional, see note)
- Combine milk and cream in a deep saucepan. Boil for 2 hours in a saucepan on low heat, stirring slowly and continuously. As cream starts to form along the sides of the pan, scrape it gently back into the milk mixture. Do not mix it or break up the layers. Do not let the milk burn.
- Set aside 2 tablespoons of the hot milk mixture in a bowl. Add saffron threads and allow to soak.
- When the mixture in the pan is reduced to half its volume, add sugar to the saucepan and stir. Remove the pan from heat. Let cool.
- Fold in the saffron milk mixture, crushed cardamom seeds, and your special ingredients (raisins, pistachios, almonds, dried fruit, and rosewater or kewra essence).
- Chill for 4 hours and serve cold. When ready to eat, the dessert is a milky mixture with ribbon-like layers of cream and lovely orange saffron threads floating on top.