Now I have real live proof that I am a Bengali.
No I knew previously as well. You know, after a lifetime so far of speaking, reading, writing and understanding Bengali, preferring a Mayabono Biharini to Jumme ki Raat, the Gollum-like wait for Durga Pujo, resolutely calling it Pujo and not Puja, the pathar jhol and murgir jhol and not mutton/chicken curry, the exasperated eyeroll at everyone who mimics Bengali accent as every word having "o", the dhakais, the Tagore-worship for good reason, the aloo-sheddho-bhaat, chholar dal, luchi, shaak, mocha, echor and chhenchki, the million ways to cook ilish, rui, pabda, puti, chingri, tangra, parshe, I'm pretty sure that I am as hard-core a Bengali as any other.
But there was one thing. One elusive thing. And that was, making a Bengali sweet. A roshogolla, lengcha, payesh, kanchagolla, and what not. Oh, and the sandesh.
Sandesh is an all-encompassing term for a dry (as in not dripping sugar syrup), but soft or hard sweet made of fine cottage cheese, in different shapes and sizes. It can be stuffed. It can also be flavoured with anything and everything. Pineapple, chocolate, the rounded brown flavour of nolen gur (date palm jaggery), cardamom, kesar, strawberry, orange, etc. And the king of summers, mango.
Which I made.
So without further ado, let me tell you how I attempted to replicate what the moira (halwai) of yore had done. It is not at all difficult, but it takes time, and it is absolutely worth it.
Recipe from Neha Mathur
- 1.5 litres of milk. You can use full cream m,ilk.
- 2 tbsp Lemon juice. You can sub this with vinegar, but you might need more.
- 6-8 tbsp powdered sugar
- 4 tbsp milk powder
- A pinch of cardamom powder, optional
- 1-1.5 tea cups of mango puree. I used 2 medium mangoes. You can also use canned pulp.
- Sliced almonds/ pistachios
- Silver foil for garnish, totally optional.
- Oil for greasing
- Put the milk in a heavy bottom saucepan. Let it come to a boil.
- When it boils, add the lemon juice or vinegar. Reduce heat, give it a stir and let simmer for 2-3 minutes more till the whey runs clear.
- Strain the cheese in a colander or cheese cloth or strainer.
- Wash it with drinking water once to get rid of the lemony smell.
- Let it drain for about 45 minutes. By this time, enough water will have drained to make it easy to handle, but it won't have dried out completely.
- Now take the cheese in a large bowl or plate. Mash with the heel of the hands till it is absolutely smooth no matter how much time it takes. If you're not confident, break up the mass of cheese into smaller chunks and process in the food processor till smooth. By smooth I mean smooth not touch, not liquid. This part is of utmost importance. My cheese was still a little grainy.
- Add the sugar and mash it in.
- Turn out the cheese on a non-stick pan or a heavy bottomed saucepan. Don't turn on the heat. Add the mango puree and milk powder (and cardamom powder if using). Mix it well. It should look like this.
- Turn on the heat to medium-high to high, and cook. Constantly stir, so that the bottom doesn't burn. At this point, if you see some larger particles of the cheese, use your ladle/karchi to mash it. The aim here is to dry it out, but leave some moisture in. The original recipe took about 12 minutes, for me it took close to 20. Go by eye-feel. It should look like this when it is ready to be taken off the heat.
- Let it cool for about 7-8 minutes in room temperature, till you can touch it and handle it. Do not allow to completely cool, as this will make it difficult to handle.
- Now take a mould (there are sandesh moulds available), or like I did, the bottom of a fancy looking pudding bowl. Grease it lightly.
- Take a heaped 1/2 tbsp of the mixture, and press it into the mould. The amount you take depends on how large/deep your mould is.
- Press gently with your hand so it takes the shape.
- Take it out gently. If it breaks, no worries, just lump it together and press into the mould again.
- Or if you don't have a mould, just form it into balls.
- Press the sliced nuts on top if you want to.
- Arrange on a plate, and let it cool in the fridge for a while before jumping in.
And that's it. Delicious, soft, all-natural sandesh you can wow your family and friends with, packed with juicy mango flavour. Mind-numbingly amazing when cold!
Till the next time!