Active time:20 mins
Total time:1 hour 25 mins
Holi marks the beginning of spring with a true explosion of colors. Best known for the spirited street fights where revelers are armed with colored powder, the festival is rooted in the change of seasons and Hindu mythology.
On the eve of Holi (a.k.a. Holika Dahan), large bonfires are lighted in India to symbolize the triumph of good over evil. For some, the bonfires are a nod to a Hindu legend in which a demon named Holika is destroyed in a fire after trying to kill her nephew for refusing to worship his evil father (Holika’s brother).
The next day is Holi — observed on March 8 this year — and it’s one of the world’s most exuberant festivals. Wearing old white clothes, partygoers throw brightly colored powder (called gulal) and water on one another. It’s an homage to the mischievous blue god Krishna, who smeared color on his beloved’s face so she’d look more like him.
But, as my dad used to say, most things in India defy rigid definition. Holi is no different. Holi is a common experience based on history and tradition, but there’s a nonchalant fluidity that allows for personalization and creativity. This festival of colors is celebrated with varying practices and zeal. In many places, there are traditional celebrations and powder-throwing in the streets, along with must-have foods such as thandai (a creamy drink laced with spices) and gujiya (a flaky pastry stuffed with milk fudge). My aunt in the southern city of Hyderabad, however, held a more muted, sweets-centered affair: Her kids attacked each other with beet juice and turmeric water before showering and digging into their favorite homemade sweets.
Back in Ohio, sugar was also top of mind for me. On festival days, my mom transformed our tiny apartment into an Indian sweets parlor, spending hours making milky desserts like burfi and gulab jamuns. These sweets had a rich and soulful quality — the butterfat reward for a laborious stovetop process. While family, friends and neighbors would chat in our living room, I would be in the kitchen, licking syrup from the mixing bowl.
These days, I’m finding joy in reliving these memories with my son. As grown-ups do, I’m developing an appreciation for the meaning behind occasions. And as children do, he’s developing an ability to turn every occasion into an opportunity to acquire candy. We’ve managed to combine both by creating our own tradition of making sweets together. One of our favorites is a spin on the coconut burfi that my mom used to make. Burfi is a milk-based fudge, usually cut into squares.
Traditionally, whole milk is boiled until reduced to a paste, but now condensed milk does the trick. Our version — coconut burfi truffles — is a simple combination of flaked coconut and sweetened condensed milk. It’s lightly infused with cardamom and saffron, and gets cooked down and rolled into cute bite-size balls.
But for Holi, these creamy truffles have become a whole other thing. Much like the white clothes donned by millions for the spring festival, these truffles are a blank slate ready for a splash of color. Years ago, we started adding food coloring to the truffle base to make blue, green and yellow varieties. That was the beginning.
When freshly rolled, the truffles are sticky enough to coat. Decorations came to mind with every batch we made. Our bright magenta truffles half-dipped in chocolate disappeared in hours. The plain truffles completely coated in rainbow sprinkles were almost too cute to eat. Almost. And the Krishna-blue truffles dusted in red freeze-dried strawberry powder looked like art. Soon, we were talking about how the colors can have meaning in the festival — red signifies love, yellow is for healing, blue is for spirituality, and green marks new beginnings.
But, evoking my dad, I tell my son that there are more complex backstories here that he might want to know about one day. After he’s had enough candy.
Even if you’ve never celebrated this spring festival, you can make these coconut burfi truffles and bring a joyful pop of color into your kitchen.
Traditional Indian burfi is a milk-based fudge formed by the slow stovetop reduction of whole milk with ghee, sugar and a variety of flavorings. These coconut burfi truffles are a simplified version with a two-ingredient minimum that still hits those warm and soulful notes. When made with unsweetened coconut, these cute bites promise not to be overpowering. They are a little creamy, a little chewy, and taste even better the next day. The best part: They are an easy, choose-your-own adventure for kids in the kitchen or for grown-ups who like getting creative with their food. The truffles can be enjoyed plain, but there are also a ton of possibilities. You can opt to color and flavor the coconut base — some popular Holi colors are blue, yellow, green, purple and red; roll the truffles in sprinkles, chopped nuts or tangy fruit powder; or even dip them in melted chocolate.
NOTES: Brands of unsweetened coconut may be labeled “flake” or “shredded.” Look for the shredded kind with thin, long strands, resembling shredded cheese. If you can find only coarsely ground coconut, omit the grinding step and expect that the truffles will have a slightly drier, crunchier texture. If you substitute sweetened coconut, consider rolling the truffles in a savory component, such as finely chopped nuts, to balance out the confection.
To make your own freeze-dried berry powder, in a blender or food processor, grind 1 cup freeze-dried strawberries or raspberries; you should get about 1/4 cup.
To melt the chocolate, in a microwave-safe bowl, melt the white or semisweet chocolate in 30-second bursts on HIGH, stirring after each burst. (Alternatively, you can melt the chocolate in a double boiler, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water.) Let the chocolate cool slightly before dipping.
To decorate the truffles: For the no-frills version, roll them in granulated sugar or additional coconut. For a bright pop of color and tang, dip the truffles directly in freeze-dried strawberry or raspberry powder. For a festive coating, roll the truffles in sprinkles — rainbow nonpareils are fun here. You can also roll them in chopped nuts, or garnish with saffron threads or sea salt.
Storage: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 week; let come to room temperature before eating.
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- 1 cup (85 grams) firmly packed unsweetened shredded coconut (see NOTES)
- 1/2 cup (155 grams) sweetened condensed milk
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
- Pinch of saffron threads, crumbled (optional)
- Food coloring (optional; see headnote)
For the optional decoration
- 1 cup (6 ounces/170 grams) chopped white chocolate, melted
- 1 cup (6 ounces/170 grams) chopped semisweet chocolate, melted
- 1/4 cup (20 grams) freeze-dried raspberry or strawberry powder (see NOTES)
- Granulated sugar
- Fine sea salt
- Chopped nuts, such as pistachios or almonds
- Saffron threads
In a food processor or small blender, pulse the coconut until coarsely ground (see NOTES).
Transfer the ground coconut to a medium bowl, add the sweetened condensed milk, and the cardamom and saffron, if using, and stir with a fork until thoroughly combined. The mixture will be sticky. If you want to color the truffle base, stir in a few drops of food coloring until you reach a desired hue.
Using a rubber spatula, transfer the coconut mixture into a medium skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently to ensure that the bottom does not brown. At first, the mixture will spread out as the condensed milk melts and simmers. Continue cooking until the mixture thickens and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring continuously, until the mixture begins to hold its shape and forms what resembles a soft sugar cookie dough that you can lift and fold with your spoon, about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to rest until cool enough to handle, about 5 minutes.
Line a large platter with wax paper. Using your hands, scoop and roll the mixture into tablespoon-size balls, placing them on the prepared platter. The truffles will be somewhat sticky.
If you plan to coat the truffles, dip them into your choice of melted chocolate. Then, you can immediately dust them with the freeze-dried berry powder, or sprinkle with other toppings of your choice. Or, skip the chocolate and place your desired toppings on plates and roll the truffles directly in them, pressing lightly until they are completely covered. Feel free to get creative mixing flavors and colors.
Refrigerate the truffles, plain or decorated, uncovered, until set, about 45 minutes, before eating or storing. The truffles will taste even better the next day.
Calories: 88; Total Fat: 6 g; Saturated Fat: 5 g; Cholesterol: 4 mg; Sodium: 19 mg; Carbohydrates: 9 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugar: 8 g; Protein: 2 g
This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.
From food writer Varu Chilakamarri.
Tested by Debi Suchman; email questions to [email protected].
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