How to Make Your Own Delicious Diwali Desserts

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Hands squeezing golden-yellow dough into a ball shape to make besan ladoo.
Besan ladoo is prepared by rolling in the palm of your hand. (Getty Images/ Saurav Pandey Photography)

This week, the Desi community around the Bay Area — and the world — is celebrating the Hindu festival of Diwali.

These five days of festivities honor more than just India's Lunar New Year. Diwali celebrates light triumphing over darkness, knowledge overcoming ignorance and good defeating evil. It is a time for cleaning and decorating home, lighting symbolic candles and lamps, offering prayers to Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth) and — oh yes — families and friends coming together to feast.

Desserts are a big deal during Diwali because celebrating with something sweet is considered good luck. Here, KQED Arts engagement producer Ria Garewal shares three of her family's favorite Diwali dessert recipes. The focus of these dishes is entirely on balancing delicate flavor combinations. None require baking.

Crumbly white dessert rectangles topped with slivers of nuts.
Malai Barfi. (Getty Images Rangeecha)

Malai Barfi

Malai Barfi is the tres leches cake of the Indian world. These crumbly and satisfying bars are made with three kinds of milk and topped with nuts. There are a huge number of variations to experiment with — coconut, chocolate and even carrot — but here, Garewal sticks with a traditional recipe.

Ingredients:

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400 grams paneer
1 can condensed milk
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk powder
1 teaspoon cardamom powder

Method:

  1. Grate paneer very fine and set aside.
  2. In saucepan, combine whole milk and sugar, then boil.
  3. Add condensed milk and stir.
  4. Once the mixture is boiling again, add the finely grated paneer and mix thoroughly.
  5. Lower heat and add milk powder, a little at a time, while stirring.
  6. Once the mixture has a consistency similar to thick porridge, turn off the heat.
  7. Grease a small square cake pan with ghee.
  8. Add mixture to pan in a layer 2–3 inches thick.
  9. Sprinkle with ground pistachio nuts.
  10. Cover with Saran wrap and leave to set for 2–3 hours at room temperature, or 20 minutes in the fridge.
  11. Cut into squares and enjoy!
Small round yellow dessert balls, each topped with two thin strips of almond.
Besan laddu, garnished with slivers of almonds. (Getty Images KishoreJ)

Besan Ladoo

Probably the most universally popular dessert of Diwali, these sugary and aromatic dough balls are often created in group settings. Use this as an opportunity to join with family members and friends and make something mouthwatering together.

Ingredients:

2 cup besan flour
1/2 cup ghee
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cashew nuts
3–4 pods cardamom

Method:

  1. Blend sugar and cardamom pods together in a grinder.
  2. In a heavy-based saucepan add 1 1/2 tablespoons of ghee.
  3. Once melted, add cashews. Heat until golden brown.
  4. Once browned, pour cashews into a bowl and let them cool.
  5. Put besan flour into the saucepan, gradually mixing in the rest of the ghee.
  6. Once the mixture has darkened in color, reduce heat to lowest possible setting and continue to add ghee. Stir continuously until ghee is completely absorbed by the besan flour.
  7. Remove mixture from heat and transfer to another pan to cool.
  8. Once cooled, combine with the sugar mixture and roll small balls in the palm of your hand. Roll until smooth.
  9. Once set, add cashews on top.
  10. Enjoy this nutty sweet dessert!
A bowl of rice pudding viewed from above, surrounded by scattered petals.
Kheer. (Getty Images)

Kheer

This rice pudding dish may look simple enough, but it is steeped in mythology. Some historians believe kheer to be one of the oldest dishes in the world, dating all the way back to 400 BC. Others believe it was created 2,000 years ago at the Lord Jagannath Temple in Odisha, where it was served as an offering. The reason it has lasted this long is simple: it is absolutely delicious, hot or cold.

Ingredients:

1 gallon whole milk
1 cup water
1/2 cup basmati rice
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon ghee
1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
Assorted nuts

Method:

  1. Soak the rice for 20 minutes, then drain.
  2. On a low heat, combine the rice and ghee, being careful not to let the rice brown.
  3. In a large pot, heat the water, then add the milk. Stir frequently.
  4. Once the milk is boiling, add the rice and sugar and reduce to a medium heat.
  5. Add the sugar and cardamom and stir for 20 minutes.
  6. Cover the mixture and simmer for 10 minutes.
  7. The kheer should be thick and aromatic now. Garnish with chopped cashew and pistachio nuts, and serve with a side of ice cream.

Happy Diwali, everyone!