Thursday, April 24, 2008

Traditional Bengali / Orissa Sweets

I’m not a big fan of cooking desserts as I thought they were time consuming and messy. How wrong! Once the basic principles are understood, it is very tough to go wrong. Starting from scratch, cooking up a batch of rasagullas took me exactly 12 minutes, and no mess. They were a bit hard, but perfectly edible. The second batch was a lot softer as by then I’d learnt to refine the technique.

The Principle :
Bengal and Orissa rule the world of milk sweets because they mastered the principle of curdling milk to extract milk solids. Legend has it that the rasagulla was traditionally made in the Puri temple, from where it moved with the Brahmin cooks to West Bengal, where it soon became very popular.
The basic principle is simple: curdle the milk and separate the milk solids. Knead, shape them and boil them in sugar syrup to puff them up. Steep them in a sweet liquid and serve. For all the sweets listed above, the milk solids are kneaded into a smooth dough, and cooked in hot sugar syrup. A variety of sweets can be cooked once you get this principle straight. I've listed two ways of cooking up rasagullas below :

The traditional way

Boil milk on a gentle flame, skimming off the skin as it forms on the surface. Add lemon juice to make milk curdle. Filter the solids. Cool and knead well to the consistency of chappati dough. Shape into small tight balls and boil in sugar syrup. This would easily take the better part of an hour.

The quick and dirty way.

Buy the softest readymade paneer you can find. Chop it up to have a cupful. Blend to a paste. (If the paneer is very dry, add half a cup of water and blend to a smooth paste. Add the paste to a strainer / cheesecloth and drain the excess water.) Add a spoon of maida and a couple of pinches of baking powder. Knead into a smooth dough. Shape into small, smooth tight balls. Pressure cook for one whistle in sugar syrup. This would be take less than 15 minutes.

Rasagollas can be plain or stuffed, small or huge, and are served chilled, at room temperature or piping hot.

Learn to make the
rasagulla and several other sweets such as rajbhog, rasmalai, kheermohan, raskadamba are all just a step away.

  • Let’s start with column 1 in the table. Cook the cheeseballs, and steep them in sugar syrup and you have the basic rosogolla.
  • If you add semolina to the cheese dough, it lightens it and you have a Sponge Rosogulla.
  • Add a bit of orange extract while kneading the dough and you have the pale yellow Komala Bhog.
  • Flatten the cheese balls, cook and steep them in sweetened milk, garnish with nut slivers and it becomes Roshomalai.
  • If you make the cheese balls double the normal size and stuff them, they are called Rajbhog.
  • Instead of steeping them in a liquid, coat the cooked cheese balls with almond powder- condensed milk paste and you have the Raskadamba.
  • Instead of lemon sized balls, make finger length cylinders, slit them in half, add cream and chopped nuts and you have the cham cham.
  • Flatten the cheese balls, cook them and top them with sweet cream and you have Malaikari.
  • Steep the cooked cheese balls in rabdi and you have Kheersagar.
  • Steep the cooked cheese balls in thick, sweet milk and it becomes Kheermohan.

Tips for soft rasagullas
Knead well. A soft, smooth dough gives a soft rasagulla.
Let the dough rest for at least 15 minutes for the binder ( maida) to bind everything together.
Do not add too much maida while kneading the dough.
While shaping the balls, ensure they are really smooth without any edges or cracks.

Get comfortable cooking with cottage cheese (Paneer) and a whole world of Bengali / Oriya sweets is waiting to be discovered.

And this goes to Mythreyee's Cool Desserts

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