In India, milk is simmered for hours until only the dense, nutty solids remain. They’re mixed with sugar and spices, like cardamom and saffron, to make burfi, a category of sweets whose adornments might include pistachios and twists of silver leaf. Unlike dulce de leche, in which milk is cooked down with sugar until it thickens into gold, the milk stays white here — burfi comes from the Persian word for snow — for a purer flavor.
Knead and shape, dust the treats in sugar and that’s it — you can eat them right away.
So, too, in the Philippines, where such lunar candies are known as pastillas de leche. Although the name is Spanish, a legacy of over three centuries of colonialism, no antecedent appears to exist in Spanish food. (The archipelago is home to around 180 languages, and Filipinos shift freely from one to another, folding in English and Spanish at will, sometimes all in the same sentence.) Pastilla is the shape, like a lozenge; leche is milk, originally from the carabao (water buffalo) that tilled the fields in San Miguel, a town in Bulacan Province, north of Manila.
Cooking down milk is time-consuming and requires vigilance. Abi Balingit, whose cookbook, “Mayumu” (“sweet” in Kapampangan, a major language in the Philippines), came out in February, offers a beautifully simple, no-bake shortcut: You sift whole milk powder and salt, then mix in condensed milk until it forms a dough. Knead and shape, dust the treats in sugar and that’s it — there’s no waiting; you can eat them right away.
Balingit, 28, began posting recipes on her blog The Dusky Kitchen in the summer of 2020 as a way of grappling with the isolation of the pandemic and her separation from her family in the Bay Area. (She grew up there and now lives in Brooklyn.) The blog’s title was a nod to both the dim lighting in her apartment — what little sun reaches the kitchen comes from the lone window in the living room — and the only time she was able to bake: She and her three roommates were working from home, propping laptops in corners, and the walls were too thin for her to run the stand mixer without disrupting everybody’s focus. “I was Zooming all day, baking all night,” she says.