In our early years in Delhi, after I’d mastered the biryani and could cook a spread for dinner, we still ordered in dessert. My husband Peter Hassan liked to serve phirnee, which he would get from the Old City. It was delicious of course, and I would often ask him if it was expensive but he always said no. And then one day, the man delivered the phirnee when I was home alone so I asked for the bill. It turned out to be Rs 11 per bowl, which was a lot in those days. I decided right then and there to learn how to make phirnee.

As it happened, I’d seen a recipe for it in a magazine, but now I’ve forgotten which one it was. The next time Peter was out of town, I tried my hand at making phirnee and my father, who was visiting us at the time, said it was very good. He thought it was even better than what we ordered from the Old City, which boosted my confidence.

Before our next dinner party, I told Peter not to order dessert. I made the phirnee and served it in earthen bowls, arranged very prettily on a big platter decorated with rose petals. It won me many compliments and the recipe I found by chance in a magazine is now one of my favourites. It makes enough for 15 servings.


  • 500 gm sugar
  • 250 gm fresh cream
  • 250 gm rice
  • 2 l milk
  • 10 tbsp almonds, finely chopped
  • 10 tbsp pistachios, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp almond essence


  1. Wash and soak rice for an hour. Then, grind to a very smooth paste and keep aside.
  2. In a large, thick-bottomed pan, put the milk to boil. Once it comes to a boil, take the pan off the flame and mix in the ground rice. Return the pan to the stove and allow the milk and rice mixture to thicken, stirring continuously to ensure it stays very smooth.
  3. As the mixture thickens, mix in sugar and fresh cream. Continue stirring and cooking for 10 more minutes. Just a minute before it is done, mix in the almond essence.
  4. Take the pan off the flame and spoon the phirnee into bowls. Cover each with a piece of varaq and garnish with almonds and pistachios.
  5. You can either store these in the refrigerator or serve at room temperature. 

Excerpted with permission from Saffron and Pearls: A memoir of family, friendship & heirloom Hyderabadi recipes, Doreen Hassan, HarperCollins.

Doreen Hassan

Doreen Hassan

Doreen Hassan was considered one of Delhi’s finest hostesses, and was celebrated for the elegant parties she hosted. The meals she crafted had been perfected over the years, based on heirloom recipes she had inherited from family members.

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